R: 2 / I: 0 Meet the Black feminist politician shaking up Dutch politics
The Dutch have perfected their facade. They are the definition of ‘facade!’” Sylvana Simons tells me, laughing, on a video call from her home in the Netherlands. “Things look great from the outside. We have told ourselves that we’re tolerant and we’re understanding and we’re progressive, and the rest of the world is so backwards.”
But you don’t have to look far to find plenty of examples to the contrary. Most famously, there’s Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), a Sinterklaas tradition involving blackface; in recent years, anti-Black Pete protesters have experienced violence at the hands of both police and civilians. There’s a Christian youth group lobbying to criminalise sex work. There are the deaths of Mitch Henriquez and Tomy Holten in police custody in 2015 and 2020, respectively. In May, providing a clear example of institutional racism, the Dutch tax authority, the Belastingdienst, was found to have systematically flagged people with a second nationality for extra inspection.
And in politics, women, and especially women of colour, are underrepresented – particularly in parliament’s first chamber, the Senate. Of the 75 current members, only 26 are women, including two women of colour. There are no men of colour.
Meanwhile, right-wing parties espousing racist and sexist values won a significant number of seats in the Netherlands’ last national elections in 2017. Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) gained five more seats, the second highest number, while the Forum for Democracy (FvD) won two. The latter’s gains were especially significant since the party was formed just six months before the election – an anti-racism party, BIJ1, launched around the same time didn’t win any seats.
The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), a conservative-liberal party seen as more ‘moderate’, which currently holds the most seats in parliament, also mobilised racism in its electoral campaign. The party, led by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, doubled down in defence of Zwarte Piet, despite criticism and protests against the tradition.
That’s where BIJ1 comes in. Founded by Simons in 2016, it is explicitly feminist, intersectional and radical. Simons has been a well-known public figure since the mid-90s, when she presented Dutch MTV. She entered politics in 2016 by joining the political party DENK, but left in the same year to found BIJ1 (which means ‘together’ in Dutch pronunciation).https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/meet-first-black-woman-found-political-party-europe/