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03/07/2014

Keti Koti 2014 - Celebration, Protest, Commemoration

"The chains are cut" (Keti Koti in Surinamese - Sranantongo) is the Emancipation Day, in which the end of slavery in Suriname is remembered (legally 1963, de facto 1973). Since 2009, every July 1st there are joyful initiatives all across Dutch cities, and Amsterdam hosts probably the largest Keti Koti festival.

I was there, the day before yesterday. After a long demonstration from Waterlooplein all the way to Oosterpark, we entered the park which was turned into a great fair of music, cerimonies, speeches, and debates, all surrounded by Surinamese and other types of food, drinks and handicrafts.
video 

It was very interesting to listen to the Minister of Social Affairs' speech. After a group of black activists interrupted the cerimony, reading an articulated critique of the current government (see below) the Minister started off with an emphasis on the present-day conditions of social inequalities and racism to which too many people of colour in the Netherlands are subjected. When I first heard that,  I was positively impressed - It's important, I thought, not to celebrate the end of slavery without  mentioning the continuing legacy of colonialism in present-day Netherlands and Europe  altogether. But when the Minister emphasised the importance of 'working together' - meaning Blacks and Whites - in the fight against discrimination and intolerance, everything became suddenly much less surprising. He repeted two or three times the idea that 'we should fight together'.

Giovanni Picker Giovanni Picker Picker Giovanni
I thought - why is he saying this? Who is he trying to convince? Why does he think the audience (many people of Surinamese background) would think differently? How is it even possible to imagine that anyone in the audience would not accept white allies? As long as allies are real allies, why would they not be accepted? This kind of questions could potentially be innumerous, and yet, probably they would all get the same answer: he did not ignore who he was talking to, he was probably performing the 'good' white ally, thinking that this would mean that he could deliver the same speech to a white audience (he is not bothered by colour, he is not racist!). If this is the case,  it comes to mind what Goldberg calls 'the arrogant white alchemy of racelessness'  (2002: 225).




150 years after the abolition of slavery, no compensation has been paid to the families of the victims. And no political party in the Netherlands has inserted this issue, nor the issue of racism as such, in its program. Yet, 'we should fight together', yes, indeed.







As the black activists said (see video): "The politicians do not take us seriously and don't do anything for us. After years of protests, demonstrations and dialogue against Zwarte Piet, our Prime Minister Rutte still said: "Black Pete is Black, I can't change anything about it. After years of dialogue, protest and a lawsuit, the mayor of Amsterdam said:, "Give Zwarte Piet another 10 years so we can get used to it." Just as the colonial government on July 1, 1863 decided that the enslaved people had to wait another 10 years for their real freedom. We have been waiting 151 years for justice and respect.The time of waiting is over. Today we demand it! [...] We are tired of being treated like second-class citizens, we are tired of being an important matter only when the Netherlands finds us good enough. Now is the time to stand tall. Now is the time to stand up for ourselves. We write a new era. We are like any other Dutch citizen and we demand to be treated with the same respect. 


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