The Language of Racial Innocence

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

James Baldwin

What recent events have yielded is that a lot of White Autochtoon Dutch folks, when facing the charge of racism, feel that it is their self-image—as good, non-racist (and thus “innocent”) citizens of a tolerant country—and their moral character, in particular, that are being threatened.

The outward appearance of benevolence, tolerance, and innocence has been central both to the Dutch national self-image and to the political manufacture of the White Autochtoon Dutch identity. The Dutch have become so invested in the image of their being tolerant, “good” people that to many the unrelenting stream of reactionary and racist comments directed at anti-blackface campaigners came as a “complete surprise.”

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Justitia Vincit Omnia

 “All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.” – Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution

Last year three criminologists of Leiden University conducted a study in which they found that people who “look Dutch” have the least chance to be sentenced to imprisonment by sub-district judges. Moreover, “Dutch-looking” people receive on the whole a lesser sentence, quite often a fine or community service. In response to the Leiden study Rivke Jaffe wrote a column entitled Is There Such a Thing as a Non-Dutch Appearance?, which was published in the Leiden university weekly Mare. She writes,

“The Leiden study was conducted based on the observations of students who used a standardized checklist. Upon inquiry I learned that the variable “non-Dutch appearance” was based on a combination of the subjective assessment of the observer, and the registration of the place of birth of the suspect. If ambiguities arose, then the observers simply left this attribute open. If there were any uncertainty whether the appearance of the accused was Dutch, or not, then the case would not be included in the analysis. This only occurred in ten of the 541 cases, so the observers felt pretty confident about their ability to distinguish between a Dutch and non-Dutch appearance.”

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This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things…

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.”

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Anti-Discrimination Work at Work

“In the politics of “gut-feeling” what counts is that you feel better, whether or not the problems you face have actually been solved.”

– David Wells, One Nation and the politics of populism in Pauline Hanson : One Nation and Australian Politics

“The Netherlands was and is a country where no one has to hide their true selves. It is a country where women have the same opportunities as men […] It is a country where neither your political colour, nor your skin colour matter.”

Creatie   Anti discriminatie 5

“The Netherlands is a place where you’re not judged based on colour, gender, age, or religion.”

Indeed, these grand declarations taken from a campaign by would be, if they were true, commendable. However, they are not—not even for the most part. Facts, it seems, have taken a back seat to lofty myths about tolerance, gender equity, and diversity.

What kind of work do organizations in the field of preventing and combating discrimination do in the age of colour-blind “post-raciality,” “post-multiculturalism,” post-everything? When what they’re preventing and combating seems to appear, not only in their minds, but other people’s as well, as something that has already been dealt with? When discrimination is perceived as a temporary disturbance of a happy mood?

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The Political Economy Of Racism

“Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people.” ― Audre Lorde

In the opening speech at the congress 15 jaar Algemene wet gelijke behandeling Gelijke behandeling, de realiteit: Dilemma’s, verlegenheden en kansen Laurien Koster remarked that, “The impact of discrimination is severe: less profitable results when women are underrepresented in [your] company’s workforce. Discrimination and harassment lead to reduced efficiency and attention span in the workplace.” (my translation)

The impact of employment discrimination is often expressed in capitalist terms that reflect corporate interests, i.e. loss of profit, less innovation and diminished overall results. Quite often the implementation of a rigorous diversity policy is offered as a counter to these adverse economic effects. Diversity, so it goes, is good for business. However, many advocates of diversity within the Netherlands fail to think critically about the material and cultural conditions in which diversity policies are produced, circulated, interpreted, and enacted. Who sets the agenda, and what are the consequences? Who eventually benefits, and who loses from diversity policies?

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Social Responsibility and Participatory Labour

Despite our provisory inclusion in the conceptualization of “We,” ethnic minority citizens are, nevertheless, earnestly entreated to participate fully in fostering interconnectedness with our fellow Autochtoon citizens—with the aim to reinforce the optimism and strength of the Netherlands. Optimism is the operative word for a coalition navigating uncertain times, trying to keep its head above water and solve problems, all the while “building bridges.” It’s unsurprising, then, that the VVD-PvdA coalition has made the expansion of public participation (“participatiebevordering”) its number one priority. In times of crises, so it goes, “we” all have to pull our weight.

The main purport of public participation is that communities have to become more resilient and self-supporting. And a decentralization of power will make that easier. Civil society, in short, should replace government as a driving force in the management of public affairs. Back in 2009 David Cameron so carefully lamented, without a drop of irony, that “today the state is ever-present: either doing it for you, or telling you how to do it, or making sure you’re doing it their way.” Cameron mused that the “alternative to big government is the big society. We need to use the state to remake society.” Government, in this case, refers, to quote Thomas Osborne and Nikolas Rose, to “that plane of thinking and acting concerned with the authoritative regulation of conduct towards particular objectives.”

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Racialization of Citizenship

We’re all in this together! But, who are “We”?

What lies at the bottom of that question is the principle of infrangibility (a concept developed by Orlando Patterson), meaning “a commitment to a unity that cannot be broken or separated into parts, a commitment to the elements of a moral order and social fabric that is inviolable and cannot be infringed.”

The Dutch commitment to an unbreakable unity is tenuous at best. On the one hand, citizens of the Dutch nation-state are imagined as an abstract colourless (and thus race-less) body politic, with each body constituting the body politic having a shared set of rights and responsibilities. On the other hand, certain bodies are implicitly (or explicitly) ethnicized, and marked as raced, and, as a result, are treated differently. Whiteness hides within these elisions. Whiteness is, as Zeus Leonardo attests, “a racial discourse,” that is separate from the category “White people,” which “represents a socially constructed identity, usually based on skin color.”

The Dutch subject, as distinct from the Dutch citizen, continues to refer above all to the White, Autochtoon, middle class, heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender subject, and this ideal subject is articulated in conjunction with a possessive investment in White Autochtoon Dutch belonging in the Netherlands. This conception is continuously being re-affirmed in popular culture. All across the board we are being presented with a normative construction of who and what is “Dutch,” that does not accommodate the “non-Western Allochtoon.”

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