One of the efforts to mark the occasion is ‘The Next Step,” a master class for upcoming films talents and a program for high school kids by Africa in the Picture, an African Film Festival based in the Netherlands. The central question of the ‘The Next Step’ program is: ‘What does slavery mean to you, anything or nothing?’
Young filmmakers and high school students are challenged to make a 150 second film related to this question.While the legacy of slavery should mean something to everyone in the Netherlands, due to the lack of education on slavery, the politics around the commemoration of the abolishment of slavery and the silence of families that became wealthy through the slave trade means that many believe that slavery was really just a ‘black page in history.’ This phrase is frequently used by the Dutch to discuss the legacy of slavery. This is not only a false representation of history but also insulting given that the legacies of slavery are so present today – hiding in plain view.
An additional educational program on slavery is much needed and one hopes many young filmmakers and high schools will start thinking about the legacies of slavery and the role of the Dutch in this history. I say this especially because I have very little faith in the actual Dutch educational system to teach children about slavery. Being schooled in the Netherlands myself, I did not learn about slavery in school until my parents told me about it.
Melissa Weiner, an American sociologist, has done some outstanding and much needed research in this regard. She has studied depictions of slavery and multiculturalism in Dutch primary school history textbooks and norms and practices privileging whiteness in a diverse Dutch primary school classroom. Weiner’s findings, which will be published soon, are quite telling of the Dutch attitude towards the legacy of slavery. This attitude is a mix of denial, ignorance, (supposed) innocence, and misplaced entitlement. Resistance to the dominant Dutch historic narrative is often met with aggression, marginalization and disdain. People that do question the dominant narrative — from activists to scholars — are often subjected to some fine Dutch repression, not only in everyday life but also institutionally. Try get funding as a scholar to research racism in the Netherlands or set up black, postcolonial, “critical race” or any critical studies departments in this country – it will never happen.