The long history of racial incidents in the Netherlands

"The distinctive feature of racism, is the denial of racism"

In an article published by the Algemeen Dagblad, professor of Migration History Marlou Schrover reflects on the long history of racial incidents in the Netherlands.

She indicates that the line between a joke and insult is very thin and therefore some people are not aware that they make racist comments. The Netherlands has a different history than the United States but we cannot trivialise what is happening. Unlike the US, the term 'race' is not much used in Dutch media, while we have a long history of race riots and racial incidents. 

Racial incidents in the Netherlands date back to 1926 when hundreds of Dutch sailors raise up against foreign workers in the Rotterdam harbour. Such incidents increased after the Second World War and continue until today but are rarely recognised as 'racial incidents' or 'racial riots'.

According to Marlou Schrover, peaks of racial incidents can be often observed in times of crisis and extensive migration flows which also influences xenophobic rethoric in politics. Examples are the increasing amount of guest workers in the 70s, the followed economic crisis, the migration influx in 2015 or the recent incidents in the Moira refugee camp. The internet and social media in particular enables people to speak out easier, faster and anonymous and therefore loweres the threshold of racism.

"Racism is embedded in our society", Schrover indicates. This becomes evident with incidents such as the ethnic profiling of the Dutch tax authorities or continuing discrimination on the labour market. At the same time you can see that the current generation stands up for themselves such as with the Zwarte Piet debate where changes are demanded and systemic structures put into question. However, the Netherlands still lags behind in recognising racism as such and might not be as tolerant and progressive as often is portrayed.

More information
Read the full (Dutch) article