The road ahead is long

On why teaching about one’s role in the history of slavery and colonialism is necessary. And only the first step.

We have such a long way to go, still.
And I’m not even talking about overcoming divisions, ending structural racism, loving one’s neighbour.
Simply acknowledging the past is hard enough.
While in #Charlottesville this weekend racial hate, gun-carrying militias and white supremacy was openly allowed, the Dutch parties are still meeting to try and form a government. A leaked document now says they at least agree about something… that a new proposal regarding the way the Dutch role in slavery and the colonial is taught at schools, is NOT necessary. (Instead, they decided to teach about the national anthem, …) (Source: article 16/08/17 on Whereas in the past sixty years, the narrative about the Dutch colonial past has not truly changed, and is still based on the oppressor’s perspective. (See this master thesis on this topic, in Dutch, from 2012.)
This is no joke. This is serious. This is seriously wrong on so many levels. How can we imagine people to participate in debates and perform their democratic duty, when we do not inform people properly?
I consider myself to be more informed than the average person, I read more, have a higher level of education. But even though as a child I was extremely interested in history (especially my own history, the Dutch history) I did not read any books about our colonial past. History in children books was pretty much limited to the Second World War (and the Dutch being portrayed as the good guys, obviously).

The National Museum of African American History and Culture sits on five acres on the National Mall, close to the Washington Monument. Credit Lexey Swall for The New York Times

When I was in the US last year, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture had just opened. So one day I stood in line and got a ticket. And I went into that beautiful building, one big open space. And I stood some more in line, to get into the permanent exhibition – which was located below ground. (In itself a symbolic gesture people should write books about – how things that being covered up, and being now slowly excavated by the thousands who enter those dungeons every day, to see, to experience, to feel what has happened.)
Of course, every museum has its problems, there are choices of what to show and what not. I am sure in the future we will realise that what they show there is too limited and full of mistakes.
But I had a hard time. Not being American. Not being black. Not being raised with these issues. These issues are important, but also far from my own life and reality. Or so I thought.
I hardly made it through the first room. It was full of boats, replicas, drawings, journals, images. Of the Dutch and what they had done. Of my ancestors. Of the money that had paid for what is still the pride of the Netherlands – the buildings in Amsterdam, for instance. I could hardly move, seeing all that. Knowing that I must have known about this. But I didn’t. Not really.
What divides me from the world I live in? Picture by Jeanne des Bouvrie

Thanks, Dutch government, of not making sure that people are at least aware of their own history and the role they have played in world history. History is not something of the past, we walk among it every day. I wish we would at least have the courage to say these things out loud.
And then, maybe then, we can start talking about responsibility and making sure we don’t make the same mistakes again.
We have such a long road to go. Still.

0 thoughts on “The road ahead is long”

  1. volgens mij heb je wat er in het NOS artikel gezegd wordt een beetje verdraaid in je blogpost. In het nieuwsbericht wordt alleen gezegd: “Een D66-plan voor lessen over kolonialisme en slavernij zou het niet hebben gehaald.” Jij maakt ervan: “A leaked document now says they at least agree about something… that the Dutch role in slavery and the colonial past should NOT be taught at schools.” Dat laatste is nogal iets anders dan het eerste. Bovendien zijn ze het er dus niet over eens, anders was er geen D66-plan geweest in de eerste plaats. Maar belangrijker is dat er wel degelijk over het koloniale verleden en de slavernij gepraat wordt in het onderwijs. Of een D66-plan om daar iets mee te doen wordt afgewezen tijdens de kabinetsformatie veranderd daar niets aan. Er is geen enkele reden om aan te nemen dat de nieuwe regering nu van plan is onderwijs over slavernij en kolonialisme af te schaffen. Waarmee ik natuurlijk zeker niet wil zeggen dat de manier waarop met het koloniale verleden omgegaan wordt in Nederland o.k. is.

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