Racism in the Netherlands

Over the past decades, the Dutch generally considered racism a concept associated with other countries, the United States for example. For a very long time, most Dutch people remained ignorant of the constant influence that racism has on their country. Despite the history of colonialism that is still very much present, for instance in national holiday celebrations and the formulation of a one-sided historical narrative in education, the idea that racism existed in the Netherlands seemed outdated. The recent emergence of Black Pete protests resulted in more skeptical thinking regarding this specific tradition and the current Black Lives Matter demonstrations placed the issue of racism more firmly in the spotlight. Nevertheless, despite more awareness of not only the presence of racism but its influence on the everyday lives of Dutch citizens, the issue remains controversial. The political agenda is finally urging individuals to take part in a thorough self-evaluation and to ask themselves: what can I do to make a difference?

Tendayi Achiume, United Nations special rapporteur on racism, recently presented her conclusions regarding racism in the Netherlands. She fears that the general conviction that the Netherlands is a country of tolerance and acceptance have led to a distorted view. She argues that the problem is rooted in education and the absence of a collective historical timeline, which would have to include the dark sides of history that the Dutch would rather forget. The consequences of slavery have resulted in persistent stereotyping and racial profiling, as discriminatory cultural images shaped the general perception of particular races.

Whilst the Dutch consider themselves to be one of the most tolerant nationalities in the world, statistics report otherwise. According to a survey published in the second National Report of Experienced Racism released in April 2020, more than a quarter of Dutch citizens still experience racial prejudice. These numbers are comparable to statistics measured five years ago; thus, substantial improvements with regard to racial discrimination are lacking. The most noteworthy contexts in which people experience prejudice are education and the job market. Unequal and negative treatment in education were the most prominent. Unequal treatment when applying for a job or even after having been hired stand out as well. Even the chances of renting a home prove to be negatively influenced by the color of one’s skin. A worrying type of racism, which was often reported, was ethnic profiling by the police – people of colour are more often stopped and questioned by police than whites. Dutch citizens of a Turkish or Moroccan ethnic background actively experienced the most racial discrimination in 2018.

However, recent advancements in the Netherlands that involve anti-racist activism seem to be promising for the future. One specific incident of racial injustice and police brutality in the United States sparked the recent wide-spread uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement, namely the brutal killing of George Floyd in May 2020. This event stimulated worldwide activism with regard to modern racism. Tens of thousands of people came together in the Netherlands to participate in these protests. According to EenVandaag opinion polls, the majority of white people in the Netherlands consider these demonstrations a positive development for the future of the country. Most of those surveyed support the right to protest against racism and feel that the racial problems in the Netherlands have been hidden for too long. People feel inspired to take a stance when they hear personal anecdotes from the people close to them regarding their daily experiences of racism.

Self-education and self-reflection remain the most effective ways to combat the racism that is so deeply engrained in society, with the Netherlands definitely being no exception. The fact that these matters are being openly discussed is a sizable step in the right direction since, according to Achiume, one of the major obstacles in the fight for equality is the fact  that the Dutch are convinced of an equality that is simply not there. Without seeing the problem, there will be no solution. Making sure that younger generations are educated on concepts like white privilege and the history of colonialism will hopefully lead to more cooperation and mutual understanding between Dutch people of all races. Although it may be painful to face these issues, a more tolerant Dutch identity is needed in order to create a safer country for all citizens.

Written by Charlotte Seijger