This week the Dutch national newspaper ‘NRC’ published an article about the racist comments Dutch citizens with Chinese roots have encountered since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Wendy Zeng – A Dutch medicine student with Chinese parents – explains how two boys were coughing while yelling ‘corona’ at her in the bus. The radio station ‘Radio 10’ has also produced a carnival song in which they sing ‘the smelly Chinese are to blame’ and an apartment in Wageningen has been smeared with poo with the text ‘Chinese people die’. Wendy has been shocked by the racism she has experienced on a national scale since the outbreak of corona and concludes that the Dutch hide behind their notion of tolerance. Wendy explains: “The Dutch apparently ‘tolerate’ anything that differs from the norm. Apparently, the Chinese people deviate from this norm. That is a problem in itself. Tolerance forms a barrier to acceptance.” This statement made me wonder: do the Dutch really hide behind their notion of tolerance and does this form a barrier to the true acceptance of minorities?
As a Dutch, gay man I certainly concur with Wendy’s statement. Gay men almost enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexuals and therefore are formally accepted. However, my personal experience has taught me that social acceptance of homosexuality is often dependent on numerous conditions. Throughout my life, I’ve been told countless times what a great guy I am ‘for a gay guy’ because I’m not so ‘extravagant’ or ‘feminine’. I have also been called names on the street numerous times and have been expelled from a nightclub in Rotterdam with my ex-boyfriend because they did not want ‘kissing gays’ inside their club. We were told that if we wanted to be affectionate we should go to a gay bar instead. The acceptance of the lgbtqia+* community, therefore, seems to be dependent on certain behavioral (gender) norms: you are allowed to be gay, as long as you’re not too feminine or extravagant or as long as you don’t show it too much publicly. In that sense, my homosexuality seems to be tolerated, but it’s definitely not always accepted.
Does this mean that Dutch tolerance forms a barrier to the true acceptance of minorities in the Netherlands? I certainly think so. As Wendy already clarified, the word ‘tolerance’ implies that a group negatively deviates from a certain norm. The concept thus puts emphasis on these differences. Don’t get me wrong: The Netherlands consists of a great diversity of people who all perceive the Netherlands as their home. However, I do wonder whether these different groups live with or next to one another. Due to our multicultural society and the legal protection of Dutch minorities, it is often assumed that the emancipation of minorities is ‘complete’. It may be that the legal equality of minorities and the tremendous diversity of people has made us lose sight of the necessity to bridge and embrace our social differences rather than to just ´tolerate´ them. We should, therefore, shift our focus from tolerance towards acceptance. Because as long as people like Wendy continue to face discriminatory comments, the emancipation of Dutch minorities seems to be far from complete.
*LGBTQIA+: Is an abbreviation that stands for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, ally or a-sexual community, as well as for anyone else that is not included by these descriptions (+).
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