More and more enthusiasm for ‘dialogue tables’ about the slavery past

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  • Leonie Schenk

    Interior Editor

It may seem quiet since the cabinet apologies for the slavery past, but the organization of the Keti Koti Dialogue Tables is busier than ever. And the clients come from surprising quarters.

The Keti Koti Dialogue Tables, named after the originally Surinamese holiday to celebrate the abolition of slavery, have now existed for twelve years. The idea is that Dutch people of all colors talk to each other about the legacy of the shared slavery past and the colonial past.

This year there is a record number of applications, says founder Mercedes Zandwijken. “Suddenly doors open that we used to knock on in vain.” Eight people are therefore being trained to assist. Initially, Zandwijken only organized the rounds of talks with her husband and her son.

The coming celebration of Ketikoti on July 1 is extra special, because it will be 150 years ago that slavery in the Dutch colonies finally came to an end. “In the run-up to Ketikoti alone, thirty dialogue tables are planned,” says Zandwijken.

There are several large companies and organizations that ‘host’ a table, such as ABN Amro and the province of North Holland. Their own staff can register, but also people from outside.

Zandwijken notices that even afterwards, participants often still feel the need to contribute to combating racism and discrimination. “Our foundation also offers the opportunity to meet again afterwards to brainstorm about this together.”

The first dialogue table of this year was last night commissioned by the province of North Holland. The archeology museum in Castricum was filled with long rows of tables. Those who identify with black or mixed could sit on one side and those who identify with white on the other.

An open conversation about the slavery past creates emotion and understanding

Zandwijken: “People really come into conversation here. From the cleaner to the professor. We want to create a social citizen movement against discrimination and racism. Bringing people together and supporting them to create local networks.”

Yesterday, deputy Rosan Kocken (GroenLinks) opened the first Keti Koti table of 2023. As a deputy, she has Culture and Heritage in her portfolio, but her motivation is also personal. “Over the years I have been increasingly confronted with my white look. My partner is of color and, for example, always goes for a run with his ID in his pocket. I would never think about that.”

‘The province can take on a pioneering role’

Why is this organized by the province of Noord-Holland? “It’s about more mutual understanding and awareness of each other’s position,” says Kocken. “Unfortunately it is still the case that society is and feels less safe for a group of people. And offers fewer opportunities, because there is a different view on them. That is difficult to see if it is not about yourself. Because you do not part of that group.”

“And people who don’t see that don’t have to mean it badly. By entering into a conversation with each other in a dialogue table, you become more aware of your own blind spots.”

The deputy hopes that more mutual understanding among the population will help the province to do its job better. “The province can take on a pioneering role in this: municipalities and organizations can be inspired to organize activities like these as well.”

  • Reconstruction: the long road to ‘hasty’ slavery apologies
  • Descendants and researchers call apologies ‘historic’, but also critical notes
  • Utrecht will also receive a slavery monument: Flight and Resistance
  • Interior

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