This is a talk that I prepared for an event about the asylum policy in the Netherlands and how it affects refugees:
In this talk I want to highlight the role that anti-blackness has played—and still plays—in shaping official migration policies. More often than not, the role that anti-blackness plays in state policies remains unmentioned.
Counter to popular political actions, I want to unsettle the relatively “safe” position of those of us who are documented. My main project is to question and undermine the system of documentation itself—to think beyond citizenship. To that end, I would like us to think about why it is so that the state determines which movements are legitimate, and which aren’t. Why is no movement ‘free’—unless it is in service of corporate capital? The basic question I want us to wrestle with is, why do we need to be documented in order to be able to “live legitimately” in this society?
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.”
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.
Politics is death that lives a human life. — Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics
In the recent calls for solidarity, the violence enacted on Black flesh has often been used as a springboard to launch analyses that bury under the heading “we’re all in this together” the specificity of anti-blackness. The specificity of Black positionality is brushed over (by both Black folks and non-Black people of colour) in a rush to pursue a ‘happy’ politics of solidarity.
“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 andAmerican 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.”
[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.