The newspaper headline cuts straight to the core of the message: ‘This Government will not apologize for the slave trade’. Again? I am having flashbacks. After last year’s BLM protests the question of an official apology for the Dutch role in the transatlantic slave trade came up in Dutch parliament. It was debated and declined. Reason: it might fan the flames of polarisation in our society. Right. This time the prime minister confessed that he had the same reservations when debating whether or not to apologise for the persecution of the jews during the second world war. But since this was not as long ago as slavery, the official apology was made last year, 75 years after the end of the war. Count yourself lucky.
But a nagging question remains: why in the first place did the Prime Minister bring in the jews in a debate on slavery? Why draw a false comparison between jewish and black pain in order to accept one and dismiss the other? If anything, a comparison should be one based in radical empathy and human rights: wrongs done by the government should always culminate in recognition through official apologies. So why apologise to the jews, while refusing the black community its right to recognition with regards to slavery?
What the Prime Minister is doing – and consciously so, since he needs to keep far-right parties at bay, is a classic right-wing political move of pitching minorities up against one another, and despite one another. It feeds on the futile and faux questions of who is in fact most oppressed?, and why is their hurt and suffering recognised and not ours? And in doing so, pouring fuel straight onto the wildfire of polarisation.
While we can be thankful for the official apologies made to us jews (can we still, now that we understand that they have been made without conviction?), we should not sit back and relax. We should question this government’s crooked rhetoric and rise to support our fellow humans, the black community in the Netherlands, in their quest for recognition of the Dutch role in slavery and their rightful request for an apology.