Statement by ENPAD member Mitchell Esajas on Anti-Black racism at the EU commission

Dear sir, madam, honourable members of the European Parliament and European commissioner

I am co-founder and chair of New Urban Collective, a network for student and young professionals from the African and Carribean diaspora in the Netherlands. I also work as a study advisor manager in anthropology at the UvA and as an independent researcher. Like Jallow I am a member of ENAR and also of European Network for People of African Descent – ENPAD.

I’ll share some information and experiences from the Dutch context. In the Netherlands there are between 650.000 and 800.000 thousand people of African descent, the exact number is not clear due to a lack of data. Many of them or us, are born and bred there, both as Dutch citizens but even those who came as migrants should be able to enjoy the same fundamental rights, unfortunately, this is not the case.

You may know the Netherlands as one of the pinnacles of freedom and tolerance of the world. The country which was the first to give gay people to get married, where people can go to a coffee shop, not just to buy coffee but also to buy marijuana because of its liberal laws. Yes, Holland to a certain point is one of the most open and liberal counties. Professor Gloria Wekker, however, wrote the book “White Innocence”, in which she talks about how a history of  three centuries of colonialism and slavery left its legacy in Dutch society, culture and traditions.

In the limited time that I have, I would like to stress and call upon the EU Commission to express my concern about the violation of the fundamental rights of people of African descent and the persistence of institutional racism in the Netherlands.

Some of you may know that as we are sitting here, many Dutch people are sitting at home with their families and friends to celebrate the most popular Dutch tradition, Saint Nicolas. At the same time I know that for many people, especially black people, this day is a day of pain, humiliation and dehumanization. My own sister who lives in Antwerp kept her 3-year-old daughter from school today. Why? Because in this tradition the Saint Nicolas is accompanied by Zwarte Piet, a racist caricature of black people. In practice, Zwarte Pete is played by white people who dress up in blackface.

Black people and those who are in solidarity with them have been protesting against it for a long time. And things are changing, but the tradition is still sponsored by the state, children are still confronted with this caricature in schools, on TV and in the public area. Therefore, we have tried to organize a peaceful protest 2 weeks a go at the national Saint Nicolas parade in the north of the Netherlands, Dokkum. With a group of about 120 people, in 3 busses, we travelled from Rotterdam and Amsterdam, for a peaceful manifestation.However, the busses were blocked on the highway by a group of about 30 aggressive white men and several women with cars, motorcycles and trucks. A dangerous situation, 2 people got a concussion and several people are emotionally traumatized. They are afraid tos peak out and share their opinion because of the threat of the white backlash. The blockade lasted about 45 minutes, during which the police present at the scene were in no visible hurry to dismantle it. The police also did not help the anti-Black Pete protesters continue their journey. Eventually, local authorities rescinded the right to protest via emergency order. The peaceful protest was made impossible partly by the police. Many people lost complete trust in the police and authorities. Including politicians such as the Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the secretary of the Ministry of Justice who did not condemn the action of the white extremist but stated that he could understand why they did it.

This was not the first time that it happened. Last year 200 peaceful protestors got arrested when they attempted to have a peaceful protest at the National parade in Rotterdam. Amnesty International condemned this arrest because it was a violation of the fundamental right of peaceful assemby. In 2014 70 people got arrested. In 2015 we were able to have a peaceful protest, but afterwards we received so mch hate speech that fort he first time in history someone got prosecuted for racist hate speech.

A person, Sietse, from Lelystad said:

“Just let them work as slaves again so they cant complain. That is what they want right, work that lazy sweat out nigger, that what you were born for’. We received more than 10.000 hateful comments within one day, 8 people are getting prosecuted.”

And we dont protest against black pete just because of the tradition, people protest against it because it has become a symbol of deeperlying institutional racism, Afrophobia and inequality in Dutch society. Several reports have shown that inequality persists in education, on the labor market through racial profiling by the police. One of the most recent reports showed that white people with a criminal record are more likely to get invited for a job interview compared topeople with a ethnic minority background without a criminal record.

In the Netherlands, and the EU, truly wants to live up to the laws and values it pretends to hold high: values of freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, equality and dignity. The Netherlands has been one of the few countries who took some action in relation tot he UN Decade for People of African Descent, the action that has been taken I would say falls short to what is necessary to tackle the structural problems. A few conferences and events have been organized, €500.000 have been made available to civil society organizations to develop projects in the year of 2017 but fort he rest of the decade no further policy changes, actions of resources have been made available.
So I’d like to encourage the EU commissiones to call upon the Dutch state to take steps to combat anti-black racism, Afrophobia and discrimination in all aspects and levels of society starting with changing the Saint Nicolas tradition.”

***I am glad my brother Malcolm Momodou Jallow (MP in Sweden) made a strong statement as well which also condemned the EU policy which contributes to the problem of slavery in Libya happening now.

***The representative of the Netherlands made a statement as well in which he tried to play down the issues in the Netherlands. He also mentioned #Dokkum and said that the government condemned the blockade but will await the judgement of the public prosecutor.

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