Dutch need more education on impact of colonialism & slavery, says UN rapporteur

The National Monument of Dutch Slavery Past in Amsterdam's Oosterpark
The National Monument of Dutch Slavery Past in Amsterdam's Oosterparkchristophe.cappelliDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

Education in the Netherlands should pay more attention to the country's colonial past and slavery, and the consequences these still have today, UN rapporteur Tendayi Achiume said in a report on racism and discrimination in the Netherlands. She called it urgent that a more complete picture of Dutch history is provided, AD reports.

Achiume, who studies racism, discrimination and xenophobia around the world as a Special Rapporteur for the United Nations, is presenting her final report on the Netherlands this week. According to her, the country has shown some improvements, working on concerns she raised last year. The fact that the national Sinterklaas party did not feature blackface Zwarte Pieten is a positive step, for example. And the country has nice equality principles in its law, but there is still a lot of work to be done, Achiume said.

She fears that the idea that the Netherlands is already an extremely tolerant and equal society is standing in the way of real equality. "If it is believed that it has already been achieved while people are still suffering, it is very difficult to solve such problems," she said to AD. "What I encounter time and time again is what I call the Dutch paradox. Civil servants and citizens say that the Dutch identity is inclusive and tolerant, and has always been so. But at the same time, they they don't do much with the experiences of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, who feel they are eternal foreigners. People from the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom are described as non-Western migrants, even though they have been Dutch citizens for centuries."

In her report, Achiume called on the government to "double down" on action against discrimination on the labor market, in education, and on the housing market. In education, the government should show more leadership and include more education about the Netherlands' colonial history and history of slavery, she said. "This is not only about understanding the ways in which people of African descent and other groups have contributed to building the Netherlands, but also about emphasizing that white Dutch people have benefited from the exploitation of these groups," she said to the newspaper. "And then really reflect on the stereotypes, the ways we see people, that still exist today because of that legacy. Take, for example, ethnic profiling by the police. that is based on stereotypes about crime. They were influenced by history."

Achiume commended the police for their attempts to combat ethnic profiling, but added that this fight is ar from over. Among other things, she recommended that the police collect better statistics on people being stopped by officers and police violence. 

The UN Rapporteur noted the Black Lives Matter protests that happened in the Netherlands, and worldwide, last month. "Based on what I see in the media, it seems that the conversation about systemic racism is at the forefront, in ways I didn't see when I [visited the Netherlands last year]. Some comments from the government also seem to be a change in tone, more recognition of the problems. It seems like a moment of reflection more than lat year," Achiume said. But she added that she was shocked about the threats anti-racism activists are facing and the lack of action by the authorities. "Protection of the government does not seem to be enough. Penalties for people participating in racist activities are low."

"I hope the current debate will lead to more reflection on who belongs and who is not seen as someone who belongs. And what the role of the government is, to make you feel like a full member of Dutch society, regardless of your ethnicity, race or religion," Achiume said.