One of the unintended consequences of ‘mainstreaming anti-racism’ is that anyone and everyone who believes themselves knowledgeable enough, regardless of the level of their understanding, is offered a stage to provide an analysis of racial oppression. Nowadays, anti-racism is, as Ramona Sno argues, fashionable. “It is striking,” Sno writes, “that the people who are now speaking out the loudest against racism and other forms of exclusion are white, and that their pieces are, to put it mildly, inspired by the pieces of POC (people of color) in the Netherlands.”
It is striking, indeed, that predominantly White folk are given space in which to not only articulate their ‘anti-racism’, but to also determine what’s racist. Given the dominance of normative Eurocentric epistemologies that have distorted Black epistemologies, or rendered them unintelligible or invisible, it’s important to remain vigilant of dynamics that relegate the intellectual work of Black(ened) folk to ‘footnotes and brackets’ or that reduce our work to ‘raw material’ that can be unlimitedly exploited—without having to engage its ethical implications.
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.”
“The logic behind white domination is to prepare the black man for the subservient role in this country. Not so long ago this used to be freely said in parliament, even about the educational system of the black people. It is still said even today, although in a much more sophisticated language. To a large extent the evil-doers have succeeded in producing at the output end of their machine a kind of black man who is man only in form. This is the extent to which the process of dehumanization has advanced.”
If racism is institutional in the Netherlands, then why do ‘anti-racists’, keep looking for racism in the familiar places? Cataloguing highly locatable racist comments may point out the ubiquity of racist expressions, however, it does nothing to illuminate the work that racialization performs. Black folks and non-Black people of colour hardly need reminding of the scale of overt racism in the Netherlands. The question is, then, who is the intended audience of such cataloguing? Besides, targeting individual (online) commenters and writing them off using ableist and/or classist terms not only strengthens the idea that racism is an individual, psychological, and interpersonal ‘issue’, rather than a constitutive, systemic, and cultural feature of the social body of the Netherlands, but it also suggests that it is OK to challenge racism with ableism and classism. If racism is woven into the very fabric of the social body and its institutions, then why are certain institutions exempt from scrutiny? Continue reading “The Machinery of Dehumanization”→
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.”
“Oh, hell no!” was my first reaction to the nomination of Bureau Discriminatiezaken’s Discriminee! initiative for the NRC Charity Award. I’ve already written a piece about anti-discrimination language in the Netherlands (which you can read here) and how it frames marginalized people as perpetual victims in need of saving and empowerment. Anti-discrimination language (with its focus on the “individual”) in the Netherlands precludes any serious analysis of racism as something that is structural and embedded. And, now, it turns out, anti-oppression work is considered charity work.