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Slavery excuses: 'Cabinet created its own problem by rushing in'

The excuses for the slavery past? It would have been better if the cabinet had taken some more time on that, thinks university lecturer and Atlantic slavery expert Karwan Fatah-Black. 'Too bad they didn’t wait for the results of the study.'

Karwan Fatah-Black

These are busy times for Fatah-Black. If he isn’t taking part in a consultation with the cabinet, he is being called by NOS. Everyone wants his opinion on the national apology for the slavery past. Is this a good idea? And if it is a good idea, why does it evoke so much resistance?

Problems created by haste

'The cabinet has created a problem by rushing in,' Fatah-Black argues. 'If you look at previous slavery excuses by the four big cities, for example, you see that they first commissioned a study on their role in that slavery past. Then they shared the results with their residents. Only six months or a year later did they come up with apologies, which they had pronounced by someone above the political parties.'

By doing that, the cities created the support that the Dutch cabinet now lacks, Fatah-Black believes. 'The cabinet has not waited for the ongoing investigation, but based itself on a report by the group of MPs who went to Suriname this summer. That is an almost encyclopaedic summary of the colonial relationship, with very little attention to how slavery was abolished and the knock-on effects of that history, for instance in the form of unequal citizenship.'

'Start working on institutional racism'

It is precisely this lack of understanding of contemporary consequences that needles many of those involved. 'The cabinet should explain to the Dutch people why it is doing this, instead of seeing it as policy that only affects descendants,' says Fatah-Black. 'It would help if this decision had been officially discussed in parliament. Defend it to parties that can raise some difficult questions about it.’  

'Racism at Foreign Affairs, racism in the police... you don't solve those kinds of problems with reparations.'

And then show that you are drawing lessons from the past, several interest groups wrote in a letter to the cabinet last week. 'For once, it isn’t about money,' Fatah-Black explained. 'In the cabinet discussions, you noticed that it was mainly about trust. The allowances affair, the report on racism at Foreign Affairs, racism in the police: people are concerned about these issues. You don't solve those kinds of problems with reparations. For that, you really need to work on institutional racism.'

'Don't dictate what the relevant questions are’

That means: talking to each other and listening to each other, 'without dictating what the relevant questions are,' says Fatah-Black. 'The cabinet is very clearly dealing with three domains: the relationship with Suriname, the relationship with the islands and the Netherlands itself. It would help if they start recognising how different these issues are.'

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