On 19 December 2022, on behalf of the Dutch state, Mark Rutte offered the country’s apologies for a dark chapter in its history – slavery. The apologies presumably were much discussed around dining tables as about 50% of the population (in Dutch) were in agreement with the apologies.
Personally, I support the apologies having been made. Slavery was a serious misdemeanour that brought immeasurable suffering to millions of people through history. This history is still a source of pain for the descendants of the enslaved people. People of colour still experience this history in the form of discrimination.
It is always said that many Dutch people still do not learn about this history. I spent much of my youth on Curaçao where, up to the second year of secondary school, I learned a lot about the history of Curaçao and thus also about slavery in the Netherlands Antilles. One of the counter arguments that I see online and hear from the people around me is that slavery was a thing of the time and that the Netherlands ‘just went along with it’. If you read about the history, you will discover that the Netherlands played a significant role in the slave trade, and that the Dutch were also really good at it.
We could hand over money, but there are other ways
There is also a discussion about the Netherlands giving reparations. Most Dutch people are against this, but I am for it. Germany had the Wiedergutmachung in which the survivors and victims of the Holocaust were given reparations.
We could simply hand over a large sum of money, but there are other ways too. One way in which the Netherlands could pay for our slavery past is by giving grants and reserving places at schools in higher education for the descendants of enslaved people. This would give financial and educational support to individuals who have been disadvantaged throughout history because of their enslaved ancestors. I believe that this would level the playing field and give people who would otherwise not have access to higher education opportunities. This would be especially useful for marginalised groups who feel sidelined because of discrimination and systematic racism.
By supporting the education of these marginalised communities, the Netherlands could help create a more just and inclusive society for everyone. I also think that extending grants and high level school places as a form of restitution could also be a meaningful way for the Netherlands to recognise and address the financial damages caused by our history in slavery.
I do not want to say that this is the only thing the Netherlands should do to make up for everything, but it would be a good gesture. We have excellent education in the Netherlands and it would be great if we reserve a few places for people who deserve them.
Bas Rooijakkers is a master’s student in Applied Physics. He was born in Brabant and spent part of his youth on Curaçao. He enjoys jogging and since the corona pandemic has also picked up cycling. He is also always in for a coffee or a craft beer.