Mark Rutte says institutional racism is sociological jargon. 

First, let’s take a brief moment to celebrate the progress of the prime minister acknowledging that there’s systemic racism in the Netherlands. *Golf clap*

Now, let’s take a look at what he really said

Prime Minister Rutte acknowledged publicly on Wednesday that there is indeed institutional racism in the Netherlands, and that it’s problematic. He then went on to say on Thursday that institutional racism is ‘sociological jargon,’ and he doesn’t want to use the term because it would upset too many people. He believes they would be defensive and offended at the idea of being called racist, and that they would be dismissive of the antiracism movement. 

But, to understand institutional racism is to understand that there’s no reason to take personal offense. So we need to sort this out.

Let’s try to wrap our heads around ‘sociological jargon’

Sociology is a science, ‘the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society.’ Experts in this field don’t come up with terms to use as jargonthat’s what politicians do. 

Sociologists, like psychologists, paleontologists, and penguinologists, (totally off-topic, but ‘Ologies’ is a great podcast), examine, research, and carefully define terms that explain complex interactions within their field of study. It’s science. Sociologists have no use for jargon.

Now, let’s clarify what institutional racism is

Institutional racism is synonymous with systemic racism. Both terms refer to the ways in which white people are favored in everyday thinking at a systems level, from laws and regulations to education and hiring to unquestioned social systems. It doesn’t point the finger at individuals but addresses the unconscious biases that have been ingrained in institutions, planted generations ago. (Remember slavery? Yeah, during that time.) 


‘Structural racism,’ the term Rutte prefers, would be saying the same thing. It’s just not using the term coming from the scientists, it’s coming from the politician…Now, which phrase is jargon, again?

No matter how you package it, it has to be acknowledged, and it can’t be if people are wrapped up in a blanket of denial, taking offense to something nobody was ever accusing them of. It’s not about individual morals, it’s about deep-seated biases that we have to work together to unravel. 

Raise the bar

Now that Rutte is dipping his toe into the vast sea of recognising systemic racism in the Netherlands, a better approach would be to help folks more deeply understand what it is, why it’s problematic, and what they can do about it, rather than dismissing the proper term as jargon. To assume that the Dutch are too sensitive and defensive to handle the very mention of it is to hold a low standard of expectations. The Netherlands is better than that– empower them to prove it.

Do you think a different name for institutional racism will have different results? Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of DutchReview.

Feature Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied


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