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Representation counts!

A good friend calls me, sounding like he wants to share and check something important. He was talking to his sister this week about the Nieuwsuur headline: Black Lives Matter: Was it a turning point or a hype? His sister stumbles over the title and notices that important parties are left out of this item and that stings. Nieuwsuur's twitter account says the following about it:

"Was it a turning point or hype? Last year's Black Lives Matter protests saw massive demonstrations against racism. Prime Minister Rutte spoke out against 'systemic racism' for the first time. But what do these words mean in practice?"

The good friend and I talk about it some more. He argues that the movement is old and has actually been relevant since transatlantic slavery. There, of course, he makes a good point. The question Nieuwsuur uses in its headline is redundant, extremely polarising and not appropriate to the movement.

Not just America

The fact that more and more people have been introduced to and confronted with Black Lives Matter (BLM) at the moment does not mean that it has not been and still is an issue for years. BLM history, of course, stretches back to the '60s and is built on the foundations of the US civil rights movement. And no, it is not just about America; in the Netherlands too, people have been addressing racism and systemic exclusion in all sorts of areas for years. Within science Philomena Essed and Gloria Wekker, for instance, on TV, think of Gerda Havertong who criticised black piet as early as the 1980s. More recently, different voices can be heard in the field of representative media: think Omroep Zwart and broadcaster PAC.

The Black Archives, which has been working for quite some time, together with the Ons Suriname Foundation, for example, on decolonial awareness work, politics where Denk and certainly Bij1 play an important role and more recently within the arts, we see movement such as the open letter WE SEE YOU, WHITE ARTS AND CULTURE SECTOR of 600+ coloured arts professionals or consider the recently published report Rijksmuseum and Slavery.


The shift from thought experimentation to increasingly action-oriented development, is an important one in this. Much research has already been done, the experiences of people of colour can no longer be dismissed as incidental events. That systemic exclusion exists is a given, not a question, just consider the obvious example of the benefits affair.

It is therefore also more than time for actual systemic and cultural change. This change of engaging on all these facets and at the same time, that is a clear signal. A change that is too slow for some and too fast for others and will go through regardless.

Points of light

In the News Hour excerpt, the various speakers are cautiously positive, including about politics. Although there is outrage about the non-existent Afro representation in the second chamber, there are also bright spots. The woman interviewed is going to vote because she feels more represented. I myself also see this year for the first time within political campaigning that candidates of colour are clearly profiled. Not always in electable positions, which is then actually quite unfortunate.

Representation matters: always, in all forms and everywhere. The public outcry about not being represented is increasingly evident. Unfortunately, representation is still often linked to quality. So too during the table talk, at the Culture Participation Fund conference 'The Depth In , to which I was invited as an interlocutor. The presenter made two remarks that have stuck with me.

Death Eater

One comment was about the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement dissipating in times of corona and that it did not receive proper attention. I can agree that the attention, around the demonstrations in June last year, was more about talking about the use of mouth caps, than racism. It really loosened things up, there is no denying that and, as reported earlier, it is not an isolated event.

The second comment was about diversity and quality. A dead giveaway, I think, and I say so. That same week, women's quotas are being discussed in the chamber, for good reason. Diversity is quality, that should not be a point of discussion. The question is: in what way do we get the right representation in the right place. For instance, are we capable of investing in this at an early stage, not just asking about experience, but also looking at potential, because if you don't get the chance to gain experience, how can you build towards your place! Only to then hear: They're not there!

Good example

The talk of the day recently was also filled with the translation work for Amanda Gorman's poetry. Gorman who has published her beautiful spoken word performed during Joe Biden's inauguration. Earlier, it was announced that Gershwin Bonevacia was to translate Amanda Gorman's children's book. It was later announced that International Booker Prize winner Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was chosen to translate The Hill We Climb. After uproar over her being white, in relation to portraying the black struggle from her pen and how out of place that would be, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld pulls back.

Historian Tayfun Balçik says: "One less white Dutchman gets a job, the Netherlands days in turmoil. People of colour miss out on jobs, assignments and jobs every day. For years! If we had a fraction of the fuss at Rijneveld, institutional discrimination in the labour market would have been solved." Nail on the head you might say. Here, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld sets a good example, because the quality under representation, it is already there, we all have to be willing to acknowledge that and make room for it.

There are plenty of places where representation is more than necessary and too little space is given or made for it. Simply because it is not looked at well enough, we are not seen or better we do not want to be seen well by others. But the time of not knowing is really over and that is also progress. I am cautiously positive myself I notice.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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