Dutch King’s “Apology” for Colonial Slavery Is an Erasure of History

On July 1, Emancipation Day, Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologized for the nation’s historical past of colonial slavery in each the East and the West. The apology is monumental, particularly for descendants of the enslaved dwelling within the Netherlands, who’ve fought arduous for this recognition and who proceed to face severe systemic racism throughout Dutch establishments, from training, to housing, to the job market and legislation enforcement.

“The horrific legacy of slavery stays with us in the present day. Its results can nonetheless be felt in racism in our society,” the king acknowledged.

Nevertheless, a cautious learn of king’s phrases exhibits he did not precisely or appropriately apologize for the function his household performed in Dutch slavery. He claimed his household have been merely bystanders, once they have been actually perpetrators. The Dutch performed a central function in beginning slavery in the USA, however the Dutch monarch’s omissions erased essential African American historical past.


Dutch slavery didn’t begin within the Atlantic. As described by Dutch investigative journalist Leendert van der Valk, it began in 1595 in Madagascar with the chaining of two youngsters the Dutch named “Madagascar” and “Lourens,” who have been shipped throughout the Indian Ocean to what would grow to be generally known as the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia.

A era later, in 1619, one other Dutch/British ship, this time crusing west, arrived on the shores of Virginia, carrying the primary African individuals in North America. Two of the kidnapped individuals on the boat, “Isabella” and “Antonio,” would later have a baby, William Tucker, the primary African American.

An Orange Signature

Described in an earlier piece by Van der Valk, the Dutch/British ship additionally carried a “letter of marque,” a doc that legalized the human “cargo” looted from the Portuguese within the Caribbean. The letter bore the signature of Maurice of Orange, ancestor of King Willem-Alexander. In different phrases, the system that may grow to be U.S. slavery began with an Orange signature.

King Willem-Alexander neglects to inform this story. Beginning his speech by becoming a member of the Dutch authorities’s earlier apology for slavery, made in December of final 12 months, he describes his family’s involvement as follows:

“Slave commerce and slavery are acknowledged as crimes in opposition to humanity. The stadtholders and kings of the Home of Orange-Nassau didn’t take motion in opposition to this. They acted inside the framework of what was legally permissible on the time. However the system of slavery illustrated the injustice of these legal guidelines.”

Ethical relativism like “slavery was regular again then,” even when certified as an injustice, is inappropriate in a slavery apology, betraying even the attitude of the oppressor. However what’s extra, the Orange household did greater than merely “not take motion” in opposition to slavery. They have been the inspiration of that system within the U.S. With 1619 as the beginning of race-based bondage within the U.S., the king’s erasing of this energetic guilt not solely contradicts crucial race concept and the concept the U.S. system of chattel slavery that started in 1619 was backed on the highest institutional ranges, but in addition erases a defining a part of the African American expertise.

This historical marker located at Point Comfort / Fort Monroe, marks the location where the first Africans arrived in the English colonies that would later become the United States.
This historic marker situated at Level Consolation / Fort Monroe marks the placement the place the primary Africans arrived within the English colonies that may later grow to be the USA.

Planting a Tree

Artist-activist Quinsy Gario, who began a cultural revolution within the Netherlands by challenging the tradition of Dutch blackface, has been one of many few individuals to query the motivations behind the king’s apologies, asking on Twitter why he hasn’t apologized to African People or to South Africa. Dutch colonists settled in South Africa since 1652, the place, as a continuation, Amsterdam-born Hendrik Verwoerd turned the architect of Apartheid within the mid-twentieth century.

In 2015, on his first state go to to the U.S., King Willem-Alexander neither visited the location of the primary slave ship’s arrival in 1619 in Virginia, nor met with the Indigenous Lenape tribe to acknowledge the stealing of land and the set up of the “New Netherland” scalping foreign money that pitted tribes in opposition to one another at an ordinary price-per-enemy scalp.

As a substitute, the royal couple got here to Michigan, the world of Dutch-U.S. billionaire energy, to fulfill individuals with names like DeVos (of the Trump administration) and Van Andel (of Amway). There, within the land of the Odawa (“merchants”), the king and queen planted a tree on Dutch settler-colonial land, with out acknowledging the Dutch function within the Native genocide, treating the U.S. as a neocolonial buying and selling floor.

An Replace to Slavery

I, co-author Christa Wongsodikromo, am a descendant of Indigenous Javanese survivors of Dutch colonialism and colonial boarding faculties within the Dutch slave colony of Suriname. I used to be born after Suriname’s independence from the Netherlands in 1975, the primary era that has not lived below Dutch colonialism.

Bok Djoeminem, Christa Wongsodikromo's great-grandmother, taken in 1928, before arriving in Suriname.
Bok Djoeminem, Christa Wongsodikromo’s great-grandmother, taken in 1928, earlier than arriving in Suriname.

I really feel the hazard that looms behind King Willem-Alexander’s phrases. Programs of oppression will replace themselves and proceed their exploitation in ways in which traumatized my household. After the abolition of transatlantic slavery, the Netherlands changed its slavery financial system in Suriname with an indentured labor system.

As a part of this replace, the Netherlands kidnapped my great-grandparents from Java (Indonesia) in 1928, and shipped them throughout the globe to work on the plantations in Suriname. Two of my great-grandparents have been youngsters on the time however have been registered as adults to legalize their pressured labor, a part of the “permissible framework” of the time.

Moedjijo, Christa Wongsodikromo's great-grandfather, taken in 1928, before arriving in Suriname.
Moedjijo, Christa Wongsodikromo’s great-grandfather, taken in 1928, earlier than arriving in Suriname.

Simply previous to the Netherlands authorities’s earlier slavery apology in December, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated that apologies is not going to comply with with monetary reparations, and that the Netherlands is not going to be paying “years after the actual fact.” With this, he denied the persevering with legacy of slavery and colonialism in the present day.

Institutional Racism

Lower than every week after the king’s apologies, on July 7, the Dutch authorities stepped down, for the second time in 2 years, over a racism-related challenge. In 2021, the federal government collapsed amid what is named the “child care benefits scandal”, the place the Dutch tax authority was discovered to have used racist algorithms. In the latest disaster, the ruling celebration of the prime minister put up limitations to household reunification of predominantly Center Jap refugees. The 2 occasions, each affecting youngsters, are emblematic of the only country in Europe that has institutionalized the excellence between “black” and “white” schools.

Institutional racism occurs simply when a rustic has not come to phrases with, and continues to erase, centuries of colonial energy abuse. Now, King Willem-Alexander is doubling down by erasing African American historical past. A significant answer will come when the U.S. and the Netherlands work collectively towards reality and reconciliation.

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