As a Black man, I can tell you that institutional racism in the Netherlands is running rampant: OP-ED

The Netherlands is being rotted by racism on an institutional level, and while the government is “shocked,” people of colour are not, argues Chuka Nwanazia.

On Monday, December 12, 2022, an internal investigation revealed gross institutional racism in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The investigators deemed their conclusions “serious and worrisome.”

Minister Wopke Hoekstra, who is in charge of the Ministry, announced that he would like to investigate what is happening. He called on employees to file an official complaint or report whatever they may have experienced.

A few days later, news outlets reported that the investigation results “shocked” almost the entire House of Representatives.

Shocked isn’t enough

However, “shock” is often where governmental reactions stop.

They were “shocked” when a survey showed the gross racism in the Dutch job market.

They were “shocked” when a study found people of colour or with non-Dutch names were actively discriminated against in the Dutch housing market.

And they were “shocked” when rampant and blatant racism led to the internationally-publicised child benefits scandal.

To this very day, Black folks and people of colour still can’t exercise their right to peaceful protest against Zwarte Piet without being threatened or met with violence by white supremacists.

Meanwhile, the cabinet and parliament have done nothing to prevent this violence or even provide extra protection for the peaceful protesters. Apparently, Dutch farmers are the only people allowed to enjoy the right to protest (and even do it violently).

When it comes to racism in the Netherlands, the Dutch cabinet and parliament only get “SHOCKED” โ€” and being shocked is just not enough.

Institutionalised racism at the highest levels

The recently released report on institutional racism within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs depicts a severe problem. Ministry employees repeatedly face discrimination and prejudice based on ethnicity and religion.

This is particularly worrying given the crucial role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in representing the Netherlands on the world stage.

In addition, it appeared that insufficient measures were taken to address these issues and create a more inclusive and equal working environment. Thanks to this blind spot and passive attitude, the Ministry maintained a racist culture.

According to the report, another problem that really reared its ugly head is a widespread problem of insidious bias against Muslims within the Ministry.

Islamophobia is a growing problem in the Netherlands. A bias that is motivated by fear and misunderstanding towards Muslims and their religion. Despite a long tradition of religious tolerance in the Netherlands, intolerance against Muslims is growing.

Based on anecdotal evidence, we can conclude that incidents of hate and discrimination against Muslims are increasing and normalising. Extreme right-wing parties are becoming increasingly popular, building popularity by stoking this fear.

A stagnant nation

The truth is, if nothing is done to tackle all kinds of discrimination in the Netherlands, the worse things will get. There have been talks about tackling the problem of racism in the past, but none have been backed up with actions.

Of course, coming up with solutions will not be easy, and it will take time for attitudes to change. Still, the consequences for not combating racism within the Ministry (and much of Dutch society) are considerably greater.

It is now time to act. The Dutch government must take immediate action to eradicate racism within Dutch society and create a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone.

The first and most important solution is to start listening to the victims of racism in the Netherlands. If anyone can help come up with a solution, it’s them.

Another is to set up a specialised unit for diversity and inclusion within public institutions, like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, these institutions should carry out regular inspections to ensure that the anti-racism approach is implemented efficiently.

Experienced everywhere

As a Black person, finding racism everywhere you go is so common in the Netherlands. It reminds me of an experience.

I was once a member of a new Dutch political party. As a person of colour, the first thing you often notice about most political parties is their lack of diversity โ€” just like Dutch politics and halls of power.

But I excused it and joined because I felt it was still a young party and needed time to become diverse. I kept drumming on the importance of diversity and inclusion if we were to succeed in pursuing the party’s progressive agenda. It all fell on deaf ears.

On the one hand, the party had a couple of “Diversity programs”, which I was invited to join. On the other hand, none of those changed anything because the political discourse in the party’s channels of communication was often marred by conscious and unconscious racism. Even harder, white people in this country and much of Europe often deny their racial bias.

The “bitter Black man”

With this party’s lack of diversity and inclusion, it wasn’t long before a white Dutch man said something disgustingly racist in one of the meetings. Instead of using the unpleasant experience as a teachable moment, the whole thing was swept under the carpet by the Amsterdam party leadership, one of which would later fall out with me for speaking up.

When I saw that trying to enact change via the party would result in nothing, I decided to speak out on social media. Only then did they try to do something about speaking to the person who made the racist comment.

The perpetrator was forced to apologise โ€” but not to me (being the only Black person present at the meeting). Instead, he was made to apologise to the party for putting them in a bad light.

I remember getting a lot of messages from white party members who felt the need to make me out to be the “bitter Black man” trying to stir up trouble.

I also got messages of support from some white people at the party. But the messages were often hidden and never condemned racism in the open. And this is because the so-called “good white people” have a hard time calling out their fellow racist white folks to their faces. Shortly after, I left the party.

Unconscious racism

The average Dutch person, especially the often clueless “progressive ones,” will quickly tell you that they are not racist or that “not all white people are racist”.

Well, here is something to learn. Racism is a type of bias that can be conscious and unconscious. And much of these find their way into the workplace, schools, NGOs, etc.

It is even worse in places with little or no diversity or inclusion, like Dutch politics or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in this case.

These kinds of places are often breeding grounds for unchecked (conscious, unconscious and casual) racism, Islamophobia, sexism, etc. And while the cabinet and parliament may constantly be “shocked” by the rampant racism in the country or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, guess what?

I, and so many other Black folks and people of colour, are not.

We are neither shocked nor surprised. This is exactly what we have been talking about for years. Racism is present in all facets of Dutch society. At school, the workplace, politics, NGOs, public transportation, and even at home. It’s everywhere. And it’s time to do something about it.

Steps forward for the Netherlands

As a Black person or person of colour, one of the most frustrating things you would often notice in majority (white) western countries is that when a “solution” for racism is touted, there is rarely a Black person in the room.

It’s even more frustrating, as a Black person, having to watch a bunch of “know-it-all” (progressive) white people with saviour complexes attempting to “save” Blacks and people of colour from a problem they neither understand nor fully admit that it exists.

There are solutions to the racism problem in the Netherlands, and one of the solutions is to ensure that the decision-making halls of all institutions in this country are diverse and inclusive.

Another crucial step is to address the underlying power imbalances that contribute to racism in all sectors and institutions across the country. You could think of quotas to ensure that people of colour are represented at all levels of an organisation and that employees of colour receive targeted career guidance.

Perhaps one of the most important solutions is to start listening to Black folks and people of colour. You can not attempt to relieve pain if you don’t know where the pain points are. Listening to the everyday experiences of Blacks and people of colour is the first step in trying to understand the problem so that something can be done to find appropriate solutions.

Every day that institutional racism is not tackled in this country, the values of equality and justice are trampled and spat on. And these values form the very core of Dutch society.

Article 1 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of the Netherlands promises equality for all. Discrimination based on religion, political opinion, race, gender, etc., is not allowed.

Not all racism is motivated by hate. In a lot of cases, ignorance is also a reason. But then, ignorance can be fought with proper education. And education cannot start if the problem is not understood.

Every day is another day to suffer racism for Black and coloured folks. It’s time for the Netherlands to tackle institutional racism. It’s time for the Dutch government to live up to the promise of Article 1.

What’s your opinion on the state of racism and equality in the Netherlands? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Chuka Nwanazia
Chuka Nwanazia
A renegade wordsmith, freelance writer, poet, and digital marketer based in Amsterdam. Besides writing, he extremely enjoys traveling around Europe in search of old and rare books, writing poems while riding the train to nowhere, performing at poetry events, spending too much time reading books, contemplating the meaning of life, preparing tasty dishes and desserts, and searching for the perfect bookshelf.

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What do you think?

  1. Yes it could be the case but honestly, one cannot force natives to think like themselves. The Netherlands is a very tolerant country when compared to the other developed countries. There are forums in place to deal with discrimination. And of course we have a right to move to better place if we can find some Learn to accept the facts is what I would say, there is no ideal world.

    • Eh, the only ones that ‘have to accept the facts’ are white people that think they can get away with racism in this day and age. White people did not build anything themselves. No society was ever 100% white and when Europe was mostly white, it was the poorest, sickest and most backward part of the world. If white people do not accept this fact and the fact they’re the absolute global minority (white people make up only 11,5% of the glopal population haha), then they will be the poorest once again. I’m pretty sure these arrogant racists are not ready to ‘accept these facts’. But if it happens, and in many ways it’s already happening, they HAVE to accept it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I think it’s a bit exaggerated, to be honest. But then I am a white man. From me Zwarte Piet can change into any other color. But the mistake that is made every time is to think that Zwarte Piet and Black Face are the same person. Zwarte Piet has been around much longer than the Dutch knew about the existence of Black Face. Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet is a party for children, with sweets and toys. My son attended acting school and had to work as Zwarte Piet from the age of 13. There were also many non white children at his acting school who played for Zwarte Piet. They also all wanted to be painted black for the party. It was certainly not perceived as racist. Because acting as Zwarte Piet cannot be described as racist. In the story it is a cheerful person who distributes candy. It was only seen as racism when it was picked up by a number of activists. And that pretty much ruined the children’s party as such. And then you are right again, of course, the excesses that come with such a discussion in which many Dutch people are pissed off because they are accused of racism where this, specifically at this party, cannot apply. And with such an error of judgment, it will of course turn into a discussion that goes completely in the wrong direction.

    • Why is this ‘of course’? And how can you say it’s exxagerated, when there are undeniable facts and events that PROVE racism in the Netherlands, the last few years alone? Do you know Dutch history? Did you see your prime minister apologizing for slavery last year?

  3. I love your article and I have witnessed these forms of racism too many times. From embarsing zwarte piet situations to all sorts of micro agressions. As a white man it took me so long to understand all these nuances. And actually understanding these at an emotional level will probably never happen. It takes at least intellectual humble kind people to be open to these discussions so we have a long long way to go. But let me be positive; after years of denying (and complaining to) the local communitie’s Sinterklaas organisation wanting to visit my kids with their Zwartepiet, this year they actually asked me on advise on how to change Piet to something acceptable, and managed to come up with a proper-Piet. Persistence is key, enlighting one person at a time.


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