“it’s all about belonging: even now, who belongs where is often based on who belonged to whom. i sometimes wonder how i get away with living while black.” — Evie Shockley, improper(ty) behavior in the new black
The preceding epigraph frames this piece on the squatting actions of the Dutch Caribbean community in the Bijlmer—a neighbourhood of the borough of Amsterdam South-East—that took place between 1970-1980, as well as issues of liveability and habitability the squatting actions raised. I will focus specifically on a large-scale squatting action in 1974, which was labelled the first organized act of resistance of Dutch Caribbeans in the Netherlands. The involvement of Dutch Caribbeans in the squat movement is often not included in mainstream narratives on squatting actions.
As a black urban space, the Bijlmer represents in the popular imagination a space of pathology, rather than spaces of community. In a 2012 article titled How a Black Neighbourhood Became Blacker, which appeared in De Groene Amsterdammer, the Bijlmer is said to be “the drain of the city.” I analyse the Bijlmer in the first instance not as a static geographical location, but rather as a complex set of political, economic, spatial, racial, gender, and sexual relations that converge on a site that is subsequently marked as black and uninhabitable. Thus, the Bijlmer is in my analysis not only “a concrete place, whose racial and economic formation is material” but also “an imagined place.” By taking this approach, I hope to highlight the various ways in which black dispossession forms the ground for the production of belonging and space.
Throughout the piece I will use Dutch Caribbean and black people interchangeably, rather than the terms “the Surinamese” and “the Antillean” which pepper the newspaper articles, to refer to Dutch Caribbeans of African descent. I use white (Dutch) people to refer to so-called “Autochtonen.” Within Dutch politics, both blackness and whiteness appear as spatially grounded praxes. Even though the Black–White binary is not the only binary which characterizes white supremacy, it is the binary that frames most Dutch political thinking, and is, thus, integral to understanding spatial production. Deprived, underprivileged, anti-social geographies, or ‘hot spots’—in other words, sites that are inhabited by dispossessed communities—are systematically described as “black neighbourhoods.” Moreover, the residential outcomes of black people areoften outlined in terms of ghetto or ghettoization, however, the same descriptors are never used in regard to the ‘concentrated’, yet unproblematized, outcomes of white Dutch people living in suburbs. The national spatial imaginary is racially marked: racialized bodies are territorialized through terms like “Allochtoon” and “Autochtoon,” and it is through this territorialization of racialized bodies that spaces are coded as white, or black. As such, blacks and whites are consigned to different physical and metaphorical spaces. Continue reading “Liveability and the Black Squat Movement”