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Myths of the Netherlands as the home of tulips and tolerance should only exist in the minds of those who’re in the business of touristy promotions. In reality, this is the country of Eva “Nggbtch” Hoeke, Thierry Baudet who got his privilege ravaged and handed to him by the briljant Fatou Diome and Dutch sports commentators who, on national TV, wonder if Boko Haram would be part of Nigeria’s soccer team. It’s the home of white cartoonists who mock Black casualties of forced migration and white public figures who appear on talkshows to refer to African refugees as “blackies” or tell the presenter that he’s rather unlucky because he’s “not just Black… but also stupid!” This is the Netherlands, where on July 23 national newspaper NRC offered space to Charles Groenhuijsen’s column about the trials of the Black communities and the Black Lives Matters campaign founded by Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors (pic). The title: “Black America needs to look at itself.”
In his intro, Groenhuijsen argues that “Black poverty in the US comes forth out of racism, but you can’t blame white people for everything.” Groenhuijsen, a white Dutch journalist, writer and public speaker who’s based in Bethesda (USA), is the quintessential poster boy of his country’s distorted approach to Black people’s histories, the national sentiment that whiteness outweighs research or study and the subpar level of journalism all this produces. He continues: “Ask Americans what the biggest problem of the country is and they will start about the economy, unemployment and the role of the government. And since this Spring also racism. Not that racism was ever gone, but it wasn’t on top of the list. Because of deathly incidents where police officers killed black civilians (Ferguson, Staten Island, South-Charleston) racism is back on the front pages. It is a persistent problem. Contradictions between white and black are rather bigger than smaller. Also the first black president of the US does not bring improvement. Obama doesn’t realize the impossible. Which is not a reproach.”
The Dutch in any case, from their role in slavery to their grave abuse of the rights of illegalized refugees, demand nuance. Whenever racism is discussed in the Netherlands it is always in conjunction with nuance. Groenhuijsen has no intention to break his country’s code of whiteness: “Who in a discussion about racism insists on nuance can count on criticism. What is there to nuance about racism? I will try either way. Not to suggest it’s not that bad with discrimination in the US. It is bad. Large and small racism is there every day. At the office, at school, in shops, on street corners. It leads to an angry debate that gets stuck in the hopeless binary of right and wrong, victim and perpetrator. Too often it is about the consequences in the 21st century of slavery in the 18th and 19th century: a black-white dispute in which bitterness and pessimism prevail. Too many whites say: racism is about over. If a black American can conquer the White House, is everything possible. Stop complaining and demonstrating. Oh, and as well-meaning white person I don’t want to be blamed for something that happened two centuries ago.”
Groenhuijsen’s call for nuance is appalling. Not only is he telling Black Americans what to do in a Dutch newspaper, he suggests Black Americans play an equal part in the current racial affairs. He fails to ask why Black people are attacked and incarcerated daily, fails to ask how white people contribute and maintain the very white supremacist system that he calls nuanced racism. Where does he question how it is possible that Black people are arrested on non-existing grounds and die at the hands of the State? The problem with Groenhuijsen and the likes is that next to forever wanting nuance they also are firm believers of equality. After his ‘analysis’, he deems himself important enough to offer ‘solutions’ for America’s future. And of course, the answer lays in the idea that Black and white both need to let go of their prejudice and work together towards a ‘hopeful’ future. “Is there only bad news for black America? No, the good news is that more and more African Americans are successful. You can become professor, surgeon, director, top athlete, popstar, and indeed president. Unfortunately, the number of those who structurally stay behind remains too large. Too often Black Americans misused deprivation (as powerlessness, despair?) as something to be proud of. Who tries to do better is a show off: ‘You are acting so white’.”
As a good little white progressive, Groenhuijsen reminds us what his kinfolks are known for: discussing racism and discrimination by talking about how it affects white people. “In the meantime, discrimination against white people is very common. Just ask a random white pupil or student. Is it a form of bitterness?” This is the kind of mind that produces hashtags like #AllLivesMatter but limits calls for ‘inclusion’ to occasions when whiteness fears that its ‘other, better side’ is being ignored. Unable to see racism as an oppressive structure, white people like Groenhuijsen fail to graduate from the ‘Why don’t you like me? Why aren’t we talking about what this means for me?’-part of the conversation. To him and the vast majority of his countrymen, racism is the result of a lack of effort to overcome inequalities. Groenhuijsen references cops killing Black people, the link between poverty and racism, the existing figures on racism, and still argues whites will only change their attitudes if Black Americans change their behaviour. Groenhuijsen eagerly makes use of the widespread idea that Black humanity is dependent on white goodwill. He states: “[…] young black Americans: you don’t need to impregnate 16 year old girls because your grandmother sat in the back of the bus. You don’t need to shoot and kill fellow blacks because there was once slavery […] Of course black lives are of value. But why do Black Americans kill each other so often (more than 40 deaths a week)? When compared to whites, the number of African American killers is seven times as high. Doesn’t your battle cry count in those cases? Why isn’t there a black leader standing up to yell “Yes, all black lives matter” for every black murder victim? […] Obama is the best possible ally of black Amerika. But don’t expect a black president to solve just solve all problems for you.”
The aim of the translations we offer here is not to reproduce his racist and violent words, but to hold Groenhuijsen and Dutch media responsible and call them out on their racist propaganda. Dutch media needs to face their daily reproduction of whiteness plus answer for it on both a national and an international level. It is utter cowardice to write such bold, anti-Black statements about a movement but do so in a way in which the changes of a response are slim to none. Did Groenhuijsen approach any American media in an attempt to sell his Dutch views on the Black Lives Matter movement? If Groenhuijsen is serious, or at least sincere, about the advice he wants to offer Black America, why did he choose this rather inaccessible form? Could it be that, not quit unlike a growing group of white liberals/progressives/saviors/etc. Groenhuijsen thinks that conversations about Black people need to be had far away from the reality that we might respond and drag them for filth?
Please add #DecolonizeDutchMedia to your statements on social media and consider mentioning @nrcnext when you’re Tweeting about this article. We’re urging everybody to not click on any of the NRC links so they can’t turn this into some random click peak that will make them more interesting for sponsors and/or advertisers.
In the Netherlands, a country that describes its inhabitants with a word that 97% of the time excludes its nation’s non-white citizens and where frames trump definitions, language classes are as political as the teacher’s understanding of Dutch society allows them to be. It is impossible to refer to ‘zwart’ (black) as simply the darkest colour and ‘blanke’ as just another flavour of a custard-like dish. Or at least it should be.
There’s no way to properly explain a word like ´Nederlander´ without talking about inclusiveness, exclusion and citizenship. Let’s not stand on ceremony here: ´Nederlander´ means ´white Dutch person´. Fair enough, it sometimes means ‘non-white, Holland based athletic man who excels at soccer’ or even ‘non-white model who grew up in a Dutch city and who’s now gracing the cover of an international magazine’. It’s a badge of approval, tolerance or visibility that doesn’t suffer the burden of agency and therefore can be applied and snatched away whenever The Autochtoon feels like it. ‘Ne-der-lan-der’, the baggage is as important the pronunciation.
Besides the joys of saying “Goedemorgen!” and understanding what´s what at the grocery store, learning how to speak language brings two great strengths:
– Reclaiming your narratives
– Understanding a country and/or community´s social and political dynamics which allows you to deconstruct the euphemisms and other myths about equality, normativity or inclusivity.
After two months of guiding a group of 20 undocumented Brothers at Amsterdam’s Vluchtgarage through this linguistic maze called Dutch, it became clear how much this honesty, this relevance is appreciated and how it stimulates people to study. To speak. To reply. And, if needed, to rearrange.
On Monday September 8 Ramona Sno and I gave our first class and from day 1 it was about so much more than teaching people how to not get stuck between the sch-s and gr-s of the Dutch language. It’s about self-reliance, about no longer being treated as a voiceless subject by those who either don’t want to hear your story or prefer it to be told by someone who looks like what they think objectivity and honesty looks like. It’s about the most basic questions and answers but also about safety and being able to explain medical emergencies and requesting proper care. And yes, it is very much about improving chances within the educational system and on the job market.
It’s unclear how much longer the group can stay at the Vluchtgarage but I truly hope to keep working with these Brothers for many months to come. Are there plans to work on a study book based on the experiences and insights that, for sure, will be gained? Well, I’m so glad you asked…
For more information about our Dutch classes, please follow this blog and/or #Vluchtgarage , #UndocumentedNL, @Lazeefuik and @Ramonasno on Twitter.