Youth talks to youth

Policymakers and politicians love statistics. The statistics are often presented as the truth, while the research methods, the way of counting and the type of respondents often have a major impact on the real meaning of a statistic.

When in the Netherlands the forty so-called priority neighborhoods were indicated by former minister Vogelaar, doubts were cast on the indicators that were used to do so. For example, the share of social housing and immigrants were supposed to indicate whether a neighborhood was to receive the designation ‘deprived’. You don’t have to be from a left-wing party to cast a doubt on this.

Another example. When characterizing urban districts, the share of Moroccan, Turkish and Surinamese households is always mentioned in the Netherlands. However, this classification proves nothing without further indication to which political or religious group the residents belong. For example, the statistical group Turks consists of Turks, Kurds and Azeri Turks. And there is also the division between the liberal Alevites and the Orthodox Muslims, and among the latter group, there are also the fundamentalists. Moroccans have their Arabs and Berbers. The Berbers are divided into tribes, and each of these tribes has their preferences for certain Mosques. The Surinamese can be divided into Creoles, Hindustani, Javanese, Indians and Chinese. In many cases, these subgroups underline their own identity in everyday life. Not as a reaction to the Dutch culture, but as a consequence to the presence of other migrant cultures. Anyone who, for example, wants to stimulate mutual contacts, has to look further than at a simple demographic statistic.

Anyone who really wants to characterize an urban district, will have to complement the statistics with qualitative, local information. By simply going into the district and listening to the residents themselves. That´s how you get the story behind the statistics. It is after all impossible to get the DNA of a district from statistics; the only way to do this is by ordinary observation. Jos van der Lans expressed it as follows: "Professionals have to combine the statistical knowledge of their own systematic world with the dynamic knowledge of the living world. In other words: combining the abstraction of statistics with the concreteness of the streets.”

In the Hague (Schilderswijk), it was tested to get to the story behind the statistics in a playful manner recently. Students of the Haagse Hogeschool interviewed 200 peers about their lives. Although the research methods were probably not completely scientifically correct and the press unfortunately bolted with just the negative statistics, this research is a welcome addition to earlier analyzes. It provides a first insight into the role of the youth within the family for instance. The youth declared several times that they were forced to work to make enough money to meet the needs of the family. And especially girls have many tasks in the household. You will never find this in the statistics. Just like the many earnings in the hidden economy by the other family members. It’s not what it looks like at first sight.

But above all, the publication ’Jong spreekt Jong’ (Youth talks to youth) provides a beautiful insight into the living environment of the youth. On the one hand, there is the image of youth that have ambitions and work hard for the future and do much better in school than their parents. On the other hand, you can see the struggle of the youth with their different living environments (home, school and streets). And so the ‘migrants district’ has both its advantages and its disadvantages: living in a district with like-minded where no one looks at you because of you non-native background, but at the same there are temptations to swerve from the right path. On the other hand, this struggle between the different living environments is unrelated to their home address. To a large extent, it is also influenced by their place in the Dutch society (living in between two cultures) and the phase of their lives. After all, they are just teenagers who are exploring their boundaries and who want to react against their school and their parents. By means of a great number of quotes, the research shows that every youth handles this in another way. There isn’t just one truth. That’s a shame for policymakers and politicians, but a celebration for the city.

Photos: Ton Groenendijk Producties