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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Politics of Spatial Imagination in the Dutch Colonial Myth

“The modern world hates to see black folks resting.” — Lewis Gordon, “African American Philosophy, Race, and the Geography of Reason.”

In the 19th century, the opponents of penal colonialism thought it inadvisable to deport prisoners to hard labour. In an official document to the then King, they write (my translations),

“The examination of the hereby dated report of the Minister of Justice and the associated lists of prisoners who are considered to be suitable for transportation to Brazil, or any of the other overseas possessions, has convinced me that the persons referred to cannot be made use of for the benefit of your Majesty’s colonies.

In the West, experience has shown us that, in a hot climate, only Negroes should be used for the cultivation of the land as well as other physical labour; under no circumstances should Europeans be put to work, and women, who mostly are absent from the slave forces in Suriname, must be sought from nowhere else but in Africa, so as to achieve the maintenance of the black population.

In the East, and in particular Java, our entire economy and the security of our possessions is founded on this principle, the natives should stand in absolute awe of Europeans, this feeling should spring forth from a sense of their moral and intellectual inferiority. It is from this point of view that Europeans, even those of the lower classes, dismissed soldiers or sailors, etc., are rarely if ever called to, or assigned, manual labour, and it is for this reason, too, that many experts think it would be inadvisable to embark in those regions on a colonization programme as that of, for example, the Swiss in Brazil.”

A. R. Falck, Minister of Public Education, National Industry and Colonies Continue reading “Politics of Spatial Imagination in the Dutch Colonial Myth”

My Thoughts on the Ruling

Last week an administrative court in Amsterdam ruled in favour of the plaintiffs who contested the licensing of the 2013 Sinterklaas Parade in Amsterdam. The plaintiffs argued that granting the organizers of the Sinterklaas parade a permit constituted an infringement of their right to respect for private and family life, since the figure of Zwarte Piet, which plays a huge role in the public Sinterklaas parade, is a negative stereotype of Black people.

The plaintiffs argued that Foundation Sinterklaas Parade Amsterdam, which organizes the parade, could not have otherwise organized the event without the permit the Mayor granted. Because Mayor Van der Laan had not fully considered the objections to Zwarte Piet in his decision to grant a permit, he was summoned by the court to reconsider the licensing of the 2013 Sinterklaas parade. The decision was heralded, as Chandra Frank notes, as “an important outcome of years of protesting and activism by those opposed to Zwarte Piet.” Even though, I could understand why Black folks were happy with the decision, the reasoning upon which the court ruling is based bolstered White supremacy.

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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.

Praten over racisme Continue reading ““I Didn’t Mean To!” Tracing the Roots of ‘Dutch Innocence’”

On the Strange Case of “Work” without Workers

“It is not that I have no past. Rather, it continually fragments on the terrible and vivid ephemera of now.” — Samuel R. Delany, Dahlgren

Ineke Phaf-Rheinberger warns us in The ‘Air of Liberty’: Narratives of the South Atlantic Past that “[I]t’s not enough to condemn [this] slave trade as having been a crime; the details of its afterlife, the cultural heritage it left in its wake, have to be understood as a contemporary dilemma, an open wound.” And yet there is scant critical analysis in the Netherlands of slavery’s afterlife. In general, Dutch attitudes are very much in line with contemporary neo-liberal discourse that “treats the present,” as Issa Shivzi observes in The Struggle for Democracy, “as if the present has had no history.” This uncoupling of the present and the past is actively done and maintained as an aspect of power.

We need to make visible these obscured, deliberate modes of violence and place the present in relation with history. As I will argue, a critical engagement with the afterlife of slavery forces us to re-think concepts like freedom, progress, work, production, exploitation, freedom, as well as contemporary conceptualizations of race, gender, sexuality, ability and class. Prior to emancipation White Dutch politicians imposed their vision of “freedom” and their circumscribed definition of autonomy on Black folks in the Dutch Caribbean. The attempts of the Dutch state to control and prescribe the comings and goings, desires, and behaviour of “freed slaves” have left lasting marks on the ways we imagine freedom and what constitutes work.

Continue reading “On the Strange Case of “Work” without Workers”

Administrative Violence and the Role of the Police

“The idea that Africans could be grateful for slavery marks them as excluded from the values of liberty and independence which were already established as part of, but nonetheless increasingly central to, the definition of Englishness.” — George Boulukos, The Grateful Slave: The Emergence of Race in Eighteenth-Century British and American Culture

I would like to thank Patricia Schor for helping me think through the inchoate ideas on this topic. I’m still in the process of developing them—despite what the length of this text might suggest.

In my last post I argued that both the move to locate anti-black racism outside of the Netherlands (specifically in the US) and the negation of the significance of Whiteness are intended to undermine the epistemological claims of those of us coded as Black. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the use of these rhetorical manoeuvres  is not new; its genealogy is long and its roots are deep. For instance, Helen Metzelaar puts a use of this manoeuvre on view in an article entitled A Hefty Confrontation. The Fisk Jubilee Singers Tour The Netherlands in 1877.  Referring to the Dutch hosts of the Fisk Jubilee Singers Metzelaar writes that they “preferred to concentrate on slavery in the United States. In noble introductory speeches they emphasized that now slavery in the United States had been abolished, closer ties between the two countries could be developed.”

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This is Not America: Dutch Rhetoric and its Denial of Racism

“The word Black
has geographic power,
pulls everybody in:
Blacks here—
Blacks there—
Blacks wherever they may be.”

Gwendolyn Brooks, A Primer For Blacks

Gwendolyn Brooks, image taken from: http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/gwendolyn-brooks-271.php

[This is, like all of my writings, a work in progress.]

Modern technology has made it very easy for reports and images of US anti-black racism, as a framework for understanding anti-black violence, to travel. These images of US anti-black violence that circulate across the world shape how anti-black violence is read and perceived in specific geographical and cultural contexts.

Back in 2011 when the Dutch fashion magazine, Jackie called Rihanna an anti-black misogynistic term Rutger Bregman, a historian who taught a university level course on the history of racism, argued in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant that “Only American neurotics think we’re racists.” Bregman argued that racism is an American thing. I want to focus on how in Dutch public discourse US anti-black racism is used as a yardstick against which the self-image of Dutch non-racist tolerance can be measured.

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