This past week in the Dutch social media landscape has been, erm, amusing, frustrating, enlightening, entertaining, maddening, but mostly enraging. Last week saw the publication of two articles by Piet Emmer, colonial apologist extraordinaire. I’m not going to critique the articles (don’t have the time, nor energy). Briefly stated, they’re made up of strings of racist arguments, which are all held together by a (near-)intractable colonialist epistemology.
One of the articles by Piet Emmer, cavalierly entitled “Slavery Is Not An Excuse,” appeared on the website of Dutch newspaper Trouw just a couple of days before Keti Koti. On the very same day “Let’s Talk About Niggers” an article by Marcel Hulspas, a science journalist, was published on a reactionary “news blog.” In the article Hulspas flippantly dismisses the experience of Glenn Cofried, a Black man. Why you ask? Well, Codfried had the audacity to object to the use of the word “neger.”
Those in the Netherlands who argue that the word “neger” doesn’t have the same (historical) weight as “nigger” are those who are cut from the same cloth as Piet Emmer. The fact that a history of lynching doesn’t cling to the word “neger,” doesn’t mean that it’s neutral. To the word “neger” comes attached an entire history of violence, as well; violence that the Dutch enacted on the bodies of African descended peoples. Besides, the argument that those words are unrelated is questionable, at best.
“According to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, it did not originate as a slur but took on a derogatory connotation over time. Nigger [his italics] and other words related to it have been spelled in a variety of ways, including niggah, nigguh, niggur, and niggar. When John Rolfe recorded in his journal the first shipment of Africans to Virginia in 1619, he listed them as “negar s.” A 1689 inventory of an estate in Brooklyn, New York, made mention of an enslaved “niggor” boy. The seminal lexicographer Noah Webster referred to Negroes as “negers.””
A few days later another article by Piet Emmer appeared; this time on the website of the “reputable” Dutch newspaper Volkskrant, and coolly entitled “Not All Misery Is A Result Of Slavery.” In the article Emmer claims – without a drop of irony – that racism isn’t a result of slavery. To top it all off, Henk Lubberding, a commentator for the NOS, the Netherlands Broadcasting Foundation, a few days later, called Kévin Reza, a cyclist in the Tour de France, a “little nigger.” To my surprise, Lubberding was called out for making racist remarks. White Autochtoon Dutch folks are, in general, not very consistent when it comes to moral outrage. I mean, blackface (and I’m not even talking about Zwarte Piet) on publicly funded broadcasting channels is still a-OK:
The thing is: Lubberding did not only call Reza the n-word, he also stated that, “that little nigger is so dark that I have to call him a little nigger. It’s a miracle they even know how to ride a bike.” It’s reassuring to know that he was simply compelled to use the n-word: he couldn’t help himself. Lubberding had no choice in the matter; Reza’s dark skin left him no other choice. It’s simply the fact of blackness.
Per usual, there also followed a stream of White apologia. Online op-ed page Joop published a piece by Joost-Jan Kool, a policy maker, in which Kool asserts that the astonishment Henk Lubberding expressed is understandable. He writes, “Bicycle racing is a predominantly White sport.” Kool also notices that the people covering the sport “are all White people who talk about a peloton that consists largely of White people.” Yet, this fact isn’t as astonishing as a Black man on a racing bike…
Lubberding issued a fauxpology in which he, mind you, didn’t apologize to Kévin Reza. It was one of those stock, generic and vague apologies. Lubberding stated that,
“I shouldn’t have used the term “little nigger.” I did not know that, however, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. It’s just that he’s a really dark guy and I thought it just wonderful to see him cycling among the leading group.”
“I would not even know how else to phrase it. At the moment only the negative aspect is being singled out, while the positive aspects of my story are not mentioned.”
Which “positive” aspects would that be? The fact that Lubberding assessed that “they” are even capable of riding a bike?
Lubberding’s appeal to ignorance (that is, he did not know he shouldn’t have used the term) suggests that his racist commentary was simply an accident (“accidental racism” is not a thing, as Mia McKenzie argues in A Few Words on ‘Accidental’ Racism and Forgetting). Claiming to not know that the word is loaded is tenuous, at best, and a blatant lie, at worst.
Back in 2011 the cover of the Dutch version of “The Book of Negroes” was torched as an act of protest, because the title contained the word “neger.” The torching made national and international news. And let’s not forget the name-change of “negerzoenen,” a change that is still being bemoaned.
Anyhow, the NOS reprimanded him, but did not fire him. Hans Laroes, former editor-in-chief at the NOS, made a tasteless “joke” about the affair. He tweeted,
“Do not doubt Henk Lubberding’s good intentions, but [his] vocabulary is really from ages ago (“little niggers”). Send [him] a box of nigger kisses.”
And thus all was well again in the Netherlands.