On Facts, Proof, and the Reception of Black Critique in White Dutch Media

“Give us the facts, we will take care of the philosophy.” — John Collins

In a recent article, philosopher Mihai Martoiu Ticu issued a “challenge” to his critics: “prove it.” What needed to be proved here was whether Guus Valk’s review article gives “an unfair advantage to whites, or unfairly disadvantages blacks.” Martoiu Ticu admits that he has seen “no evidence” of either undue benefit or harm. In what could be said to be a self-disqualifying move, Martoiu Ticu claims that,

“It is not evident that the word ‘nigger’ is a priori racist. The same applies to illustrations of a black man in the familiar stereotype of blackface, including thick red lips.”

Mihai Martoiu Ticu’s claim is not, at all, remarkable. Rather, it is part of a contemporary White liberal discourse on racism, which reduces racism to ‘individual experience’, ‘individual acts of meanness’, or the result of ‘unfortunate misunderstandings’ (some misunderstandings are overdetermined). Racism is marked as ‘real’ only when the intentions behind the act or statement are racist. As such, it becomes either a matter of individual prejudice or miscommunication—both of which can be remedied by ‘raising awareness’ and through ‘dialogue’. In order to establish whether racism is the ‘true’ issue at hand, research must be conducted. It’s not racist, until it’s been proven. What constitutes racism is, thus, continuously up for debate and this strengthens a “framework of plausible deniability [that has already been] built up around racism”—a framework which enables Mihai Martoiu Ticu to disconnect the N-word and the darkie iconography used in Aron Vellekoop León’s illustrations from their historical, political contexts and cultural antecedents.

Martoiu Ticu’s statement of “no evidence” in the face of overwhelming evidence and his challenge to “prove it” are symptomatic of White supremacy, and both raise a number of concerns when read alongside the struggle against racism, and for justice. If what could be considered, as in the case of the N-word, incontrovertible evidence of racism is made subject to discussion and contested under the guise of ‘research’, then what counts as incontestable evidence? What kind of evidence “speaks for itself”? To be clear, I am not taking up Martoiu Ticu ‘challenge’ to find measurable, causal evidence for a negative impact of Valk’s article on Black people. Rather, I’m interested in how, through a desire for ‘evidence’ in the face of incontrovertible evidence, White Dutch innocence and the ‘integrity of Whiteness’ are secured. If the assumption of White Dutch innocence saturates interpretation, and structures what can and cannot be ‘seen’ or understood as evidence, then to what extent does it interpret ‘evidence’ a priori?

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Seeing Colour, Reading Saul van Stapele

“Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”

— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

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.

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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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When Did Anti-Oppression Work Become Charity Work?

Why do I sense benevolence?
You stand tall at my great expense
Thick words of gratitude, what a price to pay
Stuck in my throat, I sell every word I say

But I don’t want your charity
Twisting me round
I don’t want your charity
Keeping me down

Read more: Skunk Anansie – Charity Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Discriminee, from their website: http://discriminee.nl/nl/home/
Discriminee, from their website: http://discriminee.nl/nl/home/

“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.

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Why Won’t You Teach Me?