Racism in the Netherlands: talking about the elephant in the room

The Netherlands is one of the most internationalized countries in Europe, be it because of foreign students, expat workers or asylum seekers.

With more than 11% of its 17 million inhabitants being of “foreign background – 1st generation” (meaning they’re the first in their family settling here – if we count the 2nd generations this percentage goes up to 22!), there’s no doubt the country has to deal with a lot of different cultures. Luckily, the Netherlands is historically acknowledged as being tolerant and inclusive towards foreigners. But is it all as good as it sounds?

Racism in the Netherlands; racist police?

Yes, that’s a bold heading. But I can back it up: according to a report by the Politie & Wetenschap (the police research centre), more than half of the police controls involved allochtonen. Ethnic minorities are therefore over-represented compared to their share of the population, but most importantly over 40% of the allochtonen checked were found to be ‘clean’.

Of course, the police checks are also (1 out of 3 times) based on suspicions, rather than blatant illegality; otherwise, there would be no prevention of crimes. But it appears that policemen overestimate their own intuition: “they assume that seven out of ten people they check are up to something. In practice, the opposite proved to be true: 7 out of 10 checks did not give anything concrete.”

Thus, skin colour and prejudices certainly play a role in whether the police will pick up on someone. Unjustified discrimination is risky, as it puts even more distance among ethnic minorities, locals and the police.

Rise of nationalism

As the Dutch elections showed us, the Netherlands is not immune to the right-wing craze happening everywhere in Europe and the US. And while Wilder’s PVV didn’t get the majority (it has been argued that the elections in the States and the Brexit scared some Dutch wannabe-populists), its second place is undoubtedly a sign that many Dutchies aren’t happy with the refugee crisis or the European Union.

And while everybody is busy debating whether the use of Zwarte Piets is a sign of racism, the black, female leader of Artikel 1 (a party focusing on eradicating institutional racism) Sylvana Simons had to be put under police protection after threatening messages and memes started appearing online.

The newly formed government will try to address the complicated matter of hate (and freedom of) speech but, as someone put it, “it has become politically correct to be politically incorrect”.

“Subtle” forms of racism

Everybody is guilty of using stereotypes. That is just the way our brains try to categorize things and understand the world better and faster. Dutch people often – mistakenly – get called rude, because of their directness and curiosity.

However, put this directness together with the natural tendency to generalize, and add the undeniable pride Dutch people have in their country and system, and here you have the perfect mix for some discrimination.

I can’t honestly say the people I encounter daily are racist, but over time I experienced subtle ways and stereotypes some (few, usually older) Dutch people have that make you feel like you’ll always be an uneducated foreigner to them (joking, but not too much).

DISCLAIMER: These are all personal experiences, and as such they aren’t statistically relevant.

At the airport: I’m a short, dark-haired girl, so that’s as far as possible from the average fabulous Dutch girl. When travelling with my tall, blond Italian best friend, only one of us gets searched and tested for drugs at Schiphol and Eindhoven… guess who that always is?

At the hospital, or GP, or emergency room: the treatment you receive at the reception may instantly change when you show your Dutch medical insurance, instead of saying you have European insurance (my case when I was a student). You’re taken more seriously, and if you come together with a Dutch person you get bonus points.

In bureaucracy: when you’re from a “southern” country (and by southern, I mean below Belgium…) it is occasionally assumed you have no understanding of any system whatsoever: you come from a country of loud, lazy people, and you need to be explained how to put your groceries correctly on the counter (“here we do things this way”) – true story. I came to call this “dutchsplaining”.

Racism in the Netherlands: this is the minority

When it comes to racism in the Netherlands, in the majority of cases I, as well as many more internationals in this country, get treated fairly, with the only difference being the language we are approached. Many non-autochtonen do not experience any discrimination either.

However, this melting pot of a country that is the Netherlands gets continuously challenged by the multitude of cultures living in such a small territory. Things can turn ugly both ways – violent eruptions at anti-immigration protests as well as immigrants riots have happened in the past. So what to do to keep the country sane – and safe?

An easy answer would be: internationals, abide by the law, and try to integrate; Dutch, keep being open-minded (and don’t fall for uneducated populists)!

Anything to add about racism in the Netherlands and such? Feel free to contribute in the comment section!

Feature Image: John Duffy/Flickr

Aurora Signorazzi
Aurora comes from the majestic Italian capital, and is working on her PhD in virology at the University of Groningen. She has been living in the Netherlands for four years and is by now familiar with many Dutch habits... But still finds plenty of reasons to be pleasantly amazed (most of the time) by this industrious country and its brutally honest inhabitants!

74 COMMENTS

  1. Compliments for touching the subject and the lightish way you describe it.

    Having a Dutch father and a Surinamese mother while looking as white as most Dutchies including the blue eyes I can honoustlty say that I’ve been on all sides of the fence. As a white kid amongst darker/black family I’ve experienced what I would could unintended discrimination/racism.

    To me this means that people (here my family) are unaware of the extent of stereotyping they use in everyday conversations, not realizing someone’s feeling can get hurt by being set apart as ‘not like us’ or ‘belonging to those others’, plus the implicit association with those preconceived notions.
    In my family situation it was never the case they actually intended to set me apart from them, they just didn’t realize that when talking about the “white” dutch it automatically included me.

    This unintended kind of racism/discrimination is very much present in the Netherlands. I can see it happen almost on a daily basis.

    However be aware that this kind of racism/discrimination is present in all ethnicities, nobody is innocent on this one. Like you said in your article; generelization and discrimination are main processes within our mind, that in itself is neither wrong nor right.

    Seeing that people have different skin tones and colours is not wrong. What people are usually unaware of is that they unconsciously have all kinds of preconceived notions on the different categories identified and the “victim” has equally preconceived notions. Mostly unspoken.and often conflicting or mismatching, these (unconscious) assumptions is where most pain and misunderstandings are created.

    For most Dutch people racism is something along the lines of the Nazis. The conviction there’s a hierachy of worthiness between different ethnic groups with the white people as the pinnacle. In my opinion there’s only few people who actually believe this, the vast majority of Dutch are pretty convinced people are basically more or less equally worthy. Therefor they are not Nazi’s and thus believe they cannot be racist.

    From a Dutch perspective it is quite understandable. WW2 left deep scars and traumatized many, thereby dominating the Dutch perception of inequality between people.

    This does result in something very unforunate, which is the Pavlovian respons “oh no, I’m not racist!” (Again no Nazi) thereby killing an open discussion, especially if it’s with a person beloning to “the others”

    Many Dutch forget that for example the Surinamese people were never occupied in WW2 and don’t share this Nazi trauma of the Dutch.
    For Suri people colonization and slavery are the dominant factors in their perception of Racism/discrimination and Dutch people generally tend to be ignorant or in denial of what the Dutch did overseas and because of this do not really understand the pain and issues the Suri people have with some things

    I could go on and on, but I hope it makes some sense to you 😉 please let me know if it doesn’t

  2. http://www.ministrando.org/jeugdcriminaliteit/statistieken_over_criminali.html
    The reason why there is racisme in the netherlands, see link above.

    If the government didn’t get this as far as it is now, racisme would be a lot less.
    You know the song “15 miljoen mensen”? Now there are 17 million and they ain’t all born here.

    In tv shows like “opsporing verzocht” you always see light tinted young men on camera.
    And if there is a Dutch young men in spotlight, you can see clearly that he has foreign friends.
    He is wearing a hat, a jacket with fur and have a pouch bag on his neck (marokkanentasje)
    Did I really said that? Yep. Look on the streets in the big cities. Where can you see these opportunists? Right, at their foreign fruitlollyfriends
    Foreign people with antisocial behaviour, talking trash, speaks with a fake accent on the streets
    I know it is still a small group, but most foreign people feeling ashamed for these buttholes, but are afraid to do something about it. The police does, but if they do, they getting attacked or called racists.
    That’s why dutch people hate foreign people so much, because a lot of the foreign people can’t act like normal people act disrepectful to others.

    People like Sylvana Simons are the worst. She starts to confront dutch people that they are racists.
    If you act like that, yeah pretty much every white person on the world will probably going to hate you.
    Here we call that “haatzaaien”. Dumbass people like her must be sterilized.
    Looks like they try to do everything to get hated.

    I bet if the foreign people start today with doing nice and gentle to everyone, all dutch people would be supprised and will do nice and gentle things back. There would be no racisme here.

    I don’t hate foreign people, I hate their evil behaviour and disrepects to others. Again, it’s a small group that ruin it for the rest. If it was on me, I would have send them far away on behaviourclass or something.

    • Dear Rob, I wanted to let this go, but I couldn’t. Let’s start off with the truth; you are a nightmare to every foreigner living in the Netherlands! Now that that’s out of the way … thinking that only foreigners are committing crime and that the Dutch media is unbiased, thinking that foreigners ruin your little Dutch Utopia and they should behave better and the problems would no longer exist, saying that a policitian who points out racism and that makes her dumb therefore she should be sterilized is inhumane and racist! You have just proven to us that you are in fact one of the racist ones! I am not going to come with arguments why you are wrong because my energy is spend better elsewhere … BUT! I hope you find yourself some help and get sterilized on your way there!

      I’m grateful not all Dutch people think like you!

      Goodbye Rob! Have a very nice life!

    • Rob, to be honest your answer sounds a lot like “I’m not racist, but…”
      Luckily I have no such experience as “Dutch people hate foreigners so much”. I raised this issue since I get particularly annoyed at hypocrisy. Just like everywhere, also here in the Netherlands some people pat each other’s shoulders telling themselves they’re kind and tolerant, and then fail to realize their own behavior. Which looks a lot like what you did here.

    • Be racist and xenophobic if you want but at least have the guts to come clean and be honest about it.

      Also, try not to contradict yourself in the same paragraph:

      “I know it is still [[[a small group]]], but most foreign people feeling ashamed for these buttholes, but are afraid to do something about it. The police does, but if they do, they getting attacked or called racists.
      That’s why dutch people hate foreign people so much, because [[[a lot of the foreign people]]] can’t act like normal people act disrepectful to others.”

      ‘a small group’ describes a minority, while ‘a lot’ describes a majority…

    • Rob – How strange – I feel the same about white Dutch people (not all white people, because in other countries I have encountered white people who are far more civilized). I don’t hate white Dutch people – I hate their evil behavior and their tremendous disrespect towards others.

      I am well-behaved, do not smoke, drink or hang out in the streets ever; I am employed and hard-working and also very polite and mind my own business. But I regularly experience harassment and anti-social behavior towards me by white Dutch people in supermarkets or in other public places – people I do not know; complete strangers. It is disgusting. This is not my experience in other countries.

      The very fact that a lady like Sylvana Simons gets so much hate-mail and even threats of violence, rape and death is a living proof of the extreme racism in this country. The Dutch want to suppress any voice of protest. They suppress freedom of expression – this is a violation of human rights in itself.

    • I find ur reply very foolish and frankly speaking quiet ignorant. But alas many of the Dutch people are really petty and narrow minded.

  3. @Rob
    I choose to look at you as a human being with anger issues and directing that anger at a general blanket assumption that all “buitenlanders” are people with antisocial behavior. Your attitude oozes of ignorance of what exactly it is you have issue with. If it’s crime, crime cuts across all ethinicities. If it’s drunk and disorderly – that too knows no skin color. If it’s a general nuisance – well guess what that too cuts across all people of all regions of all colors. The assumption and generalisation spewing from you communicates the “let’s blame all problems on this foreigners”.

    The dutch are very diverse people according to me, I know some amazing dutch people who see no color but I have also come across some (in fact a large number) who look at me like I have just dropped from an alien ship as if I have a third eye on my forehead or something so alien. I have even being asked “I find it curious that you are intelligent” (meaning people of my kind are not supposed to have a functioning brain). Instead of perpuating the persons ignorance I chose to take it as compliment. But ofcourse I know its not a compliment!

    As for instititutional racism, it is thriving especially in “Gemeente” or “belastingdiensts”. Especially if you are a new foreigner who is just learning the dutch language! It doesn’t even matter that you are taking an intensive course just so that you can feel part of this society. As slowly as the wheels of learning a new language turn, the wheels of government beurocrats will turn painfully much slower. But on paper and in normal conversation the dutch will be quick to tell you “not to worry because in the Netherlands people speak English and will not mind helping you in English in the big cities”.

    The police treat foreigners as “suspicious” even if you are the complainant! Before you know it, instead of you finding your justice, the spotlight is turned on you! And let’s not forget how the police treat some crimes like domestic violence. The general attitude is “if it’s between foreigners, let them sort out their own shit”. Of course the police will never vetbalise this outrightly to a foreigner who reports a crime of this nature, but they do nothing for the victim. I know this because it happened to me.

    So please before you spew out your hate for foreigners, please try getting off your high horse and look at the humans behind the general blanket condemnation you seem to console yourself with. Yes I am a black foreigner and yes I face double discrimination daily – as a foreigner and as a black person.

  4. Thanks for raising this issue and posting on this site. The posts on this site tend to be pretty light and silly. Frankly, I feel the problem of racism is much bigger and prevalent than how it is portrayed in this piece, but I think you do well to point to a really key point about the failure of many ‘native’ Dutch to both see and acknowledge the fact that there is widespread racism in their society. There is a tendency, in my experience, for people to very easily scoff at places such the United States or South Africa as having problems, but in turn never really thinking about the ways in which the supposedly tolerant and progressive Netherlands is guilty of its own crimes. Racism toward dark skinned people is alive and well, if not rampant. The failure of many to perceive the ritual of Swarte Piet performances and imagery as being firmly rooted in Dutch colonialism and slave-trading is an easy example. Just because you’re a nice friendly family who doesn’t hurl insults at migrants, doesn’t mean that you are not participating in and thus perpetuating a racist institution. An even better example is the tracking system in schools which very effectively sort out the brown people and push them away from university-level education. The official reasons, of course, are lack of individual effort or misguided cultural values. but, the ethnic stratification of students is so widespread that these explanations just don’t hold up. Institutional discrimination is certainly at work in the curriculum, instruction and advising of schools across the nation. I hope dutchreview.com will continue to post more on these issues, as they’re very important. Expats have something to offer on the conversation, but we shouldn’t forget that Expats are usually migrants with a particular class and ethnic background.

  5. While you started off well but then faded away. In a country where there is such influx of culture, we as Humans are bound to have stereotypes. That helps us progress and integrate as well and sometimes causes harm. All of us, expats, complain about different similar things in the Netherlands. Especially your countrymen go nuts over the weather :P.
    I believe, the refugee crisis should be looked into differently as they are two separate things. An Expat moves here for a better life, with an open mind. A refugee is here for shelter due to circumstances.

    • Piyush, I am very much aware that as an expat – and not a refugee – I have countless privileges, not to mention I’m white. I can’t claim that I know what it’s like to be a refugee, nor an ethnic minority, and for the former I have no direct experience (I do not have any asylum seeker friends). I wrote about my (of course limited) experience hoping to sparkle a discussion, and it actually did 🙂

  6. Oh yes! I remember early this year, I was dining with six Dutchies. Two of them cracked a casually racist joke, “Indians fuck like rabbits.” Then they went he he. I was sitting right there. I am from India. No one on the table realised what has been said. Both of them were from a place called Gorinchem and belong to the less educated group. I have seen huge difference between Dutchies of Randstad area and those living in smaller places. I won’t even bother going into details. All I would say is yes, Indians fuck like rabbits and that’s why rabbits know how to work harder for their survival. We don’t sit on our asses and play board games living on social security money. Anyways, racism does exist in NL. Every country has its own problem. NL is great in crassness.

  7. As a dutch living in lot of countries
    I want to say are we racists
    No we are human
    In every country what colour your skin is
    There is discrimination of other people
    Be not a fool it is and wil be always
    Different cultures different habbits
    So comments
    Ok and I am married with a coloured lady
    More comments

    • The hypocrism of people like you is exactly what the problem starts. Dutch bragging about their directness to the world. I believe it is more a far to big mouth without the balls to support them. Als puntje bij paaltje komt most of them are wordwide known cowards.never trust them in any sitiation.Silent hatred from cowards firstclass

  8. Upraise of evil,

    Nowadays, the Dutch become more and more racists. At work, at university even in the primary schools, they grade foreigners lower to prevent them become at the same level. This inequality rules out “issues” with new-comers and segregate people according to the Dutch world-view, i,e a tiny world with less place for other people made of Dutch brain level. No one will be heard, children getting sick of unfair grading system and no way to save off this heal. They even call people from different background officially, with an APART name “Allocation”!
    The worse is situation with children, who do believe in a fair system as a result they trying to find incompleteness in themselves and what makes them sick, vulnerable and angry.
    You would not find any minority in the higher educational system, a kind of “zuivering” – purifying. Human Rights and this kind of organisation would not have any credits provided they lighten such problems. The “Zwarte Piet” or “Black Pete” – a racist feast is another example where all children are forced to take part in. All “dissidents” are being violently “tortured”. So nobody rise his hand of what is happening in here…..
    So flywheel cuts more and more souls, continuing.

  9. i got fired because i fought with an ugly Dutch idiot guy who was harassing me at work when the boss is off. And now i have the same issue at my new work, an issue with a Dutch girl who considers any immigrant a slave. I will leave the job soon. YES NL is a racist country

    • You, an uneducated wealth seeker, will never fit it anywhere. So blame yourself and not others, you are the one who wants to do everything for a bit of money while not having the brain to let that money work for you.

      • AA – You seem to assume a lot about other people. You are also very abusive. And no empathy for another person. Typically Dutch qualities!

    • Kokowawa – I can understand your pain and frustration. The truth is that white Dutch people often do gang up together in an unfair way and harass those from a foreign background.

      • Wow! I’m speechless.
        Reading all of the comments so far is definitely shocking
        I’m currently in The Netherlands on vacation, and the subtle racism I’d experienced led me to googling more info on this topic. I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it since I have never experienced so much racism in my life in such a short amount of time. I am so happy I’m leaving tomorrow. It’s a beautiful country, but the people ruined it for me.
        I have never appreciated Canada more than I have right now.
        I cannot believe how Dutch people don’t see how much racism goes on around them. I was here for only a week, and I can list out the number of times I have encounter discrimination or racist remarks. I can’t imagine how much racism foreigners who live in the country feels.

  10. […] Racial discrimination actually dropped from 26% to 16%, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that racial discrimination is becoming less prominent. A increase of complaints in general, and with the high increase of people reporting discrimination from something other than racial matters, means that the overall percentage decreases. This isn’t exactly great either, as it just shows that more and more people feel discriminated against, across the board. […]

  11. Yes, the Dutch are so racist that they even discriminate against Dutch who have lived abroad for many years and have returned. Dutch society used to be far more open and tolerant (so open and tolerant in fact that it allowed pedophilia back in the ’70s). There’s something bipolar about Dutch society. It’s really hard for anyone from any other country in the world to deal with to be honest.

    • I think they are also very jalous and generally very ill favoured towards others kinda people.they would have loved to lived in other countries themselves. And go down on others that have the grace and balls to do so.

      • Rico, this has been my experience also. Most white people (not all) are extremely jealous of the smallest success of another person. They do not wish well for other people.

  12. Mike, sorry to say so mate. But what bunch of rubbish. They are the founding fathers of apartheid and these days hardcore racists. Everyday I get called Ape once or twice. And the person saying it is hidi g. Typucal Dutch cowards.And it aggrivates me. If whiteys think they can go around and call people names. Please donot let them be surprisred if some go ballistic. Next time I hear the word ape. I will stick a knife in their neck. (I swear).I have been looking for a job almost 2 years now.
    They where worse or just as bad as nazis. Remember how this occupied and just liberated country after the war went to Indonesia to slaughter them and rule over others. Study history. White people are tge real curse to this planet