The Dutch Anti-Black Conditioning


The Dutch pride themselves on being progressive, and they do not see skin color, so theoretically everyone living in the Netherlands gets treated the same. Although this is the narrative, we would all like to trust, it is still important to acknowledge the truth surrounding racial justice in the Netherlands. Black people have lived in the Netherlands for over 400 years. There is racism, discrimination, and whitewashing of the past, which is a direct consequence of slavery. The White Dutch have no explicit biases towards Black Dutch, which is part of the reason why the Dutch are not aware of their implicit discriminations that they are conditioned to from birth. The way the White Dutch are conditioned to Black people can be greatly attributed to the way they are depicted in the media. Throughout the years, Black people have been continuously depicted as slaves even after slavery was abolished in 1863. They face microaggressions from the White Dutch people, and are refused to acknowledge the racial discrimination towards Black Dutch in the past and present.

Positive Black Representation

The Black people depicted in the media are how they are perceived in the modern day. For most of Dutch history, Black people were mainly painted as slaves, but it actually turns out that they were not always painted in this way. In the early 17th century, there was a time where Black people were painted as someone worthy (Colnaghi Foundation 2020). Stephanie Archangel was one of the first people to bring these paintings back into light. In the 17th century, Black people were painted in the same manner that White people were painted. Archangel was shocked seeing worthy images of Black people as she was so conditioned to only seeing limited paintings of Black people in a slave and servant role. The Black Dutch lived peacefully among the White Dutch and were painted as normal people wearing nice clothing. In fact, this was the first time that Archangel had been able to identify with her ancestors in a painting. Her ancestors were painted as real people instead of a character or side piece, which is a great model for us today. She knew these paintings were an accurate representation from the period, because at the time true artists did not paint images from their imagination or fantasies. They would paint realistic images, and they would ask their neighbors to model for them. During this period, it was illegal to enslave black people, so they lived freely with society, so the Black Dutch were in no way being exoticized in these paintings. Archangel grew up thinking that the history of Black people was all slavery, but she is working hard to show other that there was a period of time from 1620-1660 where slavery was not a part of Dutch culture.

Colnaghi Foundation, director. Stephanie Archangel and Nicola Jennings Discuss the Exhibition “Black in Rembrandt’s Time”. YouTube, YouTube, 10 June 2020,

Negative Black Media Representation

Unfortunately, after 1660, the Dutch began participating in the transatlantic slave trade. The Netherlands was a big open portal of world trade, which made it easier for transatlantic slave trade. This led to the Dutch West India Company, which monopolized African slave trade Mitchell. This is when Black Dutch began to face major discrimination. The Dutch knew slave trade was wrong because they outlawed it before, so they needed to justify it in their heads. They started to exoticize Black people as a whole and compared them to animals. The White Dutch made up false narratives of Black Dutch to legitimize the slave trade. To the White Dutch, Africa was just a land with “exotic people who are cannibals and their animals and are beasts.” After the 1660s, Black people then were only depicted in a negative light.

Allison Blakely [1] spoke more about the depiction of Blacks in the Netherlands (1993). Soon after the Dutch began transatlantic slave trade in 1693, there was a portrait of an admiral with one hand on a globe and the other hand point at a Black man kneeling. You can then see a dog clearly scowling at the Black man. The white man is shown with great power compared to the helpless Black man who is even rejected by the dog which is supposed to be a “man’s best friend.” The artist was trying to depict the dog rejecting the Black man to further prove the unworthiness of a Black person. This is just one of many examples of the negative stereotypes of Blacks in Dutch media.  The change in how the Black Dutch were represented in art seemed to be an unconscious shift in how the white people thought of the black people. This could have been a direct result from the Dutch West India Company and Black community becoming enslaved.

Blakely, Allison. Blacks in the Dutch World: the Evolution of Racial Imagery in a Modern Society. Indiana University Press, 2001.

These types of paintings are what formulates microaggressions to this day towards Black Dutch. Luckily, many of these microaggressions are getting light shed upon them. On December 5th, white people in the Netherlands paint their faces black, put on red lipstick, and wear curly black wigs to dress up as “Black Pete,” which is a Christmas tradition (Tavares 2004). Black Pete is perceived as unintelligent and clownish, so from young age Dutch children are conditioned to think poorly of those with darker skin. Recently, there has been more actuations of this being a form of black face and is racially insensitive. With more protests, now only 50% of Dutch support this annual tradition.  Unfortunately, Black Pete is not the only form of racism the Black Dutch face.

Moving forward and Education

Garen, Micah, et al. “Black Pete Tradition ‘Dutch Racism in Full Display’.” Racism | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 27 Nov. 2019,

T[2] he Dutch [3] is notorious for weakly acknowledging their past with slavery, but it is so important to recognize and commemorate the past. The[4]  Dutch may be taking steps forward in addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development[5]  Goal 10 of reducing inequalities in the Netherlands, but they still have room to continue closing the gap. According to the Sustainable Development Report, the Netherlands ranks high on the EU Gender Equality Index but still faces high levels of perceived discriminations. SDG 10 aims to empower and promote social, economic, and political inclusion of all regardless of race. It also ensures equal opportunity and reduces inequalities of outcome by eliminating discriminatory practices and promoting appropriate legislation. Although the Netherlands is not blatantly racist, they face institutional racism. The language, traditions, and procedures cause certain groups of people to be discriminated against. Luckily, they have the opportunity to positively impact SDG 10.

Last year, three teenage girls addressed the lack of curriculum when it came to Dutch slavery (Holligan 2020). Growing up, the girls faced many microaggressions including getting their skin compared to poop, having classmates who only wanted white dolls, and the school curriculum only acknowledging white heroes. The girls made it a mission to have representation, so every student would be able to recognize themselves in teaching material. It is vital for students to grow up with heroes and figures that resemble themselves. They decided to create a petition to bring awareness of racial discrimination in the classroom. The girls were able to collect 60,000 signatures and massive support from important law makers, famous people, and popular influencers. Since racism and discrimination is taught, their goal was to help others dismantle stereotypes from the biases they have dealt with in the education system. They were able to pass the petition and now they are working to help teachers with lesson plans and programs. This [6] is a huge step forward in unlearning the microaggressions towards people of color.

Holligan, Anna. “Wounds of Dutch History Expose Deep Racial Divide.” BBC News, BBC, 12 July 2020,

The Netherlands must work harder to limit implicit bias towards those of darker skin. The Netherlands can use Dutch paintings from the early 17th century as a guide for future paintings. More diversity in the media will lead to a better understanding for all races and less microaggressions. The institutionalized racism goes so unnoticed among White Dutch, that it must be broken down in the education system. It seems that the Netherlands is heading in the right direction to address the root issues of the racial inequality. It all starts with education to help understand the broader scope to connect the racial injustices. Hopefully with increasing awareness and education, they will soon be able to reduce their racial inequities.

Works Cited

Blakely, Allison. Blacks in the Dutch World: the Evolution of Racial Imagery in a Modern Society. Indiana University Press, 2001.

Colnaghi Foundation, director. Stephanie Archangel and Nicola Jennings Discuss the Exhibition “Black in Rembrandt’s Time”. YouTube, YouTube, 10 June 2020,

Garen, Micah, et al. “Black Pete Tradition ‘Dutch Racism in Full Display’.” Racism | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 27 Nov. 2019,

Holligan, Anna. “Wounds of Dutch History Expose Deep Racial Divide.” BBC News, BBC, 12 July 2020,

Mitchell, Mia, et al. “Whitewashed Slavery Past? The (Lost) Struggle Against Ignorance about the Dutch Slavery History.” Humanity in Action, Feb. 2014,

Tavares, Izalina Amsterdam. “Black Pete: Analyzing a Racialized Dutch Tradition Through the History of Western Creations of Stereotypes of Black Peoples.” Humanity in Action, 2004,

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