The Netherlands and Its Discontents, or: How White Dutch Folks Started Worrying and Urged ‘Us’ to Take Rioters Seriously

Taking the ‘riots’ in Ferguson following the extrajudicial murder of Michael Brown as a point of departure, Femke Kaulinggfreks and Matthijs Ponte argue in a recent article that ‘we’ in the Netherlands should “take rioters from minority communities seriously.” The authors state that in the Netherlands, ‘we’ are able to look critically at the situation in Ferguson, however, when it comes to racial tensions in our own country ‘we’ lack the ability to provide a critical analysis. Kaulinggfreks and Ponte attribute this lack to the fact that ‘we’ probably see American society as much more unequal and racist than Dutch society. Throughout the article, the authors make a slew of rhetorical shortcuts that need to be made explicit and challenged.

First, the authors invoke a ‘we’ that is implicitly White Autochtoon Dutch, and clearly rules out my perspective as a Black man. Second, the authors yoke together disparate acts of dissent, or as they put it “disruptions of public order,” and create, thus, a broad protest animated by a coherent ‘sudden’ surge of ‘discontent’, which erases their respective specificities. Moreover, Kaulinggfreks and Ponte use in their article the vacuous and simplistic gloss ‘ethnic minorities’—a gloss that implies a level of homogeneity that is decidedly problematic. The political actions of ‘Muslims’ and ‘Afro- Caribbean Dutch’ are spoken of in the same breath under the umbrella term ‘community activism’, and this equation oversimplifies further a complex web of political relations. Third, the authors use forms of protest in the USA, namely the Civil Rights movement as a gauge, and contrast forms of political dissent in the Netherlands to forms of political dissent in the USA—a move that, ironically, leads the authors themselves to make the same mistake that they’re “pointing out.”

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“I Didn’t Mean To!” Tracing the Roots of ‘Dutch Innocence’

“In his Discourse on Colonialism (1951), Aimé Césaire wrote that Hitler slumbers within ‘the very distinguished, very humanistic and very Christian bourgeois of the Twentieth century,’ and yet the European bourgeois cannot forgive Hitler for ‘the fact that he applied to Europe the colonial practices that had previously been applied only to the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India and the Negroes of Africa.’”
—          Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror

 “I’m always annoyed about why black people have to bear the brunt of everybody else’s contempt. If we are not totally understanding and smiling, suddenly we’re demons.”
—          Toni Morrison

In Dutch Colonial Nostalgia across Decolonisation Paul Bijl observes that colonial nostalgia in the Netherlands “imagines Dutch society as an essentially white nation, sadly victimised by black and brown immigrants who have taken over the role of violators of Dutch innocence from the Germans.” Recent White cries attest to the exactitude of Bijl’s observation: Black and Brown immigrants are supposedly taking advantage of Dutch hospitality—to be a host, it seems, is to be a victim. What’s more, the Netherlands has now completely lost its ‘innocence’ because people of colour are talking about racism, and apparently talking about racism, according to the Dutch intellectual elite, is what causes racism.

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Bitter

“O my brethren! I have told/ Most bitter truth, but without bitterness.” — Samuel Coleridge

In Affective Economies Sara Ahmed tells us that “emotions play a crucial role in the ‘surfacing’ of individual and collective bodies through the way in which emotions circulate between bodies and signs.” We are conditioned to relate to one another in specific ways, and it is through emotions and the specific ways in which we are conditioned to feel about others that societal norms and the very boundaries and surfaces of bodies take shape. We are taught to fear the stranger, and it is through our fear of the stranger, who has, as Ahmed notes in Strange Encounters, “already come too close” that the stranger emerges. Strangers, then, aren’t those whom we haven’t met, “but those who are, in their very proximity, already recognised as not belonging, as being out of place.” The circulation of emotions and our affective encounters speak of the intimate life of power. It is no wonder that sentiment and affective attachments were and are at the centre of governing projects. Dutch colonial governing projects gained their political coherence through “the management of [such] affective states, in assessing appropriate sentiments and in fashioning techniques of affective control.” (Ann Stoler, Affective States)

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