A mere few days after the Dutch elections, the first Racism Quiz and Knowledge Test aired on public television. Two enthused quiz masters, joined by a panel of six celebrities in the studio, answering and commenting on the questions at hand. This is not a test to check just how racist you are, we were told, but rather a quiz to expand our knowledge about racism. A nation-wide moment of playful reflection on the pressing and complex societal issue that is racism in the Netherlands. In the end we can all learn how to be less racist. Did we not just collectively witness the self proclaimed ‘boreal’, racist and blatantly antisemitic party FvD quadruple in size in the elections? Great, I thought, this is exactly what we need.
What I am watching is a public debate that focuses on ‘visible’ racism, on racist discourse because of the color of someone’s skin, because of someone’s name revealing a migration background or because of a double nationality. However, what I am keen to understand is the extent to which also less ‘visible’ forms of racism are addressed. Since Jews do not fit well into a ‘visible’ racism context, the issue of antisemitism is often overlooked. This cognitive dissonance within anti-racism speaks to the notion of what David Baddiel discusses in his new book, that Jews simply ‘don’t count’.
It is easy to check the boxes. Sitting through the show I notice that there are no quiz questions about antisemitism. I notice no Jew on the panel. I notice that the issue of antisemitism does not come up once in the in-between celeb-conversations that do diverge into many nooks of their lived realities. This public debate unfolds within an identity politics framework in which black and white are defined as socio-political constructs, helpful at deconstructing power hierarchies and dismantling privileges, but at times (such as at the quiz) put to use in a rather ‘superficial’ manner, that is, addressing the surface, the surface being seen as a representation of the whole. In this way, Jews are frequently and casually categorized as white based on visible characteristics and excluded from a seat at the anti-racism table.
And I cannot help but wonder how this is possible. And also, why this is happening. Did we not understand how antisemitism has geared up a white supremacist fanbase causing problems for all ethnic minorities? How then are Jews not included in this test? This question of omitting antisemitism, and by extension Jews, from the anti-racism discourse has unfolded as the central question of my journey in the anti-racism movement.
Let me be clear. I found all the 20 questions that were raised in the 4 categories of the test incredibly important. It was such a timely and confronting build up that exposed once and for all the problem of institutionalised anti-black racism in the Netherlands. But it lacked. The outcry was as loud as the silence of what it did not discuss. And this was not just antisemitism. As Pete Wu, a Dutch-Asian writer and one of the panelists and the winner of the quiz, pointed out in his op-ed in de Volkskrant that his presence on the panel notwithstanding, anti-asian racism was not included in the test, not really. The Racism Knowledge test gloriously showed us some of the blind-spots of our current anti-racism efforts. So for next year I suggest that we add some more questions. Because there is still much unknown about racism. And, yes, we really all can learn how to be less racist.