Dutch Racism: Call me a ‘Gutmensch’ in an ouroboros-culture

Only if racism belonged to a completely cooled-down part of our history, a past redeemed of all potential racist reminiscences it can contain for the present, only then could using the n-word in headline of review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book be morally justified. Only in that ideal situation the NRC-reader’s revulusion could be considered as only an empathic illustration of the racist horrors of an almost forgotten past and not be considered as a racist act in itself.

One of the lessons of Karen Attiah‘s critical article in the Washington Post (published on august 13)  taught me is simply that in the case of racism such a tempered, ‘ideal’ history does not exist. Obviously so for the United States, for in the US-culture still strong elements of racism still persist, but this is also -and in some perspectives even more so- the case for the Netherlands.

At this point I must first make a confession:

Not so very long ago, I myself was very annoyed by the anti-racist campaign against Black Pete (Zwarte Piet). I mistook the innocence of the child that is subjected to the Sinterklaas-celebrations for the innocence of the phenomenon itself. For me, white, male and brought up with this ritual, phenomenon wasn’t able to see how stigmatising the image of Black Pete could be for others. A blindness that essentially defines all unintentional racist expressions. (Now I find it extremely hard to imagine that I was blind to something so obvious). It’s obvious that this cultural blindness of the Dutch isn’t  limited to the image of Black Pete alone.

The big difference between racism in the US and in the Netherlands lies in the awareness people have themselves of their own racism in their daily lives. The Dutch still base their national pride on their tolerance of other cultures, finding it impossible to be racist themselves, while in the US it seems out there in the open, more consciously endorsed by both the pro’s and con’s. Like what for a long time was the case with Black Pete,  Dutch people simply do not reflect on the racist elements that are still contained in their culture. Nor do they (indeed) recognise the obvious lack of integration of blacks and others in especially the elite-circles of our society. Like the ouroboros Dutch racism only eats its own tail,  it keeps itself alive by feeding repeatedly on the same racist acts and utterances.

And truly racism in the Netherlands is everywhere, it is manifest in all social classes, and sometimes more so in the the intellectual-elitist, white dominated scenes of our little kingdom. But it is mostly in hidden form, only barely visible in daily life normally, with the exception of jokes. The most painful example of it are the ‘negergrappen’ . Negergrappen (jokes about negro’s) are whispered on many a BBQ or birthday party.  Only between whites of course, but no party goes by without one.

Some forms of racism are more visible: for example the popular pop radio-channels prefers white rappers before blacks. An as Attiah mentioned, the Dutch media dominated by white people  Another example is the beating of an Aruban man by the police (resulting in his death).

After the Black Pete-debate there is no excuse anymore for ignorance. FullSizeRender (1)Ignorance that seemed strong enough for Erik de Vlieger to respond to Karen Attiah’s article by way of an ad-hominem referring to the Dutch slave-trade tradition. A tweet that was regarded very funny to many Dutch tweeps.

But it wasn’t. It is a blatantly stupid and essentially racist comment. And for sure Erik does not consider himself a racist, he might consider himself even as a sort of ironical philanthropist making a kind of ‘negergrap’ out in the open and even be proud on his daresay. De Vlieger’s remark is an example op the ouroboros-racism of the Dutch intellectual: the ‘daresayer’ cannot be racist because it is a daresay and could not have been a daresay if the intention was racist. To utter racist opinions is even considered by some Dutch tweeps as courageous. Our colonial history is behind us, it has no place in the present and one can make jokes with it. Next to De Vlieger the NRC is only a more correct form of this ouroboros-daresay-ignorance (= racism).

If someone is openly writing against racism he of she will soon be considered as “goedmens” (Gutmensch) an overly correct person, a moralist. It happened to me more than once in the immigration discussion. In the Dutch social-media discourse on racism and immigration the morally correct have become the incorrect. The popularity of this kind of ‘daresayers’ feed further on fears of IS and radical Islam.

Still I hope dat the Dutch are willing to open-up to their history and neutralise the racist elements that are still actally functions today. The controversy between the NRC and the Washington Post might be helpful in reducing some of the Dutch blindness, but I will expect the ouroboros’ will continue to feast on its own flesh for some considerable time in the future. Before our Dutch culture has redeemed itself from its racist elements, the ouroboros probably has to devoure its own head first. I however chose not be a part of this endless process of racist self-digestion.

Call me a Gutmensch in an ouroboros-culture…


  1. Someone isn’t called a ‘Gutmensch’ for speaking against racism, but rather when you pretend that only white people are racist and people with different skincolor are inherently more noble.

    The Black Pete debate is a good example of this. Black Pete is part of an old European tradition that predates Christianity and can be traced back to old Norse or Germanic cultures. It certainly predates the African slave trade. The ‘blackness’ is symbolic and has a cultural meaning, and as such has nothing to do with genetically determined skincolor.

    Yet it is claimed to be racist by those who do not wish to acknowledge its historic relevance and only focus on the ‘blackness’. Basically they associate negative meaning to the skincolor, which is by definition, racism.
    It is also claimed that because they are ‘black’ too, their opinion is more relevant and the moral superior one. History be dammed, it’s their feelings that matter.

    Verene Sheperd, the VN ‘researcher’ who stated in 2014 that the Dutch don’t need their Sinterklaas because they’ve got Santa Claus already illustrated this perfectly when she commented on Black Pete.
    She said that she didn’t need to do research on it, because as a black woman she could tell without a doubt that it was racist. And anyone who didn’t see it the same way, was subconsciously racist themselves.

    And that is an inherently racist view, as if having a ‘black’ skin somehow predisposes a person to have greater intellectual skills and insights, and doesn’t need facts and evidence to support their claims.

    You’re not a ‘gutmensch’ for standing against racism, you’re a ‘gutmensch’ for thinking only white men discriminate.

  2. What I find so amusing about this article, you blatantly call racism, but never eloborate why it is racism. It’s the same old tactic of demonizing everyone that does not comply to the correct attitude, without even a proper explanation why you think these remarks are racist.
    At least, like the NRC article, you have chosen your title very well.

    1. It is easy to call someone or some opinion racist, surely if a person intentionally differentiates between individuals on the basis of their race or racial characteristics. If however, certain habits, rituals or ways of speaking do have the same effect, i.e. distributing positions in society in an unfair manner between individuals with a recefence of their racial characteristics, this in my opinion also amounts to racism. The tweets of Mr De Vlieger where, I reckon not intentionally racist, but they still give evidence of a mentality that bear a strong racist inclination. By saying that Karen could be in journalist in the US only because she is descents from former slaves, yes would be, if she was not a child of Ghanaian parents, seemingly just a factual statement. Objective, so to speak, so not racist. And therein lies the mistake. A remark like that in this performative context isn’t just like a factual statement as it would be in for example a scientific article. It is made in the context of a discussion about racism between an Afro-American journalist and a Dutchman that explicitly relates tot his history of slave-trade. His history could be a very painful one for the journalist, for sure, and he knows it, he intentionally plays on this impact. It is not a racist comment because De Vlieger should bear the moral responsibility for all the wrongs of the Dutch slave-trade history, but simply because he plays this card while he could easily chose another one. Surely if De Vlieger has an argument with someone on parenthood whose father’s just died, he will not make reference to his death father out of respect. The deliberate lack of respect here on this issue, in this very performative dimension, is an effect of a discourse with string racust elements of which De Vlieger part. In that sense Black Pete was/is only the most visible element of racism in our culture.

      1. His tweets are not very well chosen, I agree, but what of this use of the n-word, the Afro-American journalist calls racism, while it is used in the title of a book review on the subject of slavery. Then you talk about disrespect, indeed, towards NRC that is. Like you’re doing here, please explain why is this racism? Explain Black Pete as well while you’re at it, because I honestly don’t see it. He is a child fantasy figure, which evolved from medieval times, indeed he got this stereotype look in the period of slavery, but he is a hero actually. Not a bad man, everybody wants to dress up like black Pete, Saint Nicholas is only interesting because of the presents. Above all he is a fantasy figure, explaining him like I’m doing now makes no sense. His appaerance will evolve further anyhow, nothing wrong with that, but it’s defenitely not racism to portray him like this. So, your opinion about the tweets I get, but these are more childish than racist actaully.

        1. You know, when the debate started the slogan of the anti-racist movement was, as you probably recall: Black Pete is racism. Some people took that statement as highly judgemental, as if any individual celebrating Sinterklaas is a racist. And for sure some protesters did mean it in this way. With that kind of ad-hominem accusations of racism in the Black-Pete debate I disagree. I do think however that the image of Black Pete is coming across as racist for some black people (simply because they say it does) and that the stereotype of Black Pete bears the objectively the racist characteristics it took from the period of its genesis. Further I also believe that this image still can shape people”s perspective on blacks. It can have the wrong effect on children as these images somehow linger on subconsciously as they grow up and become adults. Racism in our culture is therefore not always as visible as thatof the Klux Klux Klan, it rather pops up in th Gestalt of jokes at an BBQ or in situations when someone is cornered in life, or if like De Vlieger one suddenly feels the nationalistic urge to defend the nation against moral attacks of a foreign newspaper. That kind of racism or should I say the potential for racist acts and expressions is kept alive, reproduced by a culture which does not redeem itself from stereotypes like Black Pete. Black Pete still is one of he sine qua nons for a culture where ‘negergrappen’ are still made every day.

          1. So: some see racism in Black Pete, therefor it must be racist. Right?

            Well, no.

            Subjective interpretation never dictates objective reality, and feeling offended doesn’t automatically mean you are actually being offended.

            Otherwise when some say you’re an idiot, you are one. When some are offended by your post, it means you are offensive. And maybe unless you’re a ‘gutmensch’ who thinks even the potential of racism means proof of membership of the KKK, it just doesn’t work that way.

            I find it rather silly to claim ‘negergrappen’ as proof of discrimination and racism. Jokes are made at the expense of everyone and everything; Belgians, Germans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, men, women and blondes.
            In fact, if no jokes were made about of people of color, wouldn’t that be discrimination in and of itself?

            And that’s the thing with the ‘gutmensch’; the potentially hurt feelings of anyone of (a different) color trump objectivity, common sense and the assumption that everyone is equal. Why else would ‘blacks’ need protection against ‘whites’, if not for the ‘blacks’ being inferior and incapable of taking care of themselves?

            Racism isn’t black or white, it is black AND white. It is colorless and of all color. It is in the assumption that some ‘race’ needs special care against the perceived mistreatment by some other ‘race’. It’s in the morally superior feeling of White Guilt and the need to ‘make it up’ with the other races. It is in the assumption that jokes about skin-color are somehow different from jokes about religion, gender and age.

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