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“A great moment, a beautiful moment,” said Minister for Legal Protection Frank Weywind. He confirmed Friday that the government would apologize for past slavery. Millions will also be dedicated to raising awareness of slavery’s past.
In 2020, Prime Minister Rutte made it clear that there would be no apology yet. “It’s not a strange request,” he said in a House debate. “But the question is whether you can hold people who live today responsible for the past. Others might feel that painful.”
“No one today is guilty of slavery,” says writer and historian Cynthia MacLeod. But it would be good if the Netherlands apologized.” She wrote several books on the colonial past and slavery in Suriname. One of her books is How much did sugar cost?where she described how enslaved people were stripped of their humanity.
“Blacks weren’t people in the days of slavery,” says MacLeod. “Human traits are taken from slaves. They are said to have neither intelligence nor feelings. This is what makes slavery so bad. It was eventually abolished, but this way of thinking about blacks did not disappear immediately. This is the effect of slavery in the past.”
According to Peggy Wijntoin, ignorance must be “fighting” with slavery. In 2017, she submitted a proposal to the Rotterdam City Council requesting further research into that city’s colonial past and slavery. The proposal was passed and two years Research he did.
“This past isn’t so long ago at all. I’m only the third generation born free. My grandmother was a enslaved woman. If I had a picture of four generations, she’d also be in it,” Wigentwein says.
“It is already in the word: done. History continues. I am here because Holland was there. Holland must know its history, because ‘thinking about superiority’ is in the society’s DNA. It is still in today’s society.”
This past has had an impact as well, according to Leiden historian Karwan Fateh Black, an expert in the field of the history of transatlantic slavery. “The United Nations has found that in societies with a history of slavery, descendants of slaves have fewer opportunities to obtain quality education, health care, and political decision-making.”
He cites the wildcard issue as an example, where the Caribbean Dutch were affected the most. According to the numbers from CBS 1 in 136 Dutch-Caribbeans was a victim of the benefit case, compared to 1 in 4,386 Dutch people without an immigrant background.
How slaves became citizens after slavery was abolished is a big blind spot, according to Fatah Black. “Little research has been done on that.”
Fatah Black says the debate over whether an apology should be offered has been going on for a long time. “It was already mentioned in newspapers in the ’90s. But it was often taken for granted and ignored by columnists and historians.”
The Netherlands as a world power
According to Fateh Black, this is because the colonial mentality has long been a part of Dutch identity. “The idea that the Netherlands was a good world power was a prevalent idea. Especially when the Netherlands still had colonies, white supremacy was appreciated for a long time.”
The discussion changed: “For a long time, slavery was only discussed in America rather than the Dutch slavery past. A turning point came after the arrival of the National Slavery Monument in 2002. The descendants were then given more space and the influence of slavery pasts being taken more seriously,” Fatah Black says.
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