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Former TV host places race on the political agenda in the Netherlands

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Former TV host places race on the political agenda in the Netherlands
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Former TV host places race on the political agenda in the Netherlands

Former TV host places race on the political agenda in the Netherlands

 

Sylvana Simons is campaigning for president of the Netherlands on a platform of “radical equality.”

Simons, a former television host who is perhaps the country’s most well-known Black woman, is the leader of a small political group that aims to make ending racial injustice a priority in the run-up to this week’s election.

Voting for the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament starts on Monday and ends on Wednesday. The party with the most seats would be the first to join the new governing coalition, which may take weeks or months. It’s unclear if Simons’ BIJ1 campaign, which stands for “Better Together,” would receive enough votes to win a seat.

Institutional racism has emerged as a subject in an increasingly divided national debate that includes topics such as the divisive stereotypical children’s character Black Pete and racial discrimination in this country, which has long been known as a beacon of free-thinking tolerance. Last year, the Black Lives Matter campaign re-ignited the controversy.

Last year’s Black Lives Matter marches in the Netherlands were “nice to see” because “too many people said “enough is enough” and “came out and spoke out,” Simons said. “I also hope that when we have our general elections, they will use that same voice.”

Simons’ BIJ1 isn’t the only political group that prioritizes equality. Others include DENK, a former faction to which she once belonged and which now has three seats in the lower house’s 150 seats. That party predominantly appeals to voters of Turkish and Moroccan descent in the Netherlands.

Migrants from former colonies such as Indonesia and Suriname, as well as more recently economic migrants from Turkey and Morocco, have a long history of landing on Dutch shores. Last year, Black Lives Matter protests and calls for the removal of monuments and street names honoring historical figures with strong links to the slave trade brought the country’s sometimes-brutal colonial past into sharp focus.

In the Netherlands, according to Simons, racism is a systematic problem, with frequent evidence of prejudice toward people of color in the labor and housing markets, as well as police ethnic profiling.

“If your experience is that of a young Black person in this country, you’ll discover that you enter the system the moment you enter school. Bias and discrimination exist. People hold you to a lower standard. “People have different opinions about you,” Simons said.

Right-wing parties deny prejudice and argue that the country’s conservative society needs to be protected from what they see as left-wing elites.

“We convey that our own culture is best,” anti-immigration lawmaker Geert Wilders, whose Party for Freedom is the biggest opposition group in parliament, says in his manifesto. And we’re very proud of it! Unfortunately, because of the glorification of dangerous radical groups like Black Lives Matter and Kick Out Black Pete, the assault on Dutch culture intensified last year.”

Black Pete, a helper of the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas in children’s stories, is often depicted by white people in blackface makeup and has been the subject of heated controversy in the Netherlands for years.

Revelations of tax authorities using dual nationality data to detect child benefit fraudsters have also helped bring inequality problems into the spotlight.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his government resigned in January after a parliamentary inquiry into the child benefits scam released a highly critical report, though the change was largely symbolic since an election date had already been set.

When announcing his government’s resignation, Rutte said, “We are of one mind that if the entire system has collapsed, we all must take responsibility.”

The parliamentary inquiry did not look into racial discrimination charges. The country’s Data Protection Authority had already done so, declaring last year that the tax office’s use of dual nationality data was “unlawful and discriminatory.”

Azan Aydin and her husband Aytac, both of Turkish origin but born and raised in the Netherlands, said they fought tax authorities for a decade after being falsely labelled fraudsters and forced to repay 52,000 euros.

Their confidence in the Dutch government has been shattered to the point that they are unable to vote.

“What is the point for me?” says the narrator. Azan said.

She went on to say, “Mark Rutte is running for re-election again.” “Okay, the tax office made a mistake, but he was in charge at the time. This should not be permitted to happen, in my opinion. He’s still running for re-election.”

The tax office threatened Orlando Kadir, a lawyer managing a class action lawsuit representing hundreds of plaintiffs, including the Aytac family. Kadir was born in Suriname, a former Dutch colony.

“So the ethnic undertone was: Moroccan-Dutch, Turkish-Dutch, Caribbean-Dutch, Indonesian, Asian-Dutch were targeted based on their name and dual nationality,” he explained.

For the past 20 years, Kadir has voted for Rutte’s conservative, pro-business VVD faction, but not this time.

He said, “He is no longer the man to lead this country.”

Simons aspires to be a spokesperson for the underserved.

Social media trolls have attacked her for criticizing prejudice in a country where the national statistics office estimates that about a fifth of the population has a “migration history.” Nonetheless, she wishes to continue doing so in the country’s legislature.

Even if her party does not win any seats, she considers herself a winner.

She said, “Only being here as a movement is enough.” “It’s enough that I’m here as a platform for so many people’s unheard voices.”

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