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'Not a period, but a comma.'

Note on title: The apt phrase "Not a period, but a comma. is getting a lot of media attention after Rutte uttered it during his apology speech. However, the phrase was already used in 2019 in the context of the Dutch slavery past by Serana Angelista. Historian Karwan Fatah-Black quoted Angelista in his book "Slavery and Civilization. In a interview with VICE Angelista says the following about this, "It is much more common for theories and ideas to be taken away from black women without giving them credit for it. That mechanism is also an example of how the slavery past carries over into the present. So in this case, that feels very double."


Prime Minister Rutte offered last Monday his apologies to the Dutch slavery past. In his speech, he acknowledged slavery as a crime against humanity whose suffering continues in the lives of people here and now:

"Centuries of oppression and exploitation operate in the here and now. In racist stereotypes. In discriminatory patterns of exclusion. In social inequality."

Negative consequences

The negative consequences of the slavery past are reflected in our reports. Reports of racism are in fact the most frequently reported by residents of the Amsterdam region. In turn, anti-black racism makes up the largest proportion of these. In 2020, we released a overview report in which we paint a substantive picture of the incidents of anti-black racism reported to us and the effect racism has on the lives of our reporters.  

'Groups of black guys being turned away in line for the club. White people who are helped into the Amsterdam creperie, while black customers are told that the machine doesn't work. Grown men who call a black man Black Pete in the street and then perform a St. Nicholas song.'[1] These are just a few examples of how the suffering of slavery continues in the here and now. So we have a moral responsibility that we in the Netherlands and the Amsterdam region continue to structurally strengthen the anti-discrimination approach.

A comma, not a period

Rutte continued in his speech:

"For centuries people have been commodified, exploited and mistreated in the name of the Dutch state. [...] And too little have successive Dutch governments after 1863 seen and recognized the negative knock-on effects of the slavery past.

We share not only the past, but also the future. So today we put a comma, not a period."

The four commas of the MDRA

As an anti-discrimination agency for the Amsterdam region, MDRA has been working to address discrimination for more than 25 years. The four initiatives below are our fill in the comma for the coming period.

1. Addressing discrimination directly

The comma that is central to us is directly addressing discrimination and its harmful effects through complaint handling, mediation and procedural support. Every year we receive an average of about 800 reports of discrimination in the Amsterdam region. We take every report seriously. Our discrimination consultants listen to the experiences of complainants and search together with complainants for the best solution. This is done discreetly and carefully. Sometimes just registering the complaint is sufficient, this can be done anonymously. In many cases, just registering is not enough. For example, we give the reporter information and advice on how to take steps themselves, contact the perpetrator on behalf of the reporter, accompany the reporter to the police station to report the crime, or initiate proceedings with the Human Rights Board on behalf of the reporter. We also often conduct mediation talks with the notifier and the other party. Because every complaint is different, the approach is also different for every complaint. Through our handling of complaints, we can make an immediate difference by countering discrimination in the here and now and reducing its consequences.

2.Moving toward an integrated chain approach to discrimination

The MDRA, together with the other anti-discrimination agencies from the G4+, started making a blueprint for an Integrated Chain Approach to Discrimination in 2021. This integrated chain approach is of strategic importance to successfully counter discrimination. We want to map all players in the field and establish strategic collaborations. It is expected that after completion of the integrated chain approach project, the number of referrals from chain partners to the MDRA will increase back and forth. This will increase trust and awareness of the MDRA among citizens, which will also increase reports. The willingness to report can and must increase. As a result:

- Improved referral of reporters to the various relevant chain partners;
- An increase in being able to directly address discrimination incidents in the Amsterdam region through complaint handling; and
- An increase in understanding of the nature and extent of discrimination in the Amsterdam region.

3. A new reporting and analysis tool

Discrimination trends provide important insights into the nature and extent of discrimination. Discrimination reports are registered and published in different places in different ways. An umbrella system to collect, aggregate and unambiguously report on these reports is lacking.

National discrimination figures from various organizations[1] are presented side by side annually in a Multi-Agency Reporting (MAR). The MDRA additionally releases each year a separate Monitor Discrimination on the discrimination figures of the Amsterdam region, in which the regional figures of the police and the Human Rights Board are also presented. Besides these official bodies for reporting discrimination, there are also other interest groups that receive and register reports, such as the COC, the CIDI, Report Islamophobia, Asian Raisins and KOZP. These figures are not currently included in the aforementioned reports but are published through their own channels.

There is thus a wide variety of data sources and ways of recording and reporting. In 2021, the MDRA therefore started in the G4+ context to develop a new reporting and analysis tool that makes data collection easier; can display data near-real time using a dashboard; can display trends and do analysis (e.g., at the local, municipal, regional or national level); supports an integrated chain-based approach with data; and is nationally scalable to the other ADVs and chain partners in the Netherlands.

Our aim is to use the new reporting and analysis tool to gain better insights into the nature and extent of discrimination in the G4+ municipalities, to be able to display trends and developments and, by means of joint analysis of these, to be able to give well-founded advice to our administrators and policymakers and, in this way, to work towards an integral G4 chain approach. Now for the G4 municipalities and possibly later on a national roll-out of both. Our ambition is that all stakeholders in the approach to discrimination act on the basis of unambiguous data and insights and coordinate their approach. The tool will go into use in 2023.

4. Advise on addressing discrimination

Finally, MDRA fills in the comma by informing and advising municipalities to further their anti-discrimination policies. For example, we recently advised the municipality of Amsterdam to go beyond supporting the Diversity Charter in addressing labor market discrimination. This declaration of intent is important but non-committal to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Indeed, our reports indicate that employees often cannot safely report discrimination at work and that discrimination complaints are often not handled properly. Not even in organizations that have signed the Diversity Charter. The MDRA calls for an action-oriented solution that goes far beyond simply stating and recording intentions. A solution that better supports and monitors companies in their approach to discrimination.

A label against discrimination is an example of such a solution. A label holds companies accountable for complying with their policies by conducting annual audits of work processes and activities, after which the label can be either earned or withdrawn. Hallmarked organizations have the advantage of being able to demonstrate to the outside world that they have reliable and fair anti-discrimination policies. The MDRA advises the municipalities in the Amsterdam region and other cooperation partners to investigate whether a label against discrimination is a possibility and to use the Amsterdam region as a testing ground for a pilot. The pilot experiences can be used in other places in the Netherlands to actually stop labor market discrimination.

[1] https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/anti-zwart-racisme-is-duidelijk-een-systeem-dat-voortkomt-uit-het-koloniale-verleden~bf0d7819/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

[1] From anti-discrimination facilities (ADVs), the police, the Human Rights Board, the internet discrimination hotline MiND, the National Ombudsman and the Children's Ombudsman.

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