Tolerance is Dead. Long Live Tolerance!

These days “tolerance” and “multiculturalism” are uneasy words. Both tend to evoke commiseration after multiculturalism was pronounced a failure. As it were to be expected the Dutch intelligentsia either lamented profusely or celebrated feverishly the demise of “multiculturalism.” With the passing of multiculturalism, it seemed, tolerance itself was soon to be  next on the chopping block. Many people see Wilders as the one who dealt tolerance the death blow. After these goings-on it is, I should say, intriguing that just at the dawn of this supposedly post-Wilders era SIRE has decided to come out with a campaign to restore “tolerance.”

SIRE has a reputation of trying to create fellow-feeling. Back in 2010 the organization launched a campaign to teach folks how to be nice.

When asked, most Dutch people would still staunchly claim to be very tolerant, despite (pending) noxious anti-immigration laws. Tolerance is an essential attitude in the structure of feeling in the Netherlands.  Notwithstanding its positive connotations, tolerance is an ambiguous social value. It is one of the main tools in the master’s house with which the border between social majorities and minorities is manufactured. The division between Autochtoon and Allochtoon, which has become central to government policies, is simply a continuation of the imperial divide engendered by colonial racist policies. The Netherlands is, just like during the heydays of colonialism, continuously being naturalized discursively and representationally as belonging to White Autochtoon Dutch folk. And, likewise, racism is simultaneously being normalized by presenting the current racial order as normal, or natural.

This division is, needless to say, a violent one. Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan has defined violence as “any relation, process, or condition by which an individual or group violates the physical, social, and/or psychological integrity of another person or group.” Judith Butler in Coda on Dutch Politics makes the process specific when she writes, “you [the minority] must tolerate the pain and abuse we [the majority] will deal you, and that is the proof that you can “integrate” and become part of Dutch citizenship.” By their very nature tolerance, and notions of a “Dutch national identity,” are intimately related to violence—both play out in ways that further colonial violence. Yet, tolerance, which connotes benevolence and compassion, works to obscure the fact that White Autochtoon Dutch national identity has been formed, and is still being formed, through acts of violence. On the face of it, tolerance generates a “not-knowing,” which hides the fact that the Netherlands is a nation built on colonizing desires. This “not-knowing” is achieved by reconfiguring these violent desires as feelings of deep sympathy and sorrow for those stricken by misfortune. In this case, the misfortune is our being different.

Statements like “Vol is Vol,” or the current discussions on immigration, relate to how much difference the Netherlands can respect and tolerate and to what extent the Other must be subjected to practices of assimilation, erm excuse me integration, in order to maintain “the natural order.” As a Dutch Caribbean man, who is inextricably tied to Dutch history, I can, quote unquote, belong over “here” only insofar as I can embody a certain way of being, that does not challenge White Autochtoon Dutch hegemony. Racialized and cultural differences are thus manufactured and maintained primarily through intranational sets of contrasts, by which “the Dutch Caribbean non-Western Allochtoon” is marked as possessing a racial and/or cultural distinctiveness, despite our being Dutch citizens, that needs tolerating. On the other hand, “the White Dutch Autochtoon” is seen as the unproblematic norm that suffers “the Dutch Caribbean non-Western Allochtoon.” There is only so much difference that the Dutch nation-state can tolerate; any deviation from the standard requires disciplining, as Judith Butler remarks. In this context, it follows that “the Dutch Caribbean non-Western Allochtoon” must rely on “the White Autochtoon Dutch” to provide guidance, stability, and pathways to safety and success. The rod and reproof give wisdom (Proverbs 29:15).

Tolerance is, in effect, a discourse of border control, and it does not require members of the dominant group to challenge or examine the power that they evoke through the very embodied performance of tolerance, nor the power they exact over subaltern groups through its performance.


One thought on “Tolerance is Dead. Long Live Tolerance!

Comments are closed.