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April 11, 2017

Author Analyzes ‘White Innocence,’ Denial in Dutch Culture

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Prof. Emeritus Gloria Wekker, gender studies, Utrecht University, examined the denial of racial discrimination and colonial violence as well as extreme racism and xenophobia in Dutch culture at a lecture in Ithaca on Monday evening.

Her latest book, White Innocence, challenges the perception of the Netherlands, where she taught, as a tolerant state.

“The Dutch wrote a story to themselves, about themselves,” she said. “There are paradoxes in that story.”

After receiving her Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles, Wekker returned to the Netherlands and was immediately struck by the differences in racial discourse.

“The most racist parts and offenses passed without anybody saying anything about it,” Wekker said. “I came to see the Netherlands as the emperor without his clothes on.”

Wekker said she was particularly interested in the Netherlands’ unique history of imperialism, and her latest book analyzes the modern-day denial of this colonialism.

“I wanted to know how it is possible to have been an imperial nation for close to 400 years and to think, simultaneously, that this will not affect traces in our history, in our language, in the way we build our institutions or how we think about ourselves or ‘the other,’” Wekker said.

One of the strongest examples of this effect, she said, is the lack of immigrant identity in the public sector.

“Color is a very stringent divider about who can claim Dutchness,” Wekker said.

She spoke of laboring over the decision of whether to write her book in Dutch or English.

“I decided to write it in English because I didn’t want to limit my criticisms to Dutch critics,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of the larger circle.”

Ultimately, Wekker hopes her book will tell the story of a different Netherlands — one she said is not often displayed on the world stage.

“We do not want to be colorblind, we do not want to deny race, we want to convert a racist house into a race-specific, yet non-racist house,” Wekker said.