Category Archives: Anti-Blackness in the Netherlands
On July 31, Dutch newspaper NRC published a review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me. With its title, the piece written by Guus Valk asks: Nigger are you crazy? How do you destroy the black identity? This comes only days after the paper published a column entitled Black America needs to look at itself in which Black Americans were told to “stop impregnating 16 year old girls because your grandmother sat in the back of the bus.” Since NRC is so eager to weigh in on what Black people should do, it’s only right to provide translations so we can drag them from the bench to the field.
Aside from the racist title, the piece which also discusses Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and Mat Johnson’s Loving Day, is adorned with this illustration (pic) by Aron Vellekoop León who captured Blackness as Dutch, mainstream whiteness likes to see it: colonial, submissive, sad and with a dash of blackface. When one of the sharpest Twitterati in the Dutch conversations about racism confronted Valk with the title, he stated that he merely writes the reviews but doesn’t pick the titles, intro’s and illustrations. He didn’t object to the use of the word nigger or the disgusting illustration. If that wasn’t a co-sign, it was at least a shrug.
Valk needs less than two sentences to illustrate how little he understands about racism. “The issue of race was assumed to be settled with Obama as president. Since the Summer of 2014 it became clear that this is absolutely false.” Imagine the uneducated white privilege that produces the illusion that in the evening of November 4 2008, racism was put on hold and that nothing racist happened until the white officer Darren Wilson killed the Black teenager Michael Brown.
With every single sentence, Valk drags himself further and further from the understanding that his analyses about racism are only as valuable as the silence that fails to smother them. He states: “A few years America, especially [white] America, lived in a dream. A new era had arrived, in which old problematic race relations didn’t matter anymore. The inauguration of president Barack Obama, the first black president, underlined that America has entered a post-racial era. Of course there are still differences between [white] and black but they’re more the result of social class than of race.” I write white in brackets because, to the vast majority of Dutch people being called white… well, those are fighting words. The Dutch prefer ‘blank’, a term that has no non-Dutch equivalent but means “bright white, without stains, without color”. It can be used for people but also for varnish or a yoghurt like dairy product called vla. If it sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen it on the signs from South Africa’s official apartheid era.
Then there’s also the term Black which is written with a lower case ‘b’ because the idea of Black with a captial B, combining political identities with African and/or Afrodiasporic heritages, has yet to enter mainstream Dutch media. How serious can we take someone who wonders “How do you articulate racism” but is still too much of a coward to rid his work of the comfort that the word ‘blank’ continues to provide? With his “The debate about race is dead serious, especially from the [white] perspective” he affirmed that he has absolutely no idea what he read or what he’s writing.
“Do we truly expect something different from a white privileged son of the Netherlands’ hyper-colonial academic climate and journalistic mediocrity?” This isn’t about expectation or even what “surprises” us, it’s about forced accountability and decolonizing Dutch media. And yes, it’s absolutely about putting a blowtorch to any conversation about Dutchness that fails to mention the country’s national levels of xenophobia, colonialism and/or racism.
Let us not be distracted and exhausted by white privilege driven liberals who slither towards our mentions or inboxes with lamentations of intentions, context or other philosophical derailings. The review is real, the illustration is real and both are problematic so let us have this conversation without those whose mere intention is to whitesplain this into nothingness. There’s no time to judge the arsonist by all the things he didn’t set on fire. We’re burning.
Within its cultures, Dutch Whiteness sees historical context as something that exists by the grace of whether or not they, white Dutch people, choose to deal with it. When Dutch Whiteness sighs “Not today…” a subject is expected to automatically detach itself from the systematic oppression it is a symptom of. Dutch Whiteness’ level of critical, non-eurocentric, decolonial thinking is so absolutely subpar because it only trusts itself to correct itself. Since their obsessive love for blackface can no longer fully rely on the immunity granted by so-called Dutch Innocence, it was only a matter of time before they turned to another form of anti-Blackness: the human zoo. On September 5 Valtifest, the love spawn of MTV Nederland and DJ Joost van Bellen, hosts the 8th edition of their annual dress up festival. This year’s theme: The Hottentot Exhibition.
“Hottentot” is the highly derogatory term Dutch settlers used for the Khoikhoi, the people who are among the first inhabitants of Southwest Africa. Most people probably know it from the exploitative ‘nickname’ that was given to Sarah Baartman who was known to racist white scientist and voyeurs as “The Hottentot Venus”. Combine the Netherlands’ colonial terror in South Africa with Western Europe’s history of human zoos and one understands why Valtifest received a variety of protest Tweets in response to their announcement. Their reply? Typically Dutch.
First things first, this is how it works in Dutch:
Hottentot – singular.
Hottentotten – plural.
Tentoonstelling – exhibition.
Hottentottententoonstelling – “An exhibition of hottentots”
It’s not rocket science. It’s not a word like “fast” that means something different for a duck than it does for a cheetah. An exhibit of Black people is an exhibit of Black people is an exhibit of Black people. History doesn’t magically change because Valtifest founders MTV Nederland and Joost van Bellen decided that appropriation is the new creativity.
The organisation starts their statement the way Dutch Mainstream Whiteness always begins: by stressing that the criticism they will now address is subject to the feeling/experience/humour of those who have been offended. It reaffirms the White Dutch theory that within the Netherlands’ white picket borders, racism, colonialism, eurocentrism and xenophobia are sentiments rather than systems. Everything anti-Black that’s happening outside of the country? “Racism! Absolutely racist. Soooo racist!” It’s when it happens on Dutch soil that the maze of semantics, intention and sensitivity can’t be constructed quick enough.
In the second paragraph of their ‘explanation’ the organisation states: “That in the past Khoikhoi members, among others, were exhibited as an anomaly is a horrific truth. We detest those dark pages from the colonial era.” I lack the vulgarity to properly express how much I hate it when people refer to colonialism and slavery as “dark pages”. Pages? Books. Not even chapters… books. Books full of dehumanizing monstrosities and terror. And aren’t they white as hell?
Also, what’s a Khoikhoi member? Could it be that in the minds of Dutch Mainstream Whiteness ethnic and/or cultural groups are so over-appropriated that they are now considered to be clubs one can sign up for? Should we now wait for white people to claim they’re “politically Khoi” and explain to us why this party isn’t a problem?
Dutch Mainstream Whiteness wouldn’t properly live up to and roll around in its anti-intellectual mediocrity if it didn’t demand a redefining of terns. According to the third paragraph of their explanation, the organisation explains: “We don’t detest the word ‘hottentottententoonstelling’. It’s a cheeky tongue twister, a word that will score many points in word games but, above all, a word that doesn’t have a literal meaning, after all: there’s no such thing as a hottentots exhibition and there never has been.”
The festival’s claim that the word doesn’t exist and that no such exhibition ever took place, banks heavily on the eurocentric, whiteness driven ignorance of its potential visitors. Should we expect anybody on Team Valtifest to slam a research thesis on human zoos on the table while urging their colleagues to do the historically right thing? Of course not. Can we expect them to build their dismissal of historic events on something stronger than “Because Wikipedia said it never happened!!”? Perhaps not even that.
Regardless, we owe it to our survival to not let our expectations navigate our demands.
This year’s edition of Valtifest takes place on September 5, giving everybody who’s not having any of this a good 14 weeks to deal with the matter however they see fit. To join the conversation on social media, please use/mention #ValtifestIsHumanZoo , @Valtifest and/or @MTVnl in your statements.