From 9am on Wednesday to 9am on Thursday, we’re taking a stand outside the Dáil [Irish Parliament] for the undocumented. JOIN US at 6pm for the candlelit solidarity gathering, when we’ll have stories and music with supporters, allies, undocumented migrants, and politicians. Family and friends welcome!-
Today undocumented migrants in Ireland are holding a 24 hour vigil in the hopes of achieving justice for them and their families. If you are in the vicinity and have the opportunity, I personally plead your support for this action. Living without “papers” (as it is informally called) is not only stressing but it exposes the undocumented migrant to incredible risks of harm and violence. Undocumented status means you are disenfranchised; you live in fear for you and your family; if you are a victim of crime, you will most likely not report it; if you are a woman, it means you are vulnerable to sexual assault and you will have little legal recourse for obtaining justice; undocumented trans* women are doubly vulnerable because of transphobia and the fact that they have almost no legal protections when they are attacked; undocumented children face limitations in the services they can access and quality of education due to the fact that not every school will make exceptions for those that do not have the “correct papers”. The list of injustices faced by undocumented people is endless and breathtakingly unfair.
Research by the national statistics office CBS and the government’s socio-cultural think-tank SCP, shows 7.6% of the population is now living below the poverty line. Last year’s rise is the sharpest since the economic crisis began in 2008.-
From the article:
At least 1.2 million people were living in poverty in the Netherlands last year, a rise of over 150,000 people on 2011, according to a new report.[…]
In particular, people living on welfare benefits, single mothers and migrants are likely to live in poverty, the report said. A large part of the 348,000 working poor are self-employed, the report said. Over 11% of Dutch children are now growing up in poverty, using the SCP definition.
This is the result of almost ten years of fierce neoliberal measures at the expense of the working class and poor. The most vulnerable groups of Dutch society have been taking a hit, every year without fail, in the support system that had been built as part of the 60’s and onwards welfare State.
To understand the effect of these neoliberal policies, this item from earlier this year sheds more light:
The number of Dutch households with more than $1m (€760,000) in assets rose nearly 13% last year, according to research by the Boston Consultancy Group and quoted by news agency ANP.
In 2012 there were 191,000 Dutch households worth more than $1m, compared with 170,000 in 2011. Together they control €396bn in assets, the consultancy said. The increase is largely due to rises on the stock exchange, ANP said.
Let those figures sink: while 11% of all Dutch children are growing up in households with incomes below the poverty line, in the same time period, the number of Dutch millionaires rose by 13%.
Over half of the estimated 120,000 undocumented migrant children in the UK were born here. Many have lived here for their entire childhood," Kamena Dorling, policy and programmes manager at the centre said.-
Undocumented European immigration in numbers.
I’ve written about the language of European immigration before and how there is an institutional push to classify undocumented immigrants as either refugees or asylum seekers, erasing the multiplicity of experiences that lead to migration and displacement. Another erasure that is quite common across the EU has to do with figures. There is no data collection as to the number of undocumented migrants currently living within the European Union. I suspect that this lack of data, paired with the above mentioned language misuse is a purely political decision. In order to perpetuate the myth of “European human rights champion”, the EU needs to obscure the realities of those that are disenfranchised within its own borders.
Here’s a roundup of the latest links around the topic I’ve been covering all week:
- UN requests The Netherlands to stop harassing and intimidating Human Rights experts researching the topic of Black Pete/ Zwarte Piet
While there may be vigorous debate on issues raised by independent experts, these individuals should not be subject to hate speech or attacks on their personal integrity or any form of harassment or intimidation in their defence of human rights, as has happened in this case.
- Here, Rita Izsák, UN Independent Expert on minority issues, explains the harassment and intimidation that the members of the working group are being subjected to.
- Those who can read Dutch (or who have infinite patience to type text into Google translate), should check the “Nederland Spreekt” Tumblr (The Netherlands is speaking), which collects reactions around the internet from people who vehemently defend the character of Zwarte Piet. Massive trigger warning, though, as the reactions range from calls to lynching anyone who opposes the character to demands of deportation for all People of Color in The Netherlands. I must say I have seen plenty of racist language in my life (more than anyone should have to, really), but the painstaking archival repository that has been created by this blog exceeds anything I have seen before (both in accumulation of hate speech and rhetoric).
- Martijn de Koning has written a great piece about the commodification of dissent in The Netherlands. He expands on the research I posted yesterday about the marketing agency behind the Zwarte Piet petition and adds new data regarding the commercial value, plus, he has some in depth analysis on the meaning of this appropriation from a political standpoint.
- And, in case you missed it, this week I wrote about “ungrievable lives” and “ungrievable racism” and the emotions centered around the Zwarte Piet uproar.
As I read the statement by Rita Izsák, the UN advisor on Minority Issues and her eloquent remarks about the violent nature of Zwarte Piet’s supporters, I kept thinking of gaslighting and how it’s become such a widespread tool of terror to enforce racism in The Netherlands. I have briefly written about gaslighting as part of the “dominant culture’s toolkit”, however, never before has this mechanism been clearer than with the current debates around Zwarte Piet.
a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
Under the guise of this bizarre claim that The Netherlands is “the most tolerant country in the world”, even when we present undeniable proof of historical and cultural evidence to the contrary, we are told that “we are seeing things” where there are none to be seen. “It’s all in our heads” or, alternatively, “we are making it all up”. This, paired with the rhetoric violence that Dutch white racists unleash on anyone who opposes them is at the very foundation of the Dutch national culture. On the one hand, gaslight those who speak up against racism. On the other, if that doesn’t work, threaten them with violence.
Yesterday, on Twitter, I pointed out that contrary to media claims, the petition to leave Zwarte Piet unchanged was not a grassroots effort. The campaign was initiated by a marketing agency seeking to make a “test case” for their customers on the effective use of social media to gather public support. They are now advertising the campaign on their website as a “success” that proves their expertise on artificially influencing public opinion. Screen capture of this agency’s marketing (link here, but I am screencapping in case they change or remove it): in Dutch, a “portfolio” of this marketing agency’s customers where, at the bottom, there is a message in Dutch stating “The proof that social media works: from 0 to 720,000 “likes” in 20 hours”, followed by a link to the racist petition. (The number of “likes” at the time of this writing is at 2.1 million).
To sum it up, a business is making money out of enforcing anti Black racism and exploiting the legacy of slavery. And yet, two million people will willfully adhere to this campaign claiming it “represents them”, obviously ignoring that each time they support it, they are merely a number for a corporate enterprise to make $$ out of the whole ordeal. Then, a rather significant number of those two million people will viciously attack anyone who opposes them either using the gaslighting described above or, when that doesn’t render the desired results (i.e. silencing opposition), sending open threats of violence (beatings, rape, “I will find you and teach you a lesson” etc etc).
The myth of tolerance in The Netherlands is nothing more than an empty word to hide abuse and terror for anyone who dares resist. The “tolerant” ones, either making money out of enforcing racism or hiding behind gaslighting and rhetoric violence, willing to say anything to maintain the status quo. This is what a culture of abuse looks like.
For the record, once again: I do not have the power and never had the intent to advocate for the abolishment of Sinterklaas. In many cultures (including in my own by the way), Santa Claus is an important and beloved figure and its tradition should be respected. And in most countries, he does indeed have assistants and many times they are dark figures. The roots and history of this is complex and varies according to countries and there are experts who have been doing thorough research on this and know much better than I do. But let us be honest. The argument that Zwarte Piet is actually a white man who went through a chimney and became smokey, and therefore has nothing to do with African and Black people cannot really stand once we look at his afro wig, thick red lips and costume that resembles slavery times. We must realize that people of African descent can easily have a(n otherwise legitimate) reason to feel connected and related to Black Pete and must be given the opportunity to react and share their thoughts and feelings on that. Of course, reactions will be mixed and it is alright. I got messages from non-Black Dutch people who feel ashamed because of Black Pete and would like to see it abolished but also letters by Black people who have seen nothing wrong with it and felt that Black Pete makes Black people lovable. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that everyone can say what they feel and then there must be a way to find a compromise if needed to bring harmony and peace back to communities (removing the afro wig and red lipstick and change his clothes for example so that he really looks like a white man who went through a chimney…?).
But I must say that I am concerned and saddened about the nature of the debate at least according to what I see on my own Facebook page. Those who feel offended and hurt because of Black Pete rather write me private messages in confidence which gives me the impression that they have a fear to speak up publicly. On the contrary, many of those who feel that there is nothing wrong with Black Pete, often communicate it through rather aggressive messages for the whole public and ridicule those who were brave enough to raise their voice against Black Pete openly. I also got cynical and rude comments on my other posts dealing with completely different subjects. My worry is that such an atmosphere will not enable an honest and open discussion. Black people and those non-Black Dutch who feel that something is wrong must be encouraged to speak up without fear and must be heard on an equal basis. It is the responsibility of the government and all its citizens to make it happen. From my side, I will keep on providing a space for discussion here on Facebook and I do wish for us that we will all come to a solution that will bring people and communities closer instead of dividing them. We must recognize, that what we need is unity in diversity and how we deal with such things will determine not only our common future but most importantly the way our children will grow up, think about and handle such complex social realities.-
Rita Izsák, one of the UN experts involved in the panel that sent a the letter to the Dutch government addressing the racist nature of the character of Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) had this to say on her Facebook page.
[Photo caption: a yellow sign with two silhouettes, next to a road, reads, in Dutch: denk aan onze kinderen] Sign reads, in Dutch, “Think of our children”. Photo via.
Sometimes you drive around these small Dutch villages, little bucolic enclaves in the middle of mist covered landscapes, beautifully dotted with farmlands and well kept yards. These villages are also, invariably, overwhelmingly white. Sometimes, when you drive around in the narrow streets you see signs that read “Think of our children” with some graphic pointing to speed limits. These signs, which are, at the root, an emotional plea to drivers, attempt to elicit care while circulating around areas where children usually play. The idea, of course, and one nobody would dispute, is that children’s lives are worth preserving and being careful about. Given my own personal history and my on going archive of “ungrievable lives”, I’ve always felt a quiet and sorrowful discomfort around those signs. This discomfort does not stem from the fact that I believe those specific children are not worth protecting but because I have seen first hand, and because I carry the scars on my body, of the lives that are not considered worth protecting. These lives, I am told, deserve care; these other lives, are not even worth mourning.
This week, Verene Shepherd, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights said in an interview that she would object to the character of Zwarte Piet if she lived in the Netherlands. From the linked article:
Verene Shepherd, who is Jamaican, said in the interview that the UN working group cannot understand why ‘people in the Netherlands do not see this is a throwback to slavery and that in the 21st century this practice should stop.’
Last week it emerged the committee is looking into the Sinterklaas celebrations and the role of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) following complaints that it is racist.
I have written extensively about the character of Zwarte Piet. I have been interviewed, quoted, dissected and even threatened for writing about this topic. In fact, it was my writing about Zwarte Piet that originated my friendship (and many working collaborations) with Quinsy Gario, the young man that was arrested, a couple of years ago, for wearing a t-shirt stating that “Zwarte Piet is racism”. It was Quinsy who originally presented the Zwarte Piet related documentation to the UN Commissioner last year. It was also Quinsy who, a bit over two weeks ago, had a hearing at Amsterdam’s City Council to request that the city wide festivities do not include this racist character. So, when we had lunch earlier this week, I was not shocked to hear the latest development: he is getting death threats and threats of unspeakable violence from a great number of white Dutch people who are incensed because he dared speak up about the racist history of this character. Dutch tabloid media is mocking him, tv and radio commentators refer to his work in the condescending tone reserved for those that are not to be acknowledged as intellectual equals, those that are to be treated like a nuisance. The very same racist tropes that created the character of Zwarte Piet are now being unleashed over the Black man protesting them.
Yesterday, in response to the UN Commissioner’s statements, two white, Dutch publicists, Kevin van Boeckholtz and Bas Vreugde started a Facebook petition to “Save Zwarte Piet” (link to news in Dutch). In the Facebook page they state they want public support to keep the character in its current incarnation: a Blackface, racist, colonial depiction of Sinterklaas’ enslaved helper. At the time of this writing, more than 1.9 million Dutch people have “Liked” this page and signed the petition. In a country of a bit over 16 million people, more than 10% of the population has publicly stated that they refuse to consider any changes to their tradition. The message is loud and clear: a significant number of Dutch people would rather cling to their racism than consider any other perspective for change.
A bit over two weeks ago, The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an organization of 15 Caribbean nations and dependencies, announced that they intend to sue The Netherlands, UK and France seeking slavery reparations. Both Britain and The Netherlands compensated slave owners and traders at the time of emancipation (with sums that amount to billions in today’s currency) but they never equally recognized the effects of the Transatlantic trade on its victims. This legal action brought forward by CARICOM at the beginning of October hardly made Dutch news. The legacy of slavery in The Netherlands, once again, silenced and swept under the rug. Which is to say, business as usual, considering the topic was not taught at all in Dutch schools until well into the 90s and even now, it is taught devoid of historical context, removed from the consequences for present day descendants. Even when the undeniable link between racist caricatures of Black people and the Dutch responsibility in the creation of these racial hierarchies are brought up, we get a petition signed by more than 10% of the population.
In its lawsuit, Caricom claims slavery condemned the region to a poverty that still afflicts it today.
And they are comparing their demand to Germany recompensing Jewish people for the Holocaust and New Zealand compensating Maoris.
'The awful legacy of these crimes against humanity ought to be repaired for the developmental benefit of our Caribbean societies and all our peoples,' said Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of the tiny Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
He called it a ‘historic wrong that has to be righted’.
Verene Shepherd, who is coordinating Jamaica’s demands for reparations, said their slave ancestors ‘got nothing’ when they were freed. ‘They got their freedom and they were told ‘Go develop yourselves’,’ she said.
The arguments we hear the most from white, Dutch people who wish to preserve the character of Zwarte Piet in its current incarnation center around emotions. This, we are told, is a character from our childhoods. We love Sinterklaas. We have such fond memories of these festivities. This character was never intended to be racist, it was simply a bit of a jester, a comic relief. Again and again, we are told, we need to preserve these feelings, the “tradition” itself merely an excuse for the preservation of white Dutch children’s emotions. “Think of our children” all over again. And all over again, the reminder that the feelings worth preserving, the lives worth cherishing are those of white Dutch children. Even if those emotions come at the expense of Black children whose cultural representation amounts to tired, old, racist stereotypes. Even if those emotions come at the expense of death threats for the people who oppose them. Just like there are “ungrievable lives”, present day Dutch society wants us to know that there is “ungrievable racism”. And they will not do a thing to change that.
"There is no individual solution to systemic problems" why do we keep forgetting that & are continuously sold neoliberal individualism?— Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices) October 21, 2013
Last night, after I posted my piece on neoliberal feminism and white critiques of identity politics, the conversation(s) continued on Twitter. Jennifer Reft compiled my tweets on a Storify.
Last April I wrote about neoliberal feminism and, as it is bound to happen from time to time, I was dutifully mocked by white British feminists*. This was not the first time I had written on the topic but I believe it was the first time I had connected this neoliberal feminism to several of the “trends” of the past year, namely, Lean In, “having it all” and the UK feminist backlash against intersectionality. Back then, I wrote (and I am not quoting myself so much as refreshing the working definition that I hope illuminates this aspect of neoliberal feminism):
In The Handbook of Social Geography, edited by Susan Smith and others, Clive Barnett spells out some principles of neoliberalism that I believe are useful to situate my statements further, specifically, he states that “Neoliberalism brings off various changes in subjectivity by normalizing individualistic self-interest, entrepreneurial values, and consumerism”. This neoliberalism is then normalized and presented as “a benevolent mask full of wonderful-sounding words like freedom, liberty, choice, and rights, to hide the grim realities of the restoration or reconstitution of naked class power”.
Last Monday, The Guardian published a piece by Professor Nancy Fraser, How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden - and how to reclaim it. Professor Fraser writes:
Feminism has also made a second contribution to the neoliberal ethos. In the era of state-organised capitalism, we rightly criticised a constricted political vision that was so intently focused on class inequality that it could not see such “non-economic” injustices as domestic violence, sexual assault and reproductive oppression. Rejecting “economism” and politicising “the personal”, feminists broadened the political agenda to challenge status hierarchies premised on cultural constructions of gender difference. The result should have been to expand the struggle for justice to encompass both culture and economics. But the actual result was a one-sided focus on “gender identity” at the expense of bread and butter issues. Worse still, the feminist turn to identity politics dovetailed all too neatly with a rising neoliberalism that wanted nothing more than to repress all memory of social equality.
One of the topics I systematically bring up is that the internet has facilitated an ahistorical, decontextualized version of feminism. Words become slogans become memes become cliches become empty vessels removed from the original intent or circumstance in which they were created. These words then are repeated and they enter our collective without so much as a memory of who said them and what they mean. I, too, have repeated “the personal is political” often. I, too, believe in the power of those words. But then, a few weeks ago, when I was approached about signing the letter of support for a trans-inclusive feminism, I realized something I hadn’t “seen” before. Or better said, something I had seen on numerous occasions but I had never put together. The letter of support for a trans-inclusive feminism was written in response to a vile open statement against trans* inclusivity initiated by no other than Carol Hanisch, the woman who coined the phrase “The personal is political”. What was once sold to us as political liberation is now clearly nothing but the work of a bigot who devotes herself to exclusion. And it is in the mindless repetition of this phrase that we have lost all context and neoliberal feminism has used this collective memory loss as an excuse to take each individual story, each “personal” into a fragmented, shattered mosaic where there is no longer room for the analysis and resistance to the systemic. If all is reduced to “the personal”, what room is there to stand in resistance to a white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist patriarchy? In this fragmented collection of “the personal”, all we are offered is individual solutions. The myth of choice where we are supposed to believe the individual can ever pick from an infinite set of possibilities. The myth of choice where we are to believe we all have the same choices to pick from.
When Professor Fraser writes “Worse still, the feminist turn to identity politics dovetailed all too neatly with a rising neoliberalism that wanted nothing more than to repress all memory of social equality.”, I have to ask “which identity politics”? Are we talking about the identity politics that reduce me to the category of “woman” while it forces me to erase my condition of migrant, woman of color, Latina, etc etc? Prof. Fraser’s critique of neoliberal feminism falls into the trap of most critiques that originate within mainstream white feminism: they conveniently forget the “matrix of domination” that many of us are forced to inhabit. While neoliberal feminism reduces us to individual islands, each with our own categories, discouraged from seeking answers in the collective, Prof. Frasier’s critique reduces us to an erasing, universal “woman”. It is not surprising that most criticism of “identity politics” originate within white culture. Identity politics, they claim, are a disservice to “the fight”; we should, instead, focus on a single issue at a time. When you are a person of color, your deviation from the white norm is a hindrance, your multiple issues a distraction, an impediment for advancement. Identity politics, it is suggested, are “divisive”.
In closing her piece, Prof. Fraser writes:
First, we might break the spurious link between our critique of the family wage and flexible capitalism by militating for a form of life that de-centres waged work and valorises unwaged activities, including – but not only – carework.
Again, I have to bring up the pesky “identity politics”: how can we start to decenter waged work when the wage gap between Women of Color and White women** is not only alive but shows no sign of change? On the one hand, neoliberal feminism breaks us down into single units so that we are left with no systemic solutions. On the other hand, this critique of neoliberal feminism fails to address the complexities of being a Woman of Color within a white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist patriarchy. No matter the angle, it seems that all we are offered is whiteness in lieu of liberation. Or, if I want to draw from a Black feminist that was better than I’ll ever be: all we are offered are Master’s tools. And we know liberation can never come from those.
* Link goes to one of the tweets where, as customary, a link to my piece is included without naming me, a modus operandi followed by many on Twitter to avoid giving credit or engaging those that should be discussed but not promoted. Twitter won’t allow me to get the entire conversation where several white feminists discussed my (lack of) intellectual capabilities to tackle the issue I was writing about. Lest anyone thinks I am bitter about this, yes, I am, especially considering how many times the topics I am mocked for attempting to write about, shortly after, as is the case here, materialize in mainstream media where they are lauded by the same white feminists that mocked me before.
** Using a US fact sheet because it was one of the first links available, however, a PDF of a British report can be found here. I will not research every country in the European Union, but I have written before about unemployment of PoC in the EU with figures, google would provide more data for those interested.
When I wrote about “the asylum seeker industrial complex” a few weeks ago I referred to both the EU’s need of the figure of the “asylum seeker” for the perpetuation of the universal human rights myth and the corporations that profit from the administration of these lives. I also objected to the category of “asylum seeker” as the only migrant experience that is coded both in the law and media, erasing the multitude of political and economic reasons behind human displacement in the Global South. Today, I came across a blood chilling post at the EU Observer, Private firms put price tag on migrant suicides. From the piece:
Private security companies operating UK-based immigrant removal centres (IRC)* use formulas to calculate the profit loss incurred by detainees who commit suicide under their watch.
A handful of immigrants, set for deportation, have managed to kill themselves at the facilities over the years. The UK Border Agency, has in some other cases, refused to disclose the cause of death.[…]
The profit formula is based on a performance point system that attributes numerical figures to a list of possible infractions based on a self-auditing process.[…]
If a Serco guard forgets to lock a door at Colnbrook, then the company is fined 50 points. If a detainee is caught climbing onto the roof, it is fined 10 points.
Fifty points are given if a guard fails to report an incident of torture to the manager.
An incident resulting in self-harm is 20 points.
Suicide is 300 points.
The sum is then entered into a formula to determine how much they get paid, although the monetary value of the points is redacted in the contract.
Every instance of a detainee’s harm is a loss of profit for the corporations in charge of the administration of these detention camps. Needless to say, this point system results in the underreporting of violence and dismissal of migrant’s mental health issues.
However, these corporate practices are not limited to privately owned entities that benefit from outsourcing contracts for immigrant detention. This video, posted six days ago by Frontex, the European agency in charge of border control, contains the right mix of militarization and corporate speak that muddles the distinction between the State and privately owned businesses. In the video, European Union officials speak in acronyms about the SQF (Sectoral Qualification Framework) which allows border patrols to be trained across the EU using harmonized education standards. They refer to legal concerns as providing a training that is “Fundamental Rights Compliant” (really, in EU Inc speak, border patrols in charge of rescuing migrants from distressing situations in the middle of the sea should not have empathy or uphold human life, they should be “fundamental rights compliant”). These Frontex officers are then deployed across the European Union where their “compliance” illustrated by this press release from the Greek group “Network Welcome to Europe”, results in actions such as these:
On the 6th of September 2013 two FRONTEX-officers from Italy and Sweden expulsed a family with small children and a pregnant woman from the rooms they were hosted in order to occupy and re-use these rooms as their offices [ED Note: the rooms were located in an NGO building] introducing themselves as European Border Police.
Meanwhile, in the past 16 years, the death count of undocumented migrants due to border militarization, asylum laws, accommodation, detention policy and deportations is currently over 17,000. There is a lot of money to be made by the living and dying in the EU. The “asylum seeker industrial complex” just needs to streamline their profits.
* “Removal centers” are an euphemism for the detention centers where undocumented migrants awaiting deportation can be held for months (or even years).
Four MPs from Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration PVV wore a badge in parliament on Wednesday featuring a flag associated with neo-Nazi groups, the NRC reports.
The Prinsen flag, which has an orange section rather than red as in the current Dutch flag, was adopted by the Dutch national socialist party NSB in the 1930s.
It has since become a symbol of right-wing extremism and is used by groups such as the Nederlandse Volksunie and Stormfront.
Wilders has made a career out of his very strong, xenophobic and racist anti Muslim and anti immigrant stances, while at the same time, always stressing his unconditional support for Israel. Now, it seems that such support is no longer convenient for him (in the sense that to broaden his follow base in view of the European elections in May next year, he needs to “take it up a notch”). So, his party is now moving into an openly neo-Nazi position (something he always denied and a topic I have covered quite some when he vehemently condemned Anders Breivik’s “allegiance” to his politics). Members of Parliament from his Party are now wearing Neo-Nazi symbols out in the open, defiant, confrontational and clearly demonstrating exactly what this Party stands for.
Wilders, of course, as he always does, minimizes the symbolic value of this shameless display and claims he is “all for democracy”. His racism is not only vile because of its ideology, it’s even more vile because it is opportunistic and a mere tool he uses to access power. I expect that in the next few months, as the European Parliament election campaigns heat up, he will become even more daring, showing his true colors more so than he has done so far. He has already spoken of a Pan European alliance with the French Front National (a party that includes such stellar record like Holocaust denial, calls of violence against People of Color, violence against immigrants, etc etc), the Swedish Democrats (who, contrary to their name, are anything but democratic) and the Italian Northern League (a Party whose members regularly advocate violence against Black people, Muslims and immigrants).
I have speculated in the past about what I call “European networks of hate” and how these networks might grow in a European Union that has created a legal entitlement for the free flow of European citizens, resources and information across borders. So far, these “networks of hate” have been loosely associated and focus on exchange of information and some sporadic physical actions (like when the British BNP supporters came to Amsterdam to “manifest” their support for Wilders). These European elections seem to be consolidating the “networks of hate” into a more institutionalized and political body, with real power and representation. I, as usual, remain interested in their further development.
ETA: Photo of the Members of Parliament with their Neo-Nazi pins here (thanks to Janne Wolterbeek for the link)
Back in April, when the festivities for the new Dutch King Willem Alexander were arranged, the National Committee for the Inauguration (in The Netherlands, Kings and Queens are crowned in an Inauguration ceremony) opened the registry for a “Book of Dreams”. In this registry, every person living in The Netherlands could send their dreams and aspirations for the future of the Kingdom. The Committee then compiled the “best” dreams (what they picked and who got picked would be topic for another post and it’s kind of besides the point here) and then those dreams were printed in a book, The Book of Dreams (Droomboek in Dutch). This book was made available free of charge for every household in The Netherlands (there seems to be a shortage now, as they only printed one million and there seems to be more demand). In order to get a copy, people had to get a coupon that was available through several newspapers, post offices, etc. Then, they had to take that coupon to their local bookstore and redeem it free of charge.
Now, a very popular bookstore owner writes about her experience with the customers redeeming their coupons at her store. This bookstore owner, Monique Burger is a very well known media personality here in The Netherlands, where she has regular spots in one of the best known TV shows in the country talking about books and literature. And of course, the customers redeeming the coupons for the free books couldn’t be more upsetting to her. From her post (original in Dutch, translation mine):
Thursday morning when I opened the shop, there was already a long line of people outside the door. A delightful sight. This is what you really want as a bookstore owner! […]
But I am scared. Not of the greediness with which these people “claim” their free book, but of their poverty. Unshaven, unwashed, unkempt, fat, saggy, lame, with rotten teeth, smelly, with walking aids and devices that I’ve never seen before in my life, rough, rude, barely talking: sometimes just throwing the coupon at me - even if I’m dealing with other customers, totally devoid of any sense of social relationships or rules of conduct.
I do not even blame them. This is real poverty, as I’ve never actually seen it. This is outside my experience: in Bos en Lommer [ed note: where her shop is located] there are no homeless in the street, there is no overt alcoholism, there are no junkies and no whores - these are the excesses of the city, which of course is much more attractive due to the large number of tourists- that usually steal perfectly edible food that is thrown away. And the poorest people sit inside, apparently. Or they rush by Dirk van den Broek, or Lidl [ed note: two budget supermarket chains].
What I also realize is that these customers never understand our debit card only policy in the store [ed note: debit card only policy means no cash is accepted]. A few of them literally told me this (angrily). Then I suddenly remember the old shop, Omta, where I’ve certainly seen them, usually buying just a loose envelope or a Bic pen but never a book.
Understandably, this piece, which was posted in what is arguably the most read literary blog in the country, has sparked outrage in the comments section. The classism, the open disdain for the poor, the hateful language used to describe a large sector of society, all of these are meeting a strong reaction. However, because this is The Netherlands and because this is a Dutch media personality with a lot of traction, I also expect a very specific response: tonight, when she has her regular TV appearance, Monique Burger will most likely claim that this was just satire. It was meant to be taken as humor. Of course she doesn’t view the poors in such a bad light. Of course she understands and of course she was just joking. However, for satire to be satire it needs to be placed in context and, above all, it needs to be funny. If she chooses the “satire excuse”, it will only be so as to elude any sense of responsibility for her pathetically worded opinions.
In the meantime, racist populists like Geert Wilders will have yet another item in their archive so that when voting time comes, they have a reminder of what the intellectual class in The Netherlands really thinks of the working class and the poor. And to be honest, who can blame him when this is what they really think.
ETA: And she has a response in the comments section. Of course she doesn’t think badly of the poors, she merely tried to convey how terrible poverty is. And there are poors that make do with very little and she has a lot of respect for them, she intended the piece to be taken differently etc… you know, the usual, just backpedalling hard.