History books at schools maintain racist ideas, EUR professor says

Slavery monument Amsterdam

History books in high schools pay too little attention to the sufferings that came with slavery in the Dutch past or treat it too lightly. That keeps up and can even feed racist ideas, says EUR historian prof. dr. Alex van Stipriaan to NRC Handelsblad.


Racism, colonialism and slavery, as occurred in Dutch history, are a hot topic in the public debate. Just a few weeks ago, art center Witte de With in Rotterdam said it wants to get rid of the name of the ‘colonial exploiter’ it’s named after. And according to Van Stipriaan, the history of slavery in the history books at high schools is treated too factually. What slavery meant to those enslaved, is barely described, even though it’s precisely those experiences that will convey the horror of slavery to students.


History is violated
NRC Handelsblad gives an example of a sentence that is written in one of the history books Van Stipriaan talks about: ‘The natives often didn’t agree with the arrival of the Europeans […]. Usually, a couple of shots with cannons were enough to force the natives to work together.’ Van Stipriaan: ‘Millions of people have died in all possible forms because of the anticolonial battle. A very traumatic part of history is being violated here.’


The story of black people
What would be the right way to treat slavery and racism in history books? Van Stipriaan calls for more attention to the story of black people. Only a few teaching methods pay attention to men like Boni and Tula, leaders of the slave resistance. ‘This confirms the perception of many young black people: you don’t belong, and you need to work twice as hard to earn the same place in society as a white person. Also it conveys that slavery is a footnote in Dutch history. While it lasted two and a half centuries.’