“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.

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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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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 discriminatie.nl 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?

Continue reading “Anti-Discrimination Work at Work”