Much of what Black and non-Black communities of colour face in the Netherlands is the result of the haunting afterlife of slavery. “Haunting is,” as Avery Gordon puts forward, “the sociality of living with ghosts, a sociality both tangible and tactile as well as ephemeral and imaginary.” The Netherlands is embattled by the intimate ruins of imperialism, and the emotional debris that the debates on multiculturalism have left behind. Folks continue to engage, silently and reluctantly, with the deadness of a multiculturalism not-yet-dead—manifesting as spectral cosmopolitan projects.
Recent discussions on racism exposed the debris field of unacknowledged racial animus as these talks, at once, rendered invisible the groundbreaking work done by Philomena Essed, Troetje Loewenthal, Gloria Wekker. Other voices of resistance too distant to materialize, Stanley Brown, Freddy Antersijn, Astrid Roemer. It is important that we trace the emergence, and journey of race critical thought in Dutch history in order to bring into view these disappeared bodies (of work). White Dutch media, aided and abetted to a large extent by White Dutch academia, have created a “rhetorical space” (a concept by Lorraine Code) in the Netherlands in which racism is articulated disjointedly. White Dutch academia regularly invites a quizzical inquiry into the status of racism: whatever happened to racism in the Netherlands?
Bosnan no sa?
Media and academia, like two dancers in a pas de deux, move in unison; both are actively maintaining a state of not-knowing. Lorraine Code argues that rhetorical spaces “structure and limit the kinds of utterances that can be voiced within them with a reasonable expectation of being heard, understood, taken seriously. [Rhetorical spaces] are the sites where the very possibility of an utterance counted as “true-or-false” or of a discussion yielding insight is made manifest.”
Anto p’esei bosnan no por komprondé.
It is tragically ironic that in the country where the Black European Summer school takes place, the voices of the academics of colour were sorely missing from public discussions on institutional racism. While at the same time White academics, regardless of their competence, weighed in and used, as established fabricants de connaissances, their credentials to scent their racist ramblings with the aroma of authority. The lack of engagement on the part of academics of colour put anti-racist activists in an awkward, if not disadvantageous, position. Our critiques were maligned left and right by the putative guardians of the White academic covenant. Anti-racist activists were framed as troublemakers, and potential threats to the social order. I waited for the voices of academics of colour, but it is Winter, and their voices are in hibernation.
Michael Hanchard asks in Part/Politics “what does contemporary political and social theory look like when viewed from a vantage point of a black life-world?”
Mi a wak ariba y abou. Left and right.
Indeed, from the position of the Afro-Caribbean the Netherlands is fraudulent. I destabilize a coherent concept of the Netherlands. I am the bodily and linguistic reminder of the permeability of the border—of the fiction that the Netherlands is a White nation. I physically, morally, intellectually transgress the contours of White Autochtoon Dutchness.
“To live in the Black Diaspora is I think to live as a fiction – a creation of empires, and also self-creation. It is to be a being living inside and outside of herself.” Dionne Brand, Map to the Door of No Return
There is no name for the journey that Afro-Dutch Caribbeans make from the field to the house; there is no term to trace the geographic and class boundaries crossed; no term that maps the move from Dutch national to immigrant. There is no word for the transformational properties of the Atlantic that keep rearranging the status of Black folk. There are only strokes. Breaststrokes. Strokes of the lash. Strokes of the pen. With a stroke of the pen my ancestors went from slavery to unslavery—I still have the fake freedom papers to prove it. With a stroke of the pen I went from Dutch national to immigrant.
Much of the violence in the Netherlands comes in the shape of strokes of pens, strokes upon strokes that remake, redefine, recast people. Nos no ta katibu mas. Nos no ta hende tampoco. Nos a move for di living to the dead to the living dead. And here below NAP, Normal Amsterdam level, I brush against life. Life keeps telling me that the black body is what always sinks to the bottom.
Ta kiko a keda patras?
“How can we effectively and fervently argue that we form an intrinsic part of our communities while we’re aware that these connections are tenuous and live in fear of the day they might be severed? Do these feelings and fears prove that we are, after all, exceptions?”
What came to mind after taking in, chewing on, digesting these questions is another fundamental question posed by Ronald Judy in On the Question of Nigga Authenticity,
“Can there even be a ‘community’ of niggers, as opposed to a ‘bunch’ or a ‘collection’?”
A well-intentioned White woman recently suggested I should retort with “jager” whenever a White person calls me “neger.” Jager, hunter, yes. Neger, slave, no. Slave hunter. The irony is that with this “joke” my position as a not is reaffirmed.
And then there was silence.
“Benevolence haunts Black people.”
Questions upon questions press the question, where do we go from here? Black is, Black ain’t, Black is, Black ain’t. Pretu ta forza. Black is power. Black power. The White man knew the power of Blackness and tried to bottle it. Pretu ta forza. Black is power. Power is Black. Unreadable messages in innumerable bottles. Genderless messages in vials.
Na unda e ta bai.
She, him, he, her, it: e is genderless and remains unchanged, like the ocean, regardless of whether they are the subject or object of a verb.
E ta bai akinan.
Bottled Black bodies, solid or liquid, caught and pulled down in the crosscurrents between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea, crashing on the spiked shore lines of the EU.
“These are theoretical and ethnographic borderlands at sea, where elements or currents of historical, conceptual, and embodied maritime experience come together to transform racialized, gendered, classed, and sexualized selves.”
Kuantu bes bo a yega di bisa esaki òf tende e palabranan aki?
We were Black dolls violently inserted into the bottle of Dutch history. Unreadable messages in tight bottles. Undrinkable black water. Historically and fundamentally obsessed with the risk that water poses to the Netherlands, the Dutch became very good at fending off the sea. Bottles. Urns. Vials. One vial contained slavery. Another (or was it the same one?) was crafted to contain the tsunami Geert Wilders predicted.
Does integration mean bottling?
Drifting back to Kawrage’s questions, I think it is important to think about how to pull in Black folks who are outside. Perhaps, not pull in as to incorporate them into a whole, but more a question of how to embrace yourself by embracing them, or vice versa, to reach out and…
“It is through the effort to recapture the self and to scrutinize the self, it is through the lasting tension of their freedom that men will be able to create the ideal conditions of existence for a human world.” — Frantz Fanon
Perhaps, that’s why we call ourselves yu di Korsou. We are children of the ocean and stolen lands.
If I am a yu di Korsou, a child of Curaçao, then…
And then there was the thereness of Blackness.