Sylvana Simons, once with the Islamist Denk party, is a black anti-racism activist calling for the “decolonisation” of education and the Dutch language. She is one of the hopeful candidates in the country’s general election.
The election program of her party BIJ1 is even more leftist on socio-economic issues than the Socialist Party, and more progressive than D66 on issues such as equality and inclusion.
The municipalities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam have recently had their own role in the slavery past investigated, and are now considering apologizing to the descendants of the enslaved. But the majority of Dutch voters do not think these apologies are necessary. Simons is a passionate supporter of reparations and sees it as proof of the necessity of the BLM movement in the Netherlands.
Other parties are still “insufficiently” aware of how deeply systemic racism is present in the Netherlands, she believes. She wants to tackle discrimination directly in education, in the labour market as well as the housing market. And she believes it is in everyone’s interest that the system of unequal treatment is tackled by the government as soon as possible, “because you yourself could also be the victim next time”.
According to Simons, BIJ1 has received thousands of hateful private messages, comments, emails, posts and tweets. The party has selected 52 messages for her “Black Manifesto”. The far-left Hotline for Discrimination in the Amsterdam Region helped the party to make a selection.
BIJ1 refers to online hatred and threats as part of a larger social problem, in which open racism and sexism go unpunished. According to the party, people are getting away with breaking the law on a large scale because the authorities now do not want or cannot deal with it properly. The legal possibilities and powers to prosecute people for online hatred are too currently limited. The party has called for mass censorship.
That is a political choice, according to BIJ1, who advocated more legislation to stop online hatred. “Anyone who speaks out in our country can expect extra hatred,” said Simons. “But enough is enough. This should stop now. I will continue to fight until the legal system works well for every woman of colour and for everyone else.” Simons was mocked by Geert Wilders in 2016 when she requested full-time security because of “hatred”. The round-the-clock isolation of Geert Wilders due to Islamist threats has lasted almost two decades already.
She told Culturu.com that she expected to receive a lot of resistance in the parliamentary Tweede Kamer specially from the the right-wing. “I know that the knives are already being sharpened in The Hague.”
Simons said she made the choice as a result of some divine intervention: “I experienced my vision as a divine experience […] I had no control over when or how the next intervention was going to come. It was not me. Something happened.”
Simons is a former television presenter, responsible for polarising national discourse on Zwarte Piet, racial profiling and the legacy of slavery dating back to the Dutch colonial era. The Black Lives Matter movement unsurprisingly provided fresh fodder for the racial activist.
“It was good to see that so many people said ‘enough is enough’ and they came out and spoke out,” Simons said of the 2020 BLM rallies in the Netherlands. “And I do also hope that they will use that same voice when we have our general elections,” she said.
“If your reality is that of a young Black person in this country, what you’ll find is that from the moment you enter school, you enter the system. There is bias and prejudice. People have lower expectations of you. People judge you differently,” Simons said.
When tax officials obtained dual nationality data to identify child benefit fraudsters last year, black activists cried “inequality”. As a result, Prime Minister Mark Rutte resigned in January after the country’s Data Protection Authority announced that the tax office’s use of dual nationality data was “unlawful and discriminatory”. Thousands of Moroccan, Turkish and Surinamese families were plunged into debt as a result of the probe. Simons clearly hopes to gain from this fact.
Simons has also complained about a quarter of the population being listed by the national statistics office as having a “migration background”. Polls currently suggest that her crusade against “systemic racism” will fall short of the threshold to enter into parliament despite a huge anti-racism demonstration on Museumplein in the middle of the lockdown last year showing that the anti-racism theme is also alive in the Netherlands.