Decolonization and white supremacy in Disguise
The Jakarta Post, February 20, 2019, By: Fia Hamid-Walker, Public interest graduate lawyer and postgraduate student at the University of Melbourne
The magnificent room was fitted with wallpaper that blended perfectly with the lavish materials built from the blood money of the Dutch East India Company. The building that houses the Netherland’s Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD) is a silent witness of the colonialism the country once committed.
After the strenuous efforts activists made against the Dutch government’s research project on “Independence, decolonization, violence and war in Indonesia, 1945-1950”, the Dutch researchers invited them to a roundtable discussion on Jan. 31 in the same building.
Annemarie Toebosch of the University of Michigan and I were initially invited to attend the meeting via Skype, as I live in Melbourne. We were given the opportunity to send in a five-minute video of questions to the meeting. The response I received from the Dutch researchers was in stark contrast to what Toebosch received. Not only was my presence erased at the meeting and afterward, but they also silenced me for speaking up.
Fourteen activists including Jeffry Pondaag and Cisca Pattipilohy and nine Dutch researchers attended the meeting, which was streamed live on social media. (See: part I and Part II.) The unlikelihood that the Dutch researchers would take the activists’ input seriously could be seen from their seating positions. The Dutch researchers sat at the head of the table, showing that they were the boss, while the activists sat at the opposite end. The boss of the researchers told me not to judge fellow Indonesian researchers for being involved in the project, and then proceeded to ignore the rest of my message completely.
The situation in the room was the epitome of colonialism: the room, the manner in which the meeting was conducted, the body language, the language used. It virtually summed up centuries of Dutch colonialism, albeit in a very civilized fashion.
Most of the white people on each side spoke to each other courteously. The Dutch researchers would answer the white activists respectfully. There were many interruptions and interjections, but these were excused. Toebosch’s questions were answered with great technical detail and appreciation. A number of Indonesian students that attended the meeting sat patiently, waiting for their names to be called so they could speak.
These days, a person of a dominant culture does not need to expressly refer to a brown person in the Global South with derogatory language to be labeled a racist. These days, a group of people from a dominant culture does not need to execute a group of colored people for colonialism to take effect. The arrogance, the disregard, the misogynistic response those Dutch researchers showed toward me during the meeting exemplified white supremacy.
I will not keep repeating why I have taken the position to question the intentions of this research project. I am exhausted by continuously having to explain myself in ways that the former colonizers and their proxies might understand “logically and systematically”.
This project and its purveyors pride themselves on the supposed neutrality and critical aspects of the research. They try and persuade us that this research project will engender Dutch-Indonesian collaboration. This research will supposedly shine light on the as yet unknown events surrounding the Dutch military aggression. Did colonialism truly occur? Who defines colonialism? Of course, the Dutch researchers. Then, every single objective of this research project is to ensure that their definition of colonialism is the center of this study, not the Indonesian definition.
Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it has been proved that the collaboration this research project claims to promote does not exist. It is not for white people to define racism. It is not for former colonizers to tell their former colonies what colonialism is. It is certainly not their place to tell us what decolonization looks like and how it should have been done.
I am a lawyer, a postgraduate researcher in the best university in Australia, a councilor and a federal political campaigner. I have made it clear in my video that these attributes do not make me successful as a person nor respected in my communities. These attributes are the values I have internalized from centuries of Dutch colonialism.
How many of us Indonesians are so proud to be in the same picture frame with white people, whether tourists or professors from Leiden University? How many of us Indonesians are so proud that we can sit “as equals” in the boardroom of a foreign company or an international organization? How many Indonesians actually take the time to reflect that we are still the subjects of the imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy?
I asked those Dutch researchers about the politics of history education as a former colonial subject whose ancestors were made slaves, dispossessed, raped and murdered so that they could build the wonderful canal belt and the grandiose NIOD building in Amsterdam.
In that very same building they silenced me for being critical of their colonial research project. In the very same building, they are redefining the conducts of colonialism. It is the same building where they are hijacking the powerful movement of decolonization. The NIOD building is what colonialism was and still is.
But I cannot be silent.