Category Archives: Afri-/Afrodiasporic communities in the Netherlands

Illegalized, not illegal

image (1)During last month’s demonstration in The Hague, the Amsterdam based computer engineer Bahaeldin (pic) carried a sign with a crucial message. In the Netherlands, refugees whose asylum application has been denied are more than often referred to as illegalen, “illegals”. From news articles and right-wing propaganda (in the few instances that the two aren’t synonymous) to conversations with self-proclaimed leftist volunteers who believe that working with traumatized Black and/or Brown people rids them of the ‘hassle’ of not being ‘allowed’ to use racist or other “politically incorrect” terms… in the Netherlands, refugees who’re no longer “in the system” are stripped of their humanity and reduced to a rejection.

Take NRC, one of NL’s main so-called quality newspaper that used  “N*gg*r, are you crazy” as the title of a review discussing the new books of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Paul Beatty’s and Mat Johnson , for instance.  Some of the paper’s headlines include: “No shelter for sick illegals” and “At least 20 municipalities keep offering shelter to illegals”.  On June 12, 2016 one of their headlines read: “After their disclosure, these illegals were applauded and criticized.” The first sentence of the article was: “After graduating, the brilliant students Larissa Martinez (18) and Mayte Lara (17) announced that they’re illegal immigrants.” Imagine a social and political climate that produces and reproduces these ‘descriptions’ with such frequency that they are normalized. Unfortunately calling refugees whose asylum applications have been denied “illegals”, isn’t ‘just’ something for the physically and/or verbally violent right-wingers. It’s not just for the White Dutch people who tear up their village after an ‘informational gatherings’ about the town/village’s new asylum centre or who show up at anti-refugee marches in nazi(-esque) gear. Don’t get me wrong… NRC couldn’t be more trash if Manuel Valls, the French prime minister who stated that “Burkini’s are not compatible with the values of France”, used the paper to wipe the venom from the corners of his mouth. Still, they’re not an exception to the Dutch rules of dehumanisation. It’s been a long time since my Sisters and I attended meetings about and/or with illegalized refugees and we didn’t have to write each other a rant to rage about the “…but I’m a good person”-kind of volunteers who made it clear that we shouldn’t ‘always’ correct the way they describe/call people from sub-Sahara Africa “because you know what I mean and it’s been a long day.”

And of course there are demonstrations where people hold up protest signs stating “Nobody’s illegal” but, as with most statements about what ‘everybody’ or ‘nobody’ is or isn’t, I fear we’re hurrying past many realities that illustrate the differences between what we aim for and where we are. Especially in the Netherlands where generic statements (regardless of how loving and well-intended their roots are) smother many, many critical conversations. What does it mean to be illegalized? What does it say about the Dutch immigration service if so many of the people who were first illegalized still end up getting their residence papers? How does being illegalized affect one’s access to healthcare, shelter and/or education? What’s the humanitarian track record of the Dutch governments when it comes to deciding when someone’s quest for safety and other elements of survival are “against the law”?

With his sign, Bahaeldin urges us to move from the dream towards deconstruction. From there, we must reconstruct a narrative that takes us from survival to living and doesn’t let our humanity depend on sameness. Let us build.


I have the luxury of being surrounded by brilliant Black women whose creations put fire in our steps and pepah in our speech. Makers and organizers. Sisters who’re stomping through the unruly rubbish of privilege and comfort while striding towards social justice, making sure that we’re not just standing on the shoulders of giants but we’re also setting up battle camps and sanctuaries in their footsteps. Even in the company of such illuminating workers, filmmaker Bibi Fadlalla stands out as one of the realest, one of the truest. As I wrote on The Gram: “She’s a film maker doing it for the culture instead of the clicks, doing it to reflect instead of to be seen. Her lens is one of the most amazing mirrors that ever represented Blackness in the Netherlands.” With her new series #BlackInNL Fadlalla affirms the importance of having our histories and realities documented by someone who isn’t just fascinated by our experiences but who also shares the, who lives them.

BibiOn June 23 2016, Fadlalla (pic) uploaded the first episode of the series that will de- and reconstruct the contemporary narratives about Blackness in or affected by the Netherlands. With #BlackInNL she creates conversations that are public yet unbothered by expectations of how and when Blackness should enter the stage. She creates with the freedom of those who understand that ‘dialogue’ often means ‘delay’ and that the B in our follow up plan stands for Black. By finding a proper balance between liberties and responsibilities and while connecting our individual to our collective Self, she plays a massive part in us retaking matters into our own raised fists. That she invited human rights expert Nawal Mustafa and PhD researcher Tracian Meikle for the first two episodes, makes one thing very clear: we will be represented in our full dimensionalities. Both ladies have made and continue to make stellar contributions to the collective well-being of Black people in the Netherlands. Digging through archives, attending events, mobilizing people. Neither of them ever did it with their eye on the mic but it’s such a joyful kind of justice that they are the ones who’re introducing us to this new series.
Plus, Fadlalla’s list of people she wants to interview for upcoming episodes is so refreshing. It reflects that what some of us have so desperately been fighting for: a proper representation of the NL-based Black communities. One that takes us far beyond the shortlists of some of our most prolific organizers, one that offers an understanding better than the best coffee dates with those who’re seen as in-crowd.

If more people who claim to be in the business of (re)telling the histories of NL-based resistance movements would do so from the community archives instead of from in front of a big mirror, Fadlalla would have gotten the credit she deserves a long time ago. Part one and two of her documentary Zwarte Piet en Ik (Black Pete and I) first aired on Dutch tv on December 1 and 8, 2012. This is long before the latest wave of Saviors and others invested in the intellectual gentrification of Black resistance discovered that the anti-racist struggle is an excellent stepping stone towards relevance. Her work should have earned her a spot at the tables. Proper tables in the houses that we built, not those burning pieces of furniture scattered around decaying ivory towers held together by colonial nostalgia and sanctified aspirations to never ever upset the status quocasian.

Luckily her drive to create offers ample opportunities to get it right. #BlackInNL isn’t just what we need, it’s how we need it: honest, free and Blackity Black. So instead of live Tweeting during all the mainstream TV shows that don’t get us or creating hashtags urging them to invite one of us on their show, use your energy to amplify the work of those of us who actually have us in mind when they create.  Be on standby for next episodes that will feature Amsterdam based activist Jessica de Abreu and plenty, plenty mo’ good people.

Ways to pump a digital fist in honour of Bibi Fadlalla’s work:
– Subscribe to her Youtube channel
– Follow her on Twittah.
If you can read Dutch, be sure to also follow the account of her upcoming documentary Dat Haar (That Hair).

Dear Bibi, thanks for all the excitement you continue to offer!