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Racism is structural in the Netherlands, says researcher Rob Witte: 'We individualize the known cases'

Rob Witte spent most of his life putting discrimination, racism and racist violence on the agenda. 'Fighting racism is not a priority at all. That creates a space in which everyone can just keep shouting that these are just incidents.'Racism researcher Rob Witte (63) sees the same cycle every time. 'It proceeds typically Dutch via the polder model where you have to talk about it first.

Then follows a pavlov reaction: "Then we throw in a few hundred thousand euros in the welfare spheres and possibly a little school project on awareness. Then we have done something about it again."

And when politicians want to prove that they have done something about it, they show the budget without mapping the effects of such a project," he sums up in the garden of his home in The Hague.

Witte spent most of his life putting discrimination and racism on the agenda in the Netherlands: first in academia, in recent years as a researcher and team leader at antidiscrimination agency RADAR/Art.1. He finds it disappointing how the government since the end of World War II has dealt with racism and discrimination. 'One moment it seems as if every incident that even smacks of racism is massively and publicly condemned, while at other times of overtly racist incidents hardly anything is heard. How can that be?

It is a question he asked ten years asked ten years ago in his book A hospitable people for centuries and which is still relevant today. The answer: Dutch people see themselves, by by definition as non-racist. The title of his book harkens back to a quote by Rita Verdonk, who once said, "We have been a hospitable people. And: 'The Dutch don't have it ín themselves to discriminate at all.'

Still the media coverage on racism and discrimination is disproportionate to the number of reports - with one event attracting much more attention than another, much more serious event. As a result, extended periods pass when there is hardly any public attention is paid to structurally present racism and discrimination, leading to a blind spot.

In doing so, the government has the responsibility for dealing with racism and discrimination, according to Witte placed too much responsibility on the victims. 'If people feel hurt , they just have to go to court and the court will decide whether something is discriminatory or hurtful. But during the Wilders trial, going to to court was portrayed as "failed integration" and presented as resistance to freedom of speech. Thus, even the only legal opportunity to challenge racism and racist behavior as not done.

You obtained your doctorate in 1995 on dealing with postwar racist violence in the Netherlands, France and England. Your conclusion was that racist violence in the Netherlands is often dismissed as an incident and not seen as a structural problem.
Racist violence is easier to recognize when someone extends his arm and yells "Heil Hitler!" at the same time. But if the perpetrator is your neighbor, without that kind of behavior, it becomes much harder for the mob to spot. So we individualize the known cases and turn them into incidents.

Áf we recognize it as such at all. Often there is also a mechanism whereby the racist character is denied. Even in the case of the murder of Kerwin Duinmeijer (who was stabbed to death in 1983 at the age of fifteen by skinhead Nico B., who stated "such a dirty [n-word] shouldn't look at me dirty," NS) the judge did not see the racist motive. Moreover, in Dutch, the word "incident" also implicitly refers to "one-off," "exceptional event."

Whereas in English or French it refers to an occurrence, but does not have that connotation of "one-off." You also see that in the Netherlands, when racist violence is mentioned, journalists immediately ask ask: "Are we dealing with something structural here or with an incident?" You won't hear that question so quickly abroad.

Your book was published in 2010. Has there been any improvement over the past decade?
'No. And that annoys me more and more. In 1993, for example, the Police Discrimination Directive was introduced. This stipulates that every report of racism or discrimination must be recorded and passed on to the public prosecutor. Two years ago I did research in another area - radicalization - and then I discovered that very many police forces and officers still do not know that guideline.

That such a directive after thirty years is still not established, let alone adhered to ... That shows that combating racism and discrimination is not a priority at all. And That also creates a space within which everyone can just keep shouting that these are only incidents. I do find that sad. Every year we publish the discrimination with Art.1 publish the discrimination figures of antidiscrimination agencies and police forces. And always we do not know if we can publish it again next year because it is not certain whether there is money for it again. That is just crazy. crazy. You can hardly wake up or you have the daily corona figures already inside. But with discrimination, after thirty years, we have to check whether we still have budget for it next year. That's significant.

In 2019, the police recorded nearly 5,500 incidents of discrimination and racism. At anti-discrimination agencies, another nearly 4400 reports were made.

'That's not even the tip of the iceberg, it's the top grains of the tip of the iceberg. In England they once calculated that you have to multiply those kinds of recorded figures by a factor of 4 to 40.'

Do stakeholders think the official numbers are too low to really see a problem in it?
'When I started my dissertation in 1990, many people asked: why are you studying racial violence, it doesn't occur here at all, does it? So then I went into the North Holland newspaper and de Volkskrant once started keeping posts. After six months, I had something like three hundred cases that had the smell of racism around them.

Then I got the question: but is that a lot? Or: isn't it worse in America or Germany? The same reaction I still see in the annual discrimination figures. The sole purpose of those statistics is to show that discrimination and racism are constantly present. And if, with all its flaws, we are already record three to four thousand cases of discrimination annually, it should no should no longer be a question of whether it occurs.

It's structural. You see that in the housing market, you see it with school counseling, you see it with the Department of benefits department of the Inland Revenue. Then another study about discrimination on the labor market and then everyone is shocked: how how is this possible? And then you see all these evasive mechanisms, like: "In America it's really bad!" And people go back to business as usual. You can also statistics also show that violence and threats are increasingly whereas earlier reports of discrimination often involved swearing. '

Witte was born in Utrecht, the son of an internist and a nurse. At home at the kitchen table it was often about politics. His grandfather Evert spent two and a half months in Camp Amersfoort during World War II after an NSB member's haystacks were set on fire. Eleven notables in the village of Aalten were rounded up with the intention that the actual perpetrators would come forward. They didn't. Evert's parents and brother, who had joined the NSB, stood silently by the side of the road watching him being taken away.

In Camp Amersfoort, he wrote about this in his diary: "My brother is not a serious idealist. He has failed economically in the crisis years. As with well 80% of the N.S.B. he looks for his non-success, due to the world around him. My parents and Teun were cramped in their political thinking by the economic crisis years and dragged into a fascist order and racial theories. But the simple thinking of their guilt is still too superficial. Should we not look for it with their inspirers with their diseased brains?

Witte: "My grandfather thought that you individuals can blame individuals for anything, but it's actually the ideas that get them this far. That does guide how I look at things. things. Of course I think that someone who beats up another person should be dealt with. But those who create the context in which someone becomes violent become violent, have a much greater responsibility. The death of George Floyd is a violent expression of what is much more structural, larger and basic in society at play. That shift has not been made for a long time. It is possible that that is now changing.'

The prosecution wanted to set an example by prosecuting twenty-two threateners of Sylvana Simons.

'There again you see that incident politics. What did those threateners get? Thirty hours community service or a fine - with the corona fine often being even higher. I don't think that everyone who makes a stupid remark should immediately spend six months in the chute should have to go. But if you set off a firecracker the wrong way on New Year's Eve, you'll be in court January 3 January 4 you have to transfer money or do community service. perform. There is simply too little priority and severity given to discrimination and racism. You can keep shouting that you don't tolerate discrimination, but in practice, little or nothing is often done about it. It has also only only become more and more overt. I also understand that if you wanted to prosecute all racist statements on Facebook, you would need an extra ministry with 60,000 civil servants. But that is an implementation issue.

In your book, you write that especially at the local level there is "collective amnesia. Among municipalities, you saw hardly any historical knowledge about local racial violence. Sometimes policymakers didn't even know what had happened in the previous year.

I did research in Waspik into the bullying away of a refugee family and in Aalsmeer into tensions between young people of different ethnic backgrounds. We as researchers - and that's really not a monk's work - pretty soon had a chronology that went went back years. In it, it turned out that the parents of the young people in question in the had also done something similar in the past, but nobody at the municipality or the police knew anything more about it.'

Researcher Amy-Jane Gielen interviewed young people who had to answer in court in 2007 after a series of arsons in Almere, including at a synagogue and an Islamic school. She concluded that they often shared their xenophobic and racist orientation often shared with their parents.

'It's not always one-to-one, you know, that something repeats itself within a family. But you see communities within which the same racist ideas continue to circulate. Municipal officials often don't know the history of such a community at all. As long as we perpetrator, then we don't have to do anything structural, so seems the thought. And if you come back to the same municipality two years later, there is yet another official.

At ministries, I also see new officials on this six months or every other year new officials on this file, whom you just barely explain how to write "discrimination." There is absolutely no absolutely no accumulation of knowledge and insights. Of course there are some very good civil servants whom I hold in high esteem, for example at the municipality of Rotterdam. But grosso modo it is really sad, certainly on a national level.

What needs to change structurally?
'I think it has to become much clearer that discrimination has much bigger effects on society than that single unpleasant event on the streetcar for Achmed or Fatima. You're not there with the next project or a resilience training. The approach must be much more structural and that will also cost a lot of money. So be it.

One of the reasons for working with RADAR/Art.1 the publication Resist, avoid or changeRespond On discrimination and stigmatization to be developed, which will be appears this summer, is to show what it's like when you're constantly being discriminated against. People do mbo and then just go do an internship with their uncle in the garage because they don't get hired anywhere, so they have a smaller network which in turn reduces their chances in the job market. They get sick, or at some point can go crazy over something relatively small thing. That is the build-up of years of frustration, exclusion and insecurity.'

You know how this is quickly seen as condoning violence?
I am not justifying anything, I am trying to explain it. From social psychology, it has been explained that this is the effect when you are constantly stopped on the street by the police because you look like that and on the other hand you are told that you should just assimilate and integrate.'

Critics will say that humans are inherently racist.
'I don't believe in that. I also don't believe in those therapeutic sessions where well-intentioned white anti-racists first look for the racist in themselves. I've been in sessions where I've still said, "Sorry, but I don't consider myself a racist." I also get sick of anti-racists who start measuring each other on who is the best anti-racist.

I believe it is human nature to to see: with whom can I associate, with whom do I feel kinship. But not that that is limited to one dividing line between groups of people. Man knows countless identities. Nor do I believe that all white people are racist would be racist and everyone else is not, and I don't mind at all if people have have prejudices. I only mind if they are not aware of it and don't ask themselves every time: does the prejudice suffice here or is it contradicted now anyway?

Witte would have liked to co-write another series of publications on racism and discrimination by RADAR/Art.1. But things are different. He has metastatic esophageal cancer and receives chemo every two weeks to prolong his life. 'Blood tests, results, chemo. Then a week of nothing or a scan. You have a day job.'

Are you still managing to work?'
'I have neither puff nor need for deadlines. But I still meddle with things and read pieces along.'

Are there things you are optimistic about?
'The return of activism. I had a very activist time in the 1970s and 1980s; I went to a demonstration every weekend. Even after that I went many times. At demonstrations against nuclear weapons there were sometimes half a million of us. You don't see that many at demonstrations against racism, whereas you should. At the Black Lives Matter demonstrations on Dam Square and afterwards, for the first time you saw thousands of people, instead of dozens or hundreds.

I also like the fact that schoolchildren demonstrated for the climate. And I am glad that because of the efforts of Kick Out Zwarte Piet the Zwarte Pieten are disappearing in more and more cities. That should should have been banned a long time ago, instead of discussing how many soot patches are allowed. The tone is allowed to be loud and fierce. I am very much of the thesis: keeping your mouth shut is actually the same as giving in or consenting. That I got that from my grandfather. The least you can do is make it clear that you are against it.

Source : https://www.vn.nl/rob-witte-racisme/

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