Dutch stats office to stop using terms 'Western' and 'non-Western'
The official statistics bureau for the Netherlands will stop using the terms 'Western' and 'non-Western’ in their research in a plan which could take several years to implement, according to newspaper NRC. This decision was made in line with pending advice from the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), because using the distinction to define people with a non-Dutch cultural background lacks scientific purpose and evokes 'negative associations'.
The newspaper said the topic was given extra scrutiny when Utrecht University said they would participate in the Cultural Diversity Barometer workplace research from the CBS. In mapping diversity within the university, it would have to categorize employees as being either Dutch, people from a Western foreign background, or people from a non-Western foreign background. The latter is defined by the CBS as people from “Turkey or countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, with the exception of Former Dutch East Indies/Indonesia and Japan.”
That prompted backlash from the university’s employees who thought the categorization was sensitive and problematic. “The use of terms such as Western and non-Western can only be described as colonialist,” says Remco Breuker, professor of Korean Studies at Leiden University.
The WRR agreed with the employees and stated that the distinction labels the group of people as 'not from here.'
”The dichotomy 'Western and non-Western' is therefore also a ranking instead of a neutral juxtaposition. This is especially the case with the second generation, who were born and raised in the Netherlands, but are nevertheless labeled as non-Western. The distinction also has a colonial connotation”, their statement read too.
The CBS defines someone as first generation with a foreign background if they were born abroad then came to the Netherlands. It still defines someone as second generation with a foreign background if they were born in the Netherlands and have one parent who was born abroad.
The WRR also stated that while the CBS classifies countries with predominantly European population as Western countries, the dichotomy is increasingly less informative and less valid due to numerous exceptions to policy, and the growing diversity among immigrants in the Netherlands.
The NRC said that according to the WRR an alternative idea could be to present the classification based solely on countries of origin. "For example, in diabetes research, it is useful to look at ethnic groups where diabetes is common, such as residents with a Turkish or American background", they explained. As opposed to the division between Western and non-Western, it may also be better to compare groups within the entire population of the Netherlands. Comparing specific immigrant groups against all residents with an immigrant background was also suggested.
As a central supplier of data for large-scale research, the CBS is the main provider of data and research where the terms Western and non-Western are used. According to a representative from the CBS, the organization was aware of the discussion that arose among scientists but also added that the change requires major changes in the data systems, which could result in its implementation potentially taking longer.