In conversation with anthropologist Francio Guadeloupe

Anne van Gladderveen (2Doc.nl) interviews anthropologist Francio Guadeloupe about the Rijksmuseum’s exhibition Slavernij [Slavery]. She explains, “The development of a slavery exhibition in the Rijksmuseum is unique. Never before has the Dutch national museum paid attention in this way to the black page in our history: slavery. How does anthropologist Francio Guadeloupe view this development?” Here are translated excerpts from “‘Je kunt kleur niet gelijkstellen aan klasse; zwart betekent niet altijd arm en wit niet altijd rijk’: In gesprek met antropoloog Francio Guadeloupe” [‘You can’t equate color with class; black does not always mean poor and white does not always mean rich’: In conversation with anthropologist Francio Guadeloupe.]

How do you place the racism that has permeated through slavery in our society?

The ideas about black people created during slavery do indeed still exist, racism is in our society. However, one should not say that all white people were superior at the time. It was a small elite who benefited from slavery. Perhaps more people eventually benefited from that wealth, but the emancipation of black people and the majority of white people did not start until after World War II. Only then did we receive unemployment benefits, and health insurance, and were people able to study through government funds. This has given us a larger middle class. So, emancipation has only just started for many white people. If you look at it this way, you can say, “This is the emancipation of all of us.”

Who do you think should be held responsible for slavery and its consequences?

It is too abstract to say, “white people.” We have to look at institutions that continue to exist over time: the Dutch government, churches, large companies, and certain families that have had power and wealth for generations. I understand the anti-racism movement that holds white people accountable, but I can’t support that.

Yet you see a connection with a racial identity in various groups. We see it in the extreme mode with white superiority thinkers, but perhaps in a different way also with hashtags like #BlackGirlMagic. How do you see this?

I make a distinction between my color and my origin. I am very happy that I am Antillean, I wouldn’t want to be anything else. I just don’t equate Antillean with Black Men Magic, for example. When I think of Antillean, I also think of the Indian, Javanese, European and Chinese Antilleans. I oppose racism, race thinking, and I am involved in anti-black racism, but I don’t oppose white people in general. I am always specific about whom I oppose. Because what real power does a white keyboard warrior who comes from a poor neighborhood and is living on welfare have?”

In general terms, what do you think of the Rijksmuseum’s slavery exhibition?

“I am very happy that the Rijksmuseum is finally showing the negative and ugly sides of beauty. It is very nice that that boy with the red cloth is now being highlighted and discussed. Only, I maintain that I think color and class should not be equated. Because if you think in racial terms, that little boy and I are equal. But that is not the case in the historical context. This is most likely a boy who was shipped directly from Africa to the Netherlands. He doesn’t speak Papiamento like I do, but Dutch, perhaps even with an Amsterdam accent. In short: the exhibition works as an art project, but as a scientist I have to nuance the conversation about “race” and “racism.”

Director Ida Does says in our DocTalks interview that the processing of our Dutch slavery past is only now beginning. What do you think of that statement?

That processing already started when people said, “I don’t want to be in those chains,” and when, after slavery, people said to their children, “You are going to be better off than me.” It started when solidarity arose between Surinamese and white people. People haven’t waited until 2021 to make a change. I just think we are entering a new phase in terms of processing our slavery past. There is now a Surinamese and Caribbean middle class who say: “I want to see something different in those museums, I want to have a different conversation about our shared past.”

What do you think should change in the Netherlands in our conversations about racism and the slavery past?

I think we should start using the word “solidarity” more and look at a multi-ethnic coalition. When we talk about issues such as racism, we tend to make a direct link to people of Surinamese and Antillean descent, but, for example, people of Moroccan, Turkish, and Somali descent are also involved. When we look at socio-economic emancipation, middle-class people, be they Surinamese, Moroccan or white, have much more in common than white people across the breadth of class. The white elite and white middle classes have completely different interests. If you look at it like that, we middle class people could unite. Then we may be able to tackle issues such as the benefits scandal, the refugee problem, the fight against racism and economic inequality, but also the environmental issue. That’s what I hope.

Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero (with help from Peter Jordens!) For the original article (in Dutch), see https://www.2doc.nl/nieuws/artikelen/artikelen/2021/nieuw-licht-het-rijksmuseum-en-de-slavernij.html

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