Black Icons. Anti-Racism, Solidarity, and the Denial of Race in the Netherlands

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 132 (University of Glasgow)
Markus Balkenhol , Ethnology, Meertens Institute
In the fall of 2015 young black Dutch organized a protest in Amsterdam against the blackface figure of Zwarte Piet, part of the important Saint Nicholas tradition. Among the protesters, a group had dressed up in black leather jackets, boots, and black berets, posing with their fists raised in the air – a pose reminiscent of the iconic images of the Black Panther Party. These images led to a moral panic. The right wing Dutch Freedom Party called the group ‘racist’, and accused them of condoning what they called a ‘murderous sect’ (the Black Panthers) that, according to them, had committed rape, torture, and murder. What was the Minister going to do to protect ‘the children of the Netherlands’? Remarkably, the Minister replied that there was ‘no indication that the protesters identified with the Black Panthers’.
In this paper I investigate what happens when ‘black icons’ circulate. Race and racism are global phenomena, but they are articulated in specific local contexts, situated in particular histories of (anti-)racism, colonialism, and social relations. In this presentation I look at the particular ways this local articulation takes place in the Netherlands. How do globalized black icons provide the ground for anti-racist organization at grass roots level? How are these icons discussed in the broader public sphere, and how do they confront traditions of color-blindness and postracialism?