A recurring public debate in Dutch society concerns ethnic registration. Especially when Geert Wilders, the notorious leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), mentions the subject people react in utter disgust. Even though registering inhabitants by their ethnicity is completely normal in most other countries, it is severely taboo in the Netherlands. Any time a public figure advocates the subject it is followed by a wave of collective outrage. But are the arguments used against it really still valid?
I used to agree with the most commonly used argument against it: ethnic registration was heavily abused during the Second World War, and this should never be able to happen again. Jews were registered as such, which made it much easier to systematically categorize, arrest and exterminate people registered as Jewish. To prevent this from ever happening again, therefore, ethnic registration is forbidden. Indeed, creating situations in which practices from the Second World War could be enabled should always be prevented. However, I have now learned that there are respectable arguments to register for ethnicity anyway.
For the last couple of months I have been doing research for an advisory board concerned with the interaction between ethnic groups in a city close to Amsterdam, Haarlem. The research focuses on the social status of five ethnic groups: Turks, Moroccans, Surinamese, Antillians and native Dutch. My tasks consisted of gathering data in Haarlem to compare to national data. My supervisors expected me to be able to gather an abundance of figures from the municipality, focusing on the four ethnic groups. This, however, turned out to be easier said than done. The municipality is forbidden to register information focused on ethnic background, and therefore could not provide an adequate amount of useful information.
This rule made the carrying out of my research a lot harder. Therefore, after consulting the research commission, I decided to divert my attention to interviews with key figures. In these interviews many Morroccan respondents brought up the subject of ethnic registration as limiting the emancipation of ethnic groups. To me, this was shocking. How can any member of a stigmatized ethnic group advocate ethnic registration? One respondent said this: “the city promised that by 2011 10% of their personnel would be of immigrant descent, proportional to the percentage of immigrant descendants in the city”. However, right after promising this, all of a sudden they reinstated the prohibition of ethnic registration”. Now it is impossible to measure if their target of 10% has been met. One respondent even said
this: “then they use arguments from the Second World War. Bla bla bla. What a load of crap, it’s just a way of masking that they haven’t kept their promise”.
”HOW CAN ANY MEMBER OF A STIGMATIZED ETHNIC GROUP ADVOCATE ETHNIC REGISTRATION?”
Arguments against ethnic registration can be particularly salient when the Second World War is brought up. The Second World War is a highly sensitive subject, especially in the Netherlands. However, ethnic registration also enables targeted vulnerable groups, stimulating a more effective outcome of policies. Being able to measure the circumstances in which ethnic groups live, makes it possible to target certain audiences for emancipatory policies. Maybe a reinstatement of ethnic registration could actually benefit stigmatized ethnic groups of the Netherlands. I dislike agreeing with Geert Wilders, nevertheless, my experiences have shown that there is some merit to ethnic registration.
SANNE VAN OOSTEN
FOUNDER OF ‘BLOGGERS WITHOUT BORDERS’
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