Dutch need to teach more on colonial and slave trading history, says UN rapporteur

There is an ongoing anti-racism demo on the Dam in Amsterdam. Photo: Robin Utrecht via ANP

More attention should be paid to the Netherlands’ colonial and slave trading history in education, UN rapporteur on racism Tendayi Achiume has said in an interview.

The researcher, who last year stirred up sentiments by criticising the Dutch niqab ban, is expected to present this year’s report on the state of racism in the country this week.

In an interview with Dutch media – reported in the Parool – she praised the fact that ‘the debate about systematic racism is in the foreground in a way that I didn’t see before’ and that there is apparently ‘more recognition for the problem’ from the government.

But she said that there is still work to do to uphold the principles of equality that are legally enshrined, and the Dutch idea that it is a ‘tolerant’ place could be an obstacle in this. ‘This can actually be a barrier,’ she warned. ‘If people are convinced that they have got there while others are still suffering, it is very difficult to solve these problems.’

She called this ‘the Dutch paradox’. ‘Civil servants and citizens said that the Dutch identity is inclusive and tolerant, and that it has always been so,’ she said. ‘But at the same time they couldn’t do much about the experiences of racial, ethnic and religious minorities who feel like eternal foreigners. People from the Caribbean parts of the kingdom are described as non-Western migrants while they have been Dutch citizens for decades.

‘I hope that the current debate leads to more reflection about who belongs here and who is not seen as belonging here, and the role of the government to ensure you can feel a fully worthy member of Dutch society regardless of your ethnicity, race or religion.’

After multiple demonstrations and protests against racism and the celebration of colonial history in the Netherlands earlier this year, Mark Rutte admitted that racism is a problem in Dutch society. He said that his view on Zwarte Piet – Sinterklaas’ blacked-up helper – had undergone ‘major changes’ after hearing from people who feel ‘discriminated against because Zwarte Piet is black’.

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