According to Gloria Wekker, the Netherlands has been fundamentally shaped by a history of racism, resulting in a racist status quo. For the first time in Dutch politics, a political party has explicitly acknowledged and attempted to challenge the racist status quo. Political party Bij1 ran in the Dutch parliamentary elections on an antiracist platform, which meant putting racial equality at the fore in every policy proposal. Bij1 has the unique chance of setting a precedent of what antiracist policy looks like in the
Netherlands. Using an understanding of antiracism as context-dependent and tendentious, I interrogate their policy proposals using a critical discourse analysis to show how challenges to the status quo must
always reproduce the status quo as well. I juxtapose how the discourses employed in Bij1’s policy proposals challenge and reproduce the racist status quo because I aim to, through this thesis, challenge the
racist status quo myself. I suggest that an analysis of both the challenges and reproductions inherent in antiracist action is important to challenge the racist status quo more accurately.
Keywords: Antiracism, Dutch politics, Critical Discourse Analysis, Antiracist Policy
First and foremost, I want to thank Bij1 for all the hard work I see them do. Through tremendous trials and tribulations, they manage to challenge the racist status quo and seeing their determination inspires me.
Second, I’d like to thank my supervisor, Ladan Rahbari, for the ever-insightful suggestions and guidance.
The clarity with which she helped me embark on this journey has proven crucial throughout these past months.
Third, my gratitude to my partner, Ghazal Abedini, for the countless talks about Bij1 and antiracism. Her continued engagement with this topic, and tolerance for my rambling, enriched my thesis in visible and
invisible ways. Additionally, thank you for designing the front page and table of contents, they are beautiful.
Lastly, I want to thank all of my fellow students at the master’s Sociology. Seeing everybody’s passion during this difficult year of studying from home got me through the year. I hope to see everyone in offline
settings at some point!
Known for her work on racism in the Netherlands, scholar Gloria Wekker points out in her book ‘White Innocence’ that Dutch politicians have an extensive history of denying and disavowing racism (Wekker, 2016). Disavowing racism is constitutionalized, as article 1 in the Dutch constitution states:
“All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances.
Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.”
Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties, 2014
The Dutch constitution explicitly disavows racial discrimination. However, nowhere does the constitution state that the government should actively pursue racial equality. With a colonial history of racialized exploitation, the Netherlands has never seen racial equality (Wekker, 2016). The lack of this pursuit might therefore seem odd, given our colonial history, but can be explained through a history of denial. The Dutch bury the connection between the country’s history and the present situation (Weiner, 2014).
Instead, we often explain the racial inequalities through stories of individual failure (Ibid). Most Dutch people do not see themselves as racist and refute claims of racism in the Netherlands, because to be a racist means to be disavowed (Ibid). The Dutch imaginary invokes racism as a ‘being’, one either is or is not a racist and this imaginary supports the idea that the Netherlands is post-race.
While Dutch people commonly view the Netherlands as a country that is both post-race and antiracist, Wekker argues that the colonial history has profoundly impacted and shaped Dutch society (Wekker, 2016). Dutch people do not see themselves as racist because, as scholars Philomena Essed and Isabel Hoving point out, racism is seen as the overt, violent and blatant hatred of people of colour1 (Essed
& Hoving, 2014). An example of this would be how the current prime minister, Mark Rutte from the VVD2, denies being a racist while he has both individually been convicted of ethnic discrimination in 2007 (NRC, May 21, 2007) and his cabinet has collectively had to step down due to racial discrimination in 2021
1 Essed uses the term ‘people of colour’, a term which I will be appropriating only in relation to the dominant Dutch understanding of racism. Otherwise I will not use this term. Scholar Richard Dyer critiques the term ‘people of colour’ because it implies that white people have no skin colour and are once more positioned as the ‘neutral’
category (Dyer, 2017). This critique aligns well with the Dutch context where the politically correct term for white people until recently was ‘blank people’. Bij1 speaks about multiple forms of racism prevalent in the Netherlands such as anti-black racism, antisemitism, anti-Asian racism, hatred of Muslims or hatred against Roma and Sinti. To preserve these different forms of racism, I will be using the term ‘Dutch people who experience racism’.
2 The VVD is a Dutch rightwing political party that has managed to accrue more seats than any other party in parliament since 2010.
6 (NOS, January 15, 2021). As Essed points out, at the heart of this discrepancy lies the tendency to see racists as overtly hateful. The point of the example is not to clear up any ambiguity of whether Rutte is or is not a racist, the point is to show that Dutch people do not see themselves as racist. In line with
Wekker’s argument, not seeing yourself as a racist can mean ignoring race altogether and, through this ignorance, lead you to perform racist actions. Dutch racism is concerned with and benefits from preserving the positive self-image of not being a racist.
The relatively new political party Bij1, founded in 2016 with Wekker as an avid advocate of their message, aims to cut through the ambiguity of being or not being racist by asserting themselves as antiracist. They promise to strive for racial equality in all decisions they make. For them, being or not being racist is irrelevant if one is not antiracist. With the recent Dutch elections3 in mind, Bij1 released an electoral programme with their policy proposals and the reasons behind them. Significantly, Bij1 is the first Dutch political party running on an explicitly antiracist platform, which means that Bij1 is to a large degree able to define what antiracist policy looks like in the Netherlands. The electoral programme shows what they understand as antiracist policies in a multitude of fields. Through antiracism, Bij1 aims to counter the dominant discourse that considers race irrelevant to Dutch policy and society as described by Wekker (2016). But why does Bij1 care about countering this dominant discourse? Is race a relevant factor in Dutch politics and society?
Race is still an extremely relevant factor in Dutch society given that racial inequalities between people living in the Netherlands can be found across many different sites. These inequalities range from educational opportunities, to the job market, to everyday life in the Netherlands (Stevens, 2011;
Blommaert, 2014; Essed, 1991). A history of colonialism and racial discrimination have had enduring effects on the Netherlands (Wekker, 2016). One such enduring effect is the wage inequality ranging from 16 to 31 percent between people with a Dutch migration background and people with a Surinam,
Antillean, Turkish and Moroccan migration background (CPB, 2019). As the first Dutch political party to run on an antiracist platform, with mainly people who experience racism as their candidates, Bij1 aims to counter these racial inequalities in every policy and action.
As a concept, antiracism is theorized by scholar Ibram X. Kendi as an ongoing commitment to fighting racial equality, a ‘doing’ rather than a ‘being’ (Kendi, 2019). This ‘doing’ of antiracism relates to queer philosophy in its performative quality, and therefore to a common problem within queer philosophy as well: how can you signify a ‘doing’ in a language system reliant on ‘being’? Our common usage of language turns this disruptive ‘doing’ into a concept of ‘being’ disruptive. For example, if one practices nonviolence then through our language we would say ‘that person is nonviolent’. Living under what scholar Charles W. Mills calls a ‘racial contract’ (Mills, 1997), where white people experience benefits on the basis of the exploitation of others, ‘being’ disruptive can become an empty identity signifier if not
3 The Dutch House of Representatives’ elections are held in March every four years. The recent elections were held on the 17th of March 2021. Bij1 managed to acquire a seat in parliament.
7 associated with the ‘doing’, because once you ‘are’ something then you are also bound to be compliant in the racial hierarchy that already ‘is’. For example, the book ‘Antiracism Inc.’ is a collection of essays documenting instances where antiracist sentiments and actions were reproducing or reinforcing a racist hierarchy (Blake et al., 2019).
Kendi’s definition of antiracism as a ‘doing’ challenges the essentialist ontology of seeing things as a static and unalterable ‘being’. There are different ways to define ‘essentialism’, but common is the idea that things are defined by their underlying essence (Haslam, 2015). Using identificatory terms commonly implies a fixed essence that certifies its usage. For example, when scientists study racial differences, then these racial categories implicitly assert themselves as being fixed and immutably different categories that warrant their own usage (Smedley, 2005). Applying an essentialist ontology to racism requires viewing racial categories not only as fixed and immutably different, but also implies that rules dictating who belongs to which categories encompass everyone. However, not everyone gets to belong to racial categories, in other words not everyone gets to exist in an essentialist philosophical imaginary. For example, people with Asian American and or Latino/a identities struggle to be seen within the American black and white racial paradigm (Alcoff, 2003).
The differential distribution of who gets to belong to racial categories is itself an effect of racism (Ibid), which is why antiracism essentially requires challenging essentialism. Challenging essentialism is a
‘doing’, because once this challenge is concretely defined as a ‘being’, then it is essentializing new categories and doing the opposite of its intended goal. To go back to my previous example, challenging the black and white paradigm to include other categories such as Asian American and Latino/a still implies these other categories are fixed and encompass everyone. The ‘new’ categories of Asian American and Latino/a might still leave other people uncategorized, think of Native Americans, but more
importantly these ‘new’ categories also reduce a racially heterogenous group to a homogenous whole.
Both these consequences of essentializing race are effects of racism, yet antiracism still requires racial categories to be made intelligible. Using racial categories is inevitable for antiracism because antiracism is concerned with defining and challenging racial inequality, and racial inequality is made intelligible through essentialist racial categories.
The problems with essentialist racial categories are an example of how racial power has
beforehand shaped how we come to know race, racism and antiracism. Discourses in favour of power are implicitly infused in the way we know racial power, and not reproducing the way racial power implicitly favours some groups over others requires exploring local and immediate instances where this power is exercised. Particularly relevant to this line of thought, is my own social positioning and how I have come to know race. I consider myself both white and Dutch. This means that the way I have come to know race, in the words of Wekker, is within the dominant discourse of denial and disavowal (Wekker, 2016).
I will study Bij1 as a local and immediate instance of attempted resistance to the racial hierarchy in the Netherlands. As for societal relevance, Bij1’s policy proposals are the first iteration of explicitly
8 antiracist policy proposals in Dutch politics, and Bij1 therefore has a chance to define what antiracist policies look like in the Netherlands. In this thesis I will examine their policy proposals and how they strengthen or challenge the dominant discourses around race in the Netherlands. Language is always
‘doing’ something and through their policy proposals, implemented or not, Bij1 hopes to ‘do’ antiracism.
As for scientific relevance, I propose to study Bij1’s struggle with a racial hierarchy in the Netherlands to provide a local account of how our racial discourses can be challenged, but also strengthened. These societal and scientific considerations lead me to ask the following research question:
How do political party Bij1’s policy proposals challenge and reproduce the racist status quo in the Netherlands?
An answer to this question could help show why an antiracist platform is both warranted in the struggle for equality in the Netherlands and something we should keep questioning. My research question will be answered through a juxtaposition where I first analyse how their proposals challenge the status quo, followed by a discussion of how they reproduce the status quo. Antiracist struggle asks us to change our ontology, and by studying the powers that shape and sustain the current Dutch discourses I wish to show how an ontological shift can be made intelligible.
1.2 General Outline
To answer my research question, I will make use of perspectives from critical race theory and employ a critical discourse analysis. In this section I will briefly outline my thesis, followed by a description of the upcoming chapters. The scholars from critical race theory which have inspired this thesis are Gloria Wekker, Stuart Hall and Charles Mills. These authors will help me understand the tension within
antiracism, where antiracist action is always also a reproduction of the status quo, and apply this tension to study Bij1’s antiracism. I will mainly use Gloria Wekker’s appropriation of Edward Said’s notion of the cultural archive (Wekker, 2016), Charles W. Mills’ notion of a ‘racial contract’ (Mills, 1997) and Stuart Hall’s description of race as a sliding signifier (Hall, 2017). For now, I will briefly discuss these authors, but in the second chapter I will do so more thoroughly.
In her book ‘White Innocence’, Gloria Wekker uses Edward Said’s notion of a cultural archive to explain the dominant discourses around race in the Netherlands (Wekker, 2016). According to Wekker, imperialism has been crucial in the formation of Dutch identity. Imperialism has installed a racial grammar, a deep affective structure that informs and forms attitudes towards race. The cultural archive encapsulates how our ideas about who is a subject and who is subjected have been formed and inform our actions. Wekker’s description of the Dutch cultural archive is relevant to a discussion of racism in the Netherlands, because she discusses the discourses that shape race and racism in the Netherlands. For example, Wekker discusses the discourse of Dutch tendency to declare race and racism as irrelevant to most situations (Idem, p. 1). Stuart Hall points out that race and racism are made intelligible through powerful discourses and an understanding of race as related to power relations entails that race is always
9 relevant, because power is always present. Especially since society is so skewed by capital and inequality, race and racism will always remain present. Scholar Charles W. Mills contends in his book ‘The Racial Contract’ that white supremacy is a set of formal or informal agreements that systemically benefit whites over non-whites (Mills, 1997, p. 11). Charles W. Mills takes feminist scholar Carole Pateman’s notion of a
‘Sexual Contract’ and applies this to race, where white men in particular benefit from whatever decisions they do or do not make. The racial contract shows how racial hierarchies perpetuate themselves without necessarily requiring anyone to explicitly enforce them. The racial system that ‘is’ will perpetuate itself.
While Mills defines the racial system as whites over non-whites, I will be applying the racial contract with a less essentialist view of race as one so clearly demarcated.
According to Mills’ racial contract, the alteration of power relations would serve the dominant racial group. A problem for antiracism arises. If racial differences are themselves constructed through power relations which serve the dominant group, then how can antiracism challenge these power relations without constructing new power relations and new racial differences that serve the dominant group? I will describe this as the inherent tension within antiracism and show how doing the tension within antiracism can still challenge the racial hierarchy that is, by studying Bij1’s policy proposals. Through this theoretical framework an understanding of antiracism emerges as inherently tendentious and as an attempt to subvert the racist status quo that ‘is’. Understanding antiracism as such will allow me to examine how Bij1’s articulation of antiracism subverts or strengthens previous iterations of (anti)racist discourses.
To study how Bij1’s policy proposals challenge or reproduce the racist status quo, I will employ a critical discourse analysis of their 2021 electoral programme and in the third chapter I will discuss this method. I will only assess Bij1’s antiracism, because they have the chance to define what antiracist policy in the Netherlands means. This entails that my research will not be generalizable to more or all Dutch political parties, nor to other antiracist political parties outside of the Netherlands. My research can be difficult to generalize to other political parties running on an antiracist platform outside of the
Netherlands, but it can show how other Dutch political parties can do antiracism. The Netherlands has a particular history with racism and an understanding of antiracism is context bound. While this is a case- study, my research has scholarly value for the study of ontology from a power perspective. The way power shows itself differs from context to context, but the logics of power and how power constructs particular contexts is relatively homologous (Bourdieu, 1993). This means that fields are generally structured according to similar principles of power. To give an example, a description of the way Dutch racism requires and strengthens capitalism can be relevant to describe the tenets of racial capitalism in other contexts as well.
As I have indicated before, the second chapter of my thesis will contain my theoretical framework. Using the work of scholar Patricia Hill Collins, I will discuss why racism needs to be
understood from an intersectional point of view before I relate this perspective to the three authors within critical race theory previously mentioned. In the third chapter I will discuss critical discourse analysis, why
10 I chose this method and how I will apply this method to Bij1’s policy proposals. The fourth chapter will contain five aspects of Bij1’s policy programme which, given their antiracist platform, I take to represent different aspects of Bij1’s antiracism. Since the policy proposals are generally relatively short suggestions, such as ‘Blackfacing, such as black Pete, will be banned in public spaces.’ (Bij1, 2020), I will also briefly discuss the context within which Bij1 makes these proposals. Additionally, I will discuss the introduction to Bij1’s policy proposals on antiracism and decolonization because I think the discourses employed in this introduction show an overarching theme in their policy proposals regarding antiracism. In the fifth chapter, I will discuss how each of the five aspects challenge and reproduce the racist status quo in the Netherlands. To do this, I will involve different authors from different fields while also attempting to show a wider trend in Bij1’s antiracism of naming relevant racial categories but refraining from essentializing them. The chapter will end with a concluding section, where I briefly run through my findings again and provide a general statement on (anti)racism in the Netherlands.
In discussions of Bij1’s participation in the 2021 Dutch parliamentary elections I have heard my friends and relatives mention the irrelevancy of race to Dutch policy, often followed by arguments regarding the salience of class. As author Toni Morrison once pointed out, to insist on race’s absence is to emphasize its prevalence (Morrison, 1992)4. By discussing intersectionality in light of critical race theorists, I hope to emphasize the connection between class, race and other stratifiers. In the first part of this chapter, I will explain how race, class, gender and other identity signifiers reciprocally construct each other, an insight commonly referred to as intersectionality (Collins, 2015), and why a struggle against racial oppression needs to be a struggle against other forms of oppression as well. This insight is relevant to how I will examine Bij1’s antiracism, but it is additionally relevant because Bij1 explicitly states their commitment to an intersectional approach in their policy program. In the second part of this chapter, I will discuss how these insights relate to a critique of identity signifiers stemming from queer theory. To make
intersectionality intelligible requires essentializing categories such as race, class and gender, and, as scholar Kristie Dotson points out, the way these categories are defined or essentialized is not a politically neutral act (Dotson, 2013). The connection between intersectionality, critical race and queer theory will provide the grounds for a discussion of Bij1’s antiracist policies.
2.1 Intersectionality and Critical Race Theory
After 25 years of using the term ‘intersectionality’ in her academic work, scholar Patricia Hill Collins discusses the different approaches to the term in her 2015 article ‘Intersectionality’s Definitional Dilemma’s’ (Collins, 2015). She identifies three interrelated concerns of intersectionality as a knowledge project. (1) Intersectionality as a study of power relations from within those power relations, (2)
intersectionality as a methodology that highlights new and other ways to look at social phenomena and (3) intersectionality as a way to counter social inequalities (Ibid). The core realization of intersectionality is the realization that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability and other entities are interrelated co-
constructing phenomena, instead of separate entities (Ibid). In this section I will discuss the core realization as it relates to the Netherlands in order to come back to how my thesis fits into
intersectionality’s three concerns. I will attempt to answer questions such as ‘what is race?’ and connect these answers to the Netherlands in order to emphasize Collins’ core insight of intersectionality.
4 The full quote: ‘The world does not become raceless or will not become unracialized by assertion. The act of enforcing racelessness in . . . discourse is itself a racial act’ (Morrison, 1992: p. 46).
12 To emphasize the connection between racism and capitalism I first look to define race and racism. Scholars Michael Omi and Howard Winant point out in their 1994 book ‘Racial Formation in the United States’ that race is a way of categorizing people along lines of various perceived attributes (Omi &
Winant, 2014, p. 105). The categories are structured according to power relations, which means that race, to Omi and Winant, is always connected to the foundation and perpetuation of systemic domination (Idem, p. 106-107). In line with Omi and Winant’s description of race, lies Hall’s description of race as a sliding signifier, which I will describe in more detail in the second part of this chapter (Hall, 2017). Race in the Netherlands acquired an undeniable connection with systemic domination when the Dutch republic, freed from Spanish rule, formed itself around the transatlantic ‘slave’5 trade (Nimako & Willemsen, 2011).
By the seventeenth century the Netherlands directly acquired around five percent of its GDP from slavery, while 19 percent of all export and import was cultivated by ‘slaves’ (Brandon & Bosma, 2019).
Race and racism have been fundamental to the extraction of capital and the perpetuation of inequality in the Netherlands.
This connection between race and capital has continued throughout Dutch history. A useful term to describe this continuation of the connection between racism and capitalism is Marx’ term ‘primitive accumulation’6 (ursprüngliche Akkumulation). Primitive accumulation describes the necessary material conditions upon which capitalist relations develop (Marx, 1990). This term is useful because Marx treats the term as showing not only the requirements for the advent of capitalism, but also the requirements for its continuation. The way capital is structured in the Netherlands is a continuation of colonial capital. For example, there is still a wage inequality between people with a Surinamese or Antillean background and people with a Dutch migration background, which rose to 16 percent in 2019 (CPB, 2019). The
intersection between capital and race in the Netherlands is also illustrated by the government’s solicitation of migrant workers from Moroccan and Turkish descent in the 1960s. Targeted for their poverty and therefore willingness to work, the arrival of these workers sparked a surge of racial discrimination and islamophobia still prevalent in Dutch politics and society (Vieten, 2016; ECRI, 2019). According to scholars Marcel Poorthuis and Theo Salemink, islamophobia is rooted in our colonial history (Poorthuis &
Salemink, 2011), which speaks to the connection between race and capital as a continuation of our colonial history. As a brief look at Dutch history shows, race and capital are intricately connected, and to talk about one means to invoke images of the other.
Where Marx’s analysis views the production of capital from the perspective of the waged male worker, scholar Silvia Federici departs from this perspective in her application of ‘primitive accumulation’
(Federici, 2014). Federici shows in her book ‘Caliban and the Witch’ how the sexual division of labor and
5 Nimako & Willemsen put the term ‘slave’ in quotation marks, something which I will do as well because I think it is important to highlight the construction of this term.
6 The translation to ‘primitive accumulation’ by Ben Fowkes and the german original are racist in their reference to exploitable workers, many of which are not white, as primitive. Similar to a larger critique of Marx’s work, the concept invokes a primitive past out of which modern society evolved and this allows for an imaginary in which some groups and societies are seen as lesser or less evolved.
13 the advent of a more oppressive patriarchal regime are requirements for the continuation of our current capitalist relations (Ibid). Federici characterizes the medieval period as one of constant class struggle, where the resistance movements were often led by women (Idem, p. 26-27; p. 38-39). By the end of the 15th century authorities introduced ways to repress women and divide the proletariat, for example Italy and France legalized the rape of proletarian women (Idem, p.47). Scholar Manon van der Heijden shows in her book ‘Women and Crime in early modern Holland’ how Dutch women between 1500 and 1800 were in a precarious position (Heijden, 2000). Rape of women, for example, was before the 17th century considered a property crime in the Netherlands, which speaks to the position of women in society after the advent of capitalism (Ibid). Capital and the deprivation of women remain central in Dutch society today. For example, the World Economic Forum (WEF) gives the Netherlands a gender equality score 0.736 in the Global Gender Gap Report, where a score of 1 would mean gender equality in a range of fields (WEF, 2020). Capital, race and gender can be characterized as facets of inequality which structured and currently structure Dutch society.
Founded in the 1980’s, the black and migrant women’s movement (zmv-beweging7) in the Netherlands pointed out how resistance to any one facet of inequality requires attention to the others as well (Botman & Jouwe & Wekker, 2001). Feminist movements in the Netherlands were increasingly alienating non-white women through racism, culminating in the foundation of the black and migrant women’s movement. The black and migrant women’s movement emphasized that a struggle for the emancipation of all women, should include a struggle against racism and capital (Ibid). The black and migrant women’s movement shows how struggles for equality in one facet do not push for overall equality if other inequalities are not considered. To push for equality in terms of gender and class without
accounting for the way in which race stratifies our society, means to reproduce the racial hierarchies already in place. So far, I have focused on race, gender and class, but this argument holds for any facet of inequality such as sexuality, ability, ethnicity or age. To emphasize Collins’ core insight of intersectionality I have briefly shown how capital, race and gender have structured Dutch society, the core insight being the idea that these different facets of inequality are interrelated and co-constructing phenomena (Collins, 2015).
Patricia Hill Collins lays out three interrelated concerns of intersectionality (Collins, 2015). I will position myself in relation to these three concerns to show how I understand intersectionality and how I position myself within this topic. The first concern of intersectionality was the way in which
intersectionality concerns itself with the study of power relations from within those power relations (Idem, p. 14). My thesis studies contestation to the racial hierarchy in the Netherlands, but as shown before, antiracism and a study of antiracism will require reckoning with other facets of inequality if equality is of concern. Studying power relations from within power relations then to me means recognizing the ways in
7 ‘The black and migrant women’s movement’ is my translation of ‘De zwarte en migrantenvrouwen beweging’. The English translation does not convey a connotation which ‘migrantenvrouwen’ carries, namely the connotation that the movement was for women who are the partners of migrants.
14 which Dutch society has been stratified and to actively include these inequalities in my analysis. The second concern of intersectionality views intersectionality as a methodology aimed at uncovering new perspectives from which we can view social phenomena (Idem, p. 11). In my analysis of antiracism, I aim to incorporate other aspects of inequality besides race, which departs from the obvious connotation the word antiracism as solely concerned with race. In the next section I will elaborate on Halls’ conception of race as understood through power relations, which allows for a view on race and antiracism as inherently connected to other stratifiers. Through this perspective on race I aim to adhere to Collins’ second concern of intersectionality as a methodology about uncovering new perspectives to view social phenomena from.
The third concern of intersectionality named by Collins is the way intersectional thinking should pertain to challenging social inequalities, or as Collins puts it: intersectionality as a form of critical praxis (Idem, p.
15). In this regard I aim to challenge social inequalities by examining how Bij1 articulates doing antiracism.
In particular, I challenge a systemic lack of scholarship around race in the Netherlands (Jaffe, 2018, p. 558- 559), I challenge a dominant understanding of race as irrelevant in the Netherlands (Essed, 2014, p. 10) and, as I will discuss in the next section, I challenge the essentializing premise upon which antiracism must make itself intelligible.
2.2 A Queer Understanding of Intersectionality
Patricia Hill Collins states that her explanation of intersectionality is intended to serve as a starting point of analysis, rather than an ending (Collins, 2015, p. 3). In this second section I will take her up on this intention and aim to move towards a queer understanding of intersectionality. A queer understanding of intersectionality is one which realizes that the definitions used to define stratifiers such as race, class and gender are themselves involved in stratification. My goal is to describe the ways in which intersectionality and antiracism require normative definitions of stratifiers to be intelligible in the status quo, and to show how these normative definitions in turn reproduce the oppressive status quo. To be antiracist means to challenge racial inequality, but if the categories used to define race are themselves racist how does one do antiracism? To make sense of this tension I will first describe why these categories reinforce the status quo. Second, I will describe what it means to ‘queer’ these categories and third I will return to Bij1 and how they relate to this tension.
Scholar Stuart Hall describes race as a sliding signifier to break with the discursive tradition of essentializing race (Hall, 2017). He states:
“It is all the more striking and incongruous, then, that the politics of opposition to racist systems of classification so often operates in exactly the same way discursively as the systems it contests: through an
essentialized conception of race.”
Hall, 2017, p. 74
15 Hall contends that antiracist struggles accept the same essentialized conceptions of race in their efforts to resist racist essentialized categories. One problem he identifies is the replacement of racial essences rooted in biology by racial essences rooted in culture. Antiracists then use these cultural racial essences to fight for racial equality. However, if racial essences are rooted in culture, what is there to account for the effects biological differences seem to have had? The sliding signifier is intended to give way to a reality of gross biological differences between races, but to also show how this reality is one made meaningful through discursive power and made to do all kinds of discursive work (Idem, p. 67-68). An example relevant to the Netherlands would be the way in which islamophobia renders differences in skin colour relevant (de Koning, 2020). For Hall, rendering these differences relevant is a process of discursive power, where skin colour becomes a signifier of religion through power relations. If racism is related to discursive power, then it is always present in different forms. An environment free of racism is impossible in an unequal world because race only exist in relation to other races that have more or less power. Scholar Hans Siebers argues against the application of such a totalizing conception of racism to the Dutch context, partly arguing that this totalization of racism loses its explanatory value (Siebers, 2017)8. I proceed with this totalizing conception of racism because a broad definition tied to power relations leaves room for people in particular contexts to define those power relations, but to also tie these particular power relations to broader logics of power.
The way we categorize race is the result of those within the status quo with the power to do so.
Gloria Wekker contends that our colonial history has had such enduring effects on Dutch identity that the Dutch status quo can be characterized as a gendered and racial status quo (Wekker, 2016). A paradox of this status quo to Wekker is the obviousness with which it expresses itself as racialized and gendered, while the Dutch vehemently deny its racialized and gendered aspects (Ibid). Both the categorization of race and its force are made intelligible through this racialized and gendered status quo. For example, the Dutch government has decided to register only citizens’ ethnicity, and this categorization governs the way race becomes intelligible to the Dutch. This also means that the force of racism or of racial inequalities is made intelligible through an appeal to ethnic inequalities. The Dutch word for race, ‘ras’, is rarely, if ever, used to describe these inequalities9. As our colonial history shows, race as the result of discursive power beyond mere ethnicity undeniably constructed and constructs Dutch society. Skin colour, for example, remains a stratifier according to people with a Surinamese background when interviewed (Humanity in Action, 2021). The categorization of race and how we understand race is the result of a racialized and gendered status quo.
8 I have several problems with Siebers’ article. The main problem I have is that Siebers understands racism as possibly non-existent within the Netherlands. He argues against defining race in such a broad way that it is present a priori, something which I find problematic. I stick to a definition of race which a priori connects race to power relations, meaning that racism is always present everywhere. Differences in how to identify racism exist, but to refer back to Toni Morisson, to denounce racism’s existence is to announce its centrality.
9 I can personally say that writing this thesis in Dutch would be a challenge to my own vocabulary. The word ‘ras’
feels bad to use, and I feel an uneasiness when using these words in Dutch. I find that a sense of ‘we have moved beyond these words’ is deeply ingrained in my linguistic habits.
16 To resist the racialized and gendered status quo requires using the given categories and
definitions. Racial inequality is only intelligible through a certain essentialization of race, after all. For example, I have been referencing instances of Dutch racial inequalities throughout this thesis, and to convey these inequalities I had to use the categories employed by the original studies. There are two problems with racial categories and categories in general resulting in opportunities for the status quo to reproduce itself. The first problem is that racial categories are necessarily flawed in how they reduce infinitely complex people to simplified categories, resulting in unexplained heterogeneity within the categories. Within the Dutch racial categories for example, young Dutch people with a Surinamese background often count as ‘Dutch’ people, but this does not explain the general ‘othering’ experienced by this group (Humanity in Action, 2021). This resulted in the reproduction of the status quo, because their struggles were not even intelligible within the Dutch racial categories. The second problem with racial categories, and categories in general, is that defining categories excludes the future meanings these categories can have (Meijer & Prins, 1998). Racial categories and racism constantly change, and fixed definitions of categories do not account for their changing nature. This problem also resulted in
opportunities for the status quo to reproduce itself in the Netherlands. For example, the Netherlands used to have the categories ‘allochtonous’ and ‘autochtonous’, intended as neutral categories, the term
‘allochtonous’ has problematic linguistic connotations and acquired unintended derogatory connotations, so these categories are no longer officially used (Nu.nl, 2016).
I arrive here again at the heart of my thesis. How can antiracism offer a challenge to the status quo if it also reproduces the status quo? Antiracism as the fight for racial equality needs to subvert the oppressive structures through which it becomes intelligible. In her book ‘On Being Included’ Sara Ahmed interrogates the institutional commitments of antiracism and how these commitments can serve to reinforce their racist structures (Ahmed, 2012). She identifies ways in which universities use their
commitments to antiracism as reasons to silence voices sharing their stories of racism. Their commitments to antiracism are taken to have ‘solved’ the problem, meaning any further iteration of the problem is taken to create the problem anew. Which means that those who speak up and voice their experiences with racism in an institution are taken to be the creators of the problem. Ahmed makes a strong claim in her book: ‘solutions to problems are the problems given new form’ (Ahmed, 2012, p. 143). In other words, efforts to counter the status quo can reinforce and reproduce the status quo. Similar to Mills’ racial contract, Ahmed points out how the racist status quo will inevitably reproduce its own racial hierarchy.
Racism needs to be understood as the constant reiteration of the status quo for antiracism to be understood as context dependent and requiring constant attention. To challenge the status quo requires constant reappraisal of what the status quo is. Antiracism is context dependent in whether its subversive qualities come to the fore. Unlike what Ibram X. Kendi’s booktitle ‘How to Be an Antiracist’ suggests, there is no universal way to ‘be’ an antiracist (Kendi, 2019). Antiracism is a constant process of ‘doing’
antiracism where part of the ‘doing’ is also a reiteration of a racist status quo and therefore also ‘being’
17 The lack of a universal antiracism is why I will study Bij1’s antiracism. I will treat their antiracism as inherently tendentious and context dependent. Bij1’s policy suggestions will inevitably reproduce the status quo, but they might also provide opportunities to subvert the status quo. Bij1’s policies are intended to ‘do’ antiracism once implemented, but from my perspective the articulation of their policies, regardless of implementation, are also ‘doing’ antiracism in their subversion of the status quo. Sara Ahmed argues that commitments to antiracism should be regarded as nonperformative10 (Ahmed, 2012, p. 116). These statements name that which they do not do. She introduces this term to show how commitments to antiracism always require further action (Idem, p. 139-140). From Ahmed’s perspective Bij1’s policies are nonperformative, they name something which they do not do and require further action to do that which they name. If further action is required, why not study the implementation of Bij1’s policies? I will study Bij1’s articulation of their policies because the tension between reiteration of and resistance to the status quo will not be resolved whether I look at their policy’s implementation or Bij1’s policy proposals. The articulation of their policies might be, as Ahmed describes commitments, opaque because it is unclear what they are doing (Idem, p. 116). But I think, and Ahmed would agree, this opacity is not resolved once one looks at further action, and the opacity is therefore no reason to stop dissecting Bij1’s articulation.
The opacity of commitments to antiracism can serve as fertile soil to discuss the tension between reproducing a racist status quo in an effort to challenge it.
In this chapter I tried to highlight the core assumption of intersectionality, partly because it is important to Bij1, and I tried to show how different concerns of intersectionality, elaborated by Patricia Hill Collins, relate to my thesis. Intersectionality necessarily essentializes different stratifiers to show their interconnectedness and I tried to show how this essentialization is always a reiteration of the status quo.
There is then an inherent tension in challenges to the status quo which will be of interest in the coming chapters. I showed why subversion of the status quo should be viewed as a context-dependent
phenomenon. I partly emphasize the context-dependency of antiracism to show how there is no universal way to understand antiracism, and my understanding of antiracism is merely one amongst others that could prove more relevant to different contexts. The context-dependency of antiracism is one of the reasons why I will study Bij1’s policy suggestions, I think Bij1’s policy suggestions are an opportunity to show what antiracist subversion of the status quo might look like for Dutch politics.
10 Ahmed does not intend for nonperformatives to be a separate class of speech acts. Rather, she introduces the term
‘nonperformative’ as a performative act to emphasize the further action required by antiracist commitments (Ahmed, 2012, p. 117).
Before I examine Bij1’s policies and the intended antiracism, it is important to turn towards my own methods of examination. While I speak of a tension inherent in attempts to subvert the status quo, my thesis is itself intended as a subversion of the status quo and this requires explication. In this chapter I will discuss how I aim to subvert the status quo by employing a critical discourse analysis to study Bij1’s policies. This chapter will consist of two sections. The first is a theoretical discussion of critical discourse analysis and in the second section I discuss the practical steps of my critical discourse analysis.
3.1 Critical Discourse Analysis Outline
In this section I will discuss what I consider a critical discourse analysis, why I will use this method and what my data will consist of. According to Rosalind Gill, discourse analysis involves viewing language as both reproducing and producing power relations, it involves viewing language as a form of action and it involves a belief in the rhetorical structure of discourse (Gill, 2000, p. 174). The rhetorical structure of discourse refers to the competition discourses engage in, in their attempt to establish their version of the world (Idem, p. 176). Simply put, one way of viewing things establishing itself as ‘the’ way of viewing things requires other perspectives to subside. Discourse analysis concerns itself with the way discourses strengthen or challenge power relations, which is why a discourse analysis fits the study of Bij1’s policy suggestions, as these are intended as a challenge to the existing power relations. However, I intend my thesis to be a challenge to the existing power relations as well, which is why I will use a critical discourse analysis.
Where a discourse analysis concerns itself with competing discourses and their views on things (Ibid), critical discourse analysis concerns itself with criticizing the established ways of viewing things. As Barbara Johnstone points out, critical discourse analysis is concerned with the ways in which discourse reproduces and produces inequality, while listening to the experiences of dominated groups and studying effective ways to resist unjust hierarchies (Johnstone, 2008, p. 26). However, I think this definition of critical discourse analysis somewhat relieves the researcher from critically examining their own taken-for- granted notions and the ways in which they themselves reproduce hierarchies. There is one particular taken-for-granted notion regarding researchers that I’d like to question in this section. Within sociology scholar Raewyn Connell finds there is an assumption of universality, and I’d like to address this
assumption (Connell, 2018, p. 401; p. 403-404).
19 Scientific writing is often concerned with uncovering the ‘true’ nature of its object (Latour, 2004).
The quest for a ‘true’ nature introduces the assumption that scientific findings are the truth. As Connell shows, this assumption is deeply rooted in empire and disregards the embodied structures within which scientists come to develop their views (Connell, 2018, p. 402). Connell reminds us that the knowledge produced in mainstream academia generally assumes there is one episteme, one way to understand another’s writing (Idem, p. 403-404). Knowledge production is however culturally contingent, and assuming that it isn’t in a world skewed by empire results in the exclusion of other ways of understanding (Connell, 2018). I will challenge the implicit notion that academic knowledge is the universal truth by doing multiple things. First, I employ the first person in my writing to emphasize the embodied position from which I write my thesis. Second, I write about the implicit assumption of scientific truth to question this implicit notion and make it explicit in the process. Third, I emphasize the context dependency of antiracism partly to show how my understanding of racism and antiracism is merely one way to understand antiracism.
In a racist society, the racial hierarchy implicitly reproduces itself and efforts to challenge the status quo should question the terms through which the challenge came to be recognized as a challenge.
Besides studying the challenge Bij1 intends to pose for the racial hierarchy, my thesis is itself intended as a challenge to the racial hierarchy in the Netherlands. I will perform a critical discourse analysis of their policies in an attempt to question both the terms upon which Bij1 makes their resistance meaningful, but also in an attempt to question the terms upon which I render my own analysis meaningful as resistance11. I use a critical discourse analysis to question how Bij1 and I reproduce or challenge the status quo. Bij1 is the first political party to enter parliament on an antiracist platform, which means that Bij1 has significant power to define antiracism through their actions. It is therefore important to discuss the ways in which their definition of antiracism and policy suggestions both challenge and question the status quo, all the while remaining critical of the status quo.
A critical discourse analysis of Bij1’s policy suggestions will also allow me to position their policies as a contingent and temporal iteration of antiracism in the Netherlands, instead of a universal and timeless way to do or understand antiracism. While science generally posits itself as a universal truth, critical discourse analysis recognizes the ways in which its findings are context dependent and not generalizable to other contexts. Since critical discourse analysis deals with the meaning of text12, it inherently needs to reckon with the particular and situational nature of meaning (Johnstone, 2008, p. 270-271). To put it simply, critical discourse analysis recognizes how it matters who is saying something, where they are saying it, who is listening to it, why they are saying it, etcetera. This sensitivity to the context dependency of a text suits the study of antiracism well, but this does mean that my analysis of Bij1’s antiracism is not
11 The word ‘meaningful’ is colloquially used to indicate whether social justice actions have had effects on the state of the world. ‘That protest was meaningful’. I consider the word ‘meaningful’ in a broader sense. Something is
meaningful when we give something meaning, therefore everything is meaningful once we experience it.
12 I mean ‘text’ here in a Derridaean sense, namely anything that conveys meaning which in turn refers to a broader system of meaning to be understood.
20 necessarily generalizable to other iterations of antiracism. This entails that my research will not be
generalizable to more or all Dutch political parties, nor to other antiracist political parties outside of the Netherlands. My research can be difficult to generalize to other political parties running on an antiracist platform outside of the Netherlands, because the Dutch context is different. My analysis can, however, show how other Dutch political parties can do antiracism. Critical discourse analysis is generalizable in method, but not directly in content. Textual challenges and reinforcements of the status quo can share similar logics but are inherently limited to their particular context. My analysis of Bij1 is not intended as a way to figure out how to do antiracism regardless of the context, by contrast it is intended as a way to emphasize the context-dependency of antiracism.
My data will consist of several policy suggestions to be found in Bij1’s electoral program for the 2021 parliamentary elections in the Netherlands (Bij1, 2020). In the Dutch parliamentary elections, every running party posts their policy suggestions, which the voters can then examine. According to
independent research organization I & O research, 8 out of 10 respondents (78%) voted due to policy related concerns in the Netherlands (I & O Research, 2012). Bij1’s policy suggestions are then assumedly important markers of their antiracism, both because Bij1 intends to push these policies and because Dutch voters pay attention to the policy suggestions. Since Bij1 is the first ever Dutch party running on an antiracist platform, they are the first time Dutch voters get to see an explicit connection between
antiracism and policy suggestions. Bij1’s iteration of antiracism will therefore presumably greatly influence how Dutch people understand antiracist policy.
3.2 Critical Discourse Analysis in Steps
The first step of my critical discourse analysis was to define my research question and consider which part of Bij1’s publicly available content I would be studying. As I have discussed above, I chose to study Bij1’s policy proposals as my unit of analysis because of the influence these policy proposals have on Dutch voters. The second step of my analysis was to index the information and theories I could use for my analysis. I gathered relevant information on Bij1 and on the context within which they proposed to do antiracism. I created a word file with the names of several news articles and a comment or two on why I felt they might prove useful to include. Additionally, I created a word file where I listed the names of relevant academic texts, an excerpt or two from the texts and some personal comments on how I thought they would fit into my thesis. For example, I picked an excerpt from Stuart Hall’s text on the sliding signifier and wrote ‘The sliding signifier allows me to analyse Bij1’s antiracism as challenging discursive power and fits well with a discourse analysis’. Crucial to this step was to read the books ‘White Innocence’
by Gloria Wekker and ‘Dutch Racism’ by Philomena Essed to better understand discourses around race and racism in the Netherlands.
The third step was to find themes and patterns in Bij1’s policy programme. Since Bij1 claims to run on an antiracist platform, every policy proposal is intended as antiracist. I chose to group together
21 several policy proposals which I felt were related, and to analyse how these groups of policy proposals challenge and reproduce the racist status quo. I ended up with five groups of policy proposals and I will address these groups of policy proposals from here on out as five aspects of Bij1’s antiracism. For example, after analysing the proposals for coherent themes, I found that Bij1 aims to give people at the bottom of certain hierarchies more power to define the hierarchies in a range of fields and I picked out three policy proposals that were emblematic of this theme. The content of the aspects is described in more detail in the next chapter. Next, to contextualize the proposals, I gathered information on the specific policy proposals through academic journals and news articles. Once again, I created a word file listing the policy proposals, followed by pieces of relevant information from the journals and articles. I paid particular attention to how the aspects of antiracism invoked categories and hierarchies to see how these aspects could be understood as antiracist. The fourth step was to reflect on the aspects of Bij1’s antiracism and draw conclusions about how they challenge and reproduce the status quo. I created another word file listing the aspects and how they relate to my theoretical framework. For every aspect I succinctly listed the ways in which they challenge the status quo and how they reproduce the status quo.
For the way these aspects challenge the racist status quo I mainly relied on Gloria Wekker and Philomena Essed’s descriptions of the Dutch racist status quo. To understand how they reproduced the status quo I used many different authors not yet mentioned in my theoretical framework. I did not mention these authors because they account for ways in which Bij1 reproduces the status quo much too specific to discuss without their policy proposals as context. For example, I used Donna Haraway’s critique of the term Capitalocene to show how Bij1’s understanding of international climate justice reproduces the racist status quo.
In the current chapter of my thesis I described both my methodology and Bij1’s broader
understanding of antiracism. To study Bij1’s policy suggestions and how they strengthen or challenge the racialized status quo I will use a critical discourse analysis. As written by Michelle Lazar, critical discourse analysis focuses on the ways in which text strengthens or challenges the status quo (Lazar, 2007). I will use this method to study Bij1’s policy suggestions regarding democracy, international climate justice, economic equality and racism. Part of my critical discourse analysis is to describe the ways in which I invariably reproduce the problematic status quo of science as an objective truth. In the next chapter I will discuss several policy suggestions and divide them according to the relevant aspects of Bij1’s articulation of antiracism. Before I do so, I will discuss Bij1’s understanding of antiracism as explicitly elaborated in the introduction to their first set of policy proposals. I do this because I want to show how my understanding of antiracism aligns with theirs before discussing their policy suggestions. In my thesis, I try to answer the question of how Bij1’s policy proposals challenge or reproduce the racist status quo, but, before I can properly assess the policy suggestions’ antiracism, it is important to discuss their more explicit understanding of antiracism.
Bij1 divided their policy proposals into twenty chapters each containing proposals on a specific topic. Out of these twenty chapters I have chosen several policy suggestions which I think are emblematic of how Bij1 articulates antiracism. Given Bij1’s intention to run on an antiracist platform, the proposals implicitly reflect different sides of Bij1’s antiracism. In this chapter I will discuss these policy proposals and briefly discuss the overarching theme of each section, since the policy suggestions might seem unrelated. I have grouped several policy proposals into five aspects of Bij1’s antiracism, but before I discuss these aspects, I want to address Bij1’s explicit discussion of antiracism. The first section of this chapter will be about this, because it is important to discuss Bij1’s explicit understanding regarding antiracism before I assess their implicit understanding of antiracism as pushed through their policy proposals. After discussing their explicit understanding of antiracism, I will discuss three policy proposals associated with their explicit understanding of antiracism. The third will contain three policy proposals regarding democratic decision making. The fourth section will be about international climate justice and the three policy proposals which I think are relevant to this topic. In the fifth section I will describe three of Bij1’s policy suggestions regarding economic equality and in the sixth section I will describe three policy suggestions regarding transgressions.
4.1 Bij1’s Understanding of Antiracism
To assess how Bij1’s policy suggestions ‘do’ antiracism it is important to look at Bij1’s broader
understanding of antiracism first. Bij1 gives us a glimpse into their broader understanding of antiracism in the introduction to the first chapter of their party program called ‘Antiracism and Decolonization’. In this section I will use my own understanding of antiracism as a tendentious and context dependent concept to discuss Bij1’s broader understanding of antiracism.
In their party program, the chapter ‘Antiracism and Decolonization’ is the first out of twenty chapters, possibly to emphasize the centrality of antiracism to their party program. The program comes with a supplementary glossary wherein Bij1 defines the term decolonization as the process where colonized countries rid themselves of colonial powers, but also the process of distancing one’s society from the white and or western norms as the universal truth. This definition fits well with the definition which scholars Melissa F. Weiner and Antonio Carmona Báez suggest. They conceive of decolonization as a challenge to Eurocentric colonial regimes, and therefore as a challenge to the status quo (Weiner & Báez,
23 2018). In my theoretical framework I tried to point out how challenging the status quo is contextual, because that which is, challenge or not, is still a reiteration of the status quo. To emphasize the contextual dependency of antiracism I will look for ways in which Bij1 both challenges and reiterates the status quo.
In this section I will discuss the introduction to Bij1’s chapter ‘Antiracism and Decolonization’.
The introduction to their chapter ‘Antiracism and Decolonization’ serves to explain their broader reasoning regarding these topics. The policy suggestions can be rather succinct, and the introduction contextualizes their suggestions and views on antiracism and decolonization in the Netherlands. The introduction touches upon several points. First, Bij1 emphasizes how antiracism should consider different forms of racism, whereafter they name specific forms of racism which they consider relevant to the Netherlands:
“There is no place for any form of racism, not for anti-black racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Asian racism, Nazism, hatred towards Muslims or hatred of the Roma and Sinti communities.”
Bij1, 2020, p. 13.
I start with this quote because I think it nicely embodies the tension within antiracism. Bij1 proposes there are different forms of racism, followed by a list of these different forms. They do not mention whether this list is exhaustive or simply a list of the most relevant forms of racism. Before I discuss this quote further, I will briefly explain why hatred towards Roma and Sinti communities makes their list. Bij1 mentions hatred towards Roma and Sinti communities, because of the societal neglect faced by these communities in the Netherlands (Rodriguez, 2020). The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reported in 2013 on Roma and Sinti communities and the environmental racism and social exclusion they face in the Netherlands (ECRI, 2013). The ECRI reported in 2019 that nothing much has changed since then for Roma and Sinti communities, urging the Dutch government to
introduce helpful measures (ECRI, 2019). The Roma and Sinti communities, even though their population is said to be 40.000 people strong, are overlooked in the Dutch public discourse, which is probably why Bij1 included them in their list of different forms of racism and why I wanted to briefly discuss them.
The list of different forms of racism counters the Dutch tendency to discuss racism as it relates to ethnicity, in the rare moments racism is discussed. The Dutch bureau for statistics (CBS) measures ethnicity and, as Siebers points out, Dutch people have an emic understanding of racism as related to ethnicity (Siebers, 2017). However, understanding racism as it relates to ethnicity means different forms of racism fall by the wayside and lose their importance in public discourse, which becomes all the more problematic if the impacted groups are already underrepresented in public discourse. For example, among the Roma and Sinti communities there are those who are ‘stateless’, and their ethnicity is therefore not registered, nor do they represent themselves in Dutch public discourse (ECRI, 2019). Bij1’s list counters the racist tendency to discuss racism as solely related to ethnicity in the Netherlands. Their list gives names
24 to certain forms of racism unaccounted for in general Dutch discourse. However, the different forms of racism they name imply fixed identity categories, which in turn implicitly renders groups homogenous and renders those outside of those groups less intelligible. Where Anti-Semitism implies a fixed category of Jewish people, anti-black racism implies a fixed category of black people and Anti-Asian racism implies a fixed category of Asian people. The categories offered by Bij1 are insufficient to describe the racialized experiences of the people who do not fit these categories. For example, the different forms of racism offered here arguably do not account for the racism experienced by people from Morocco or Turkey who do not identify as Muslim (ECRI, 2019)13. Essentialization through naming, without defining the
categories associated, will make its reappearance in their policy proposals, and as I discuss in the next chapter, is a common feature in how Bij1 understands antiracism.
The introduction to Bij1’s chapter on antiracism lines up well with Gloria Wekker’s book ‘White Innocence’ and how she envisions colonization as deeply consequential for Dutch society. For example, the introduction states:
“BIJ1 wants the government to recognize that racism and colonialism have played an important and not to be underestimated role in shaping our society.”
Bij1, 2020, p. 13
I think this quote shows how well Wekker’s work and Bij1’s policy programme align with each other, where both Bij1 and Wekker emphasize the fundamental role colonialism has played in Dutch society.
The resemblance with Wekker’s work can also been seen in their emphasis on the structural nature of racism. Under the heading ‘Structural problem’, their introduction describes racism as ‘Intertwined in the culture and standards of institutions, such as government agencies.’ (Bij1, 2020, p. 13; p. 124). By labelling racism as a structural problem, Bij1 is countering the dominant Dutch discourse where instances of racism are regarded as separate events intentionally aimed at injuring an individual (Essed & Hoving, 2014, p. 11).
The label ‘structural’ refers to Bij1’s appropriation of Wekker’s suggestion that the Dutch history of imperialism and colonialism have had profound effects on society (Wekker, 2015). However, once more I find that there is a tension here.
The description of racism as a problem invites the readers to think within a problem-solution framework, where racism can be solved if we apply the proper solutions. As I mentioned before, the header to Bij1’s section on racism in the Netherlands states:
Bij1, 2020, p. 13
13 I say arguably, because the racialization of Islam in the Netherlands might imply that racism against people with a Moroccan or Turkish background can be accounted for in Bij1’s list as hatred towards Muslims.
25 As Sara Ahmed points out in ‘On Being Included’, ‘solutions to problems, are the problems given new form.’ (Ahmed, 2010, p. 143). In this quote, Ahmed refers to the tendency of institutions to implement solutions to racism and consequentially dismiss cases of racism as already solved (Idem, p. 145). Ahmed relates thinking within a problem-solution framework as it applies to racism to the notion that institutions can be post-race (Idem, p. 155). I think Ahmed’s reasoning can also be applied to the Netherlands, where the dominant discourse already enforces an idea of being post-race (Wekker, 2015, p. 2). Ahmed points out that such a discourse renders the voices of those who speak up about the problem of racism into the problem themselves (Idem, p. 153). The transformation of those who point out the problem into the problem themselves happens because they are seen to disturb a ‘happy’ environment which was previously free of racism. Thinking of racism as a problem to be solved therefore reiterates the racist premise that an environment free of racism is an achievable goal. As I point out in my second chapter, racism is a product of power relations and an environment free of racism is impossible if there remains inequality. Bij1’s formulation of racism as a structural problem challenges the denial of racism as relevant in the
Netherlands but reiterates the status quo in its connotation that racism can be solved. I do not advocate that we stop using the word ‘problem’ to describe racism, even though the English word ‘issue’ might invoke less of a problem-solution framework. I use this phrasing to show how my understanding of antiracism as inherently tendentious aligns with Bij1’s understanding of antiracism.
Bij1 ends the introduction with a short statement relevant to the tension within antiracism, namely that their policy suggestions are intended as concrete first steps.
“The following points are the first practical steps we can take against racism and in favour of decolonisation.”
Bij1, 2020, p. 14
By saying this, Bij1 is indicating that they feel these policy suggestions will be insufficient to achieve racial equality, but that their policies would move the Netherlands towards a racially more equal country, without necessarily arriving at such a destination. To describe their policy suggestions as concrete first steps means to counter the previously mentioned tendency to see racism as a problem and their antiracism as the solution. By asserting their policy proposals as concrete first steps, Bij1 counters the view that their policy suggestions are the sole way to do antiracism, but, as Ahmed points out in ‘Queer Phenomenology’, doing something is inevitably an instruction of how something should be done (Ahmed, 2006). Due to their position in Dutch parliament as the first party to run on an antiracist platform they inadvertently do show what political antiracism in the Netherlands should be to a considerable audience. Their policy suggestions inadvertently carry a sense of universality and universal applicability if one wants to ‘properly’
do antiracism. Similar to Bij1’s description of racism as a ‘Structural problem’, I use their description of these policy suggestions as concrete first steps to point towards the tendentiousness of antiracism.