Precious Knowledge: Who Knows About Dutch Colonial History?

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Coming Sunday we will host the Dutch premiere of the political documentary ‘Precious Knowledge’ at OT301 in Amsterdam. As the title suggests, this documentary is all about knowledge, who creates knowledge, who owns knowledge and what does it mean to know? Precious Knowledge looks at Tuscon High School in Arizona where studying Mexican culture and history was seen as something highly controversial. “Ethnic Studies” classes were seen as problematic because they would encourage racism, victimization and revolution amongst students. However, data of the school showed that students did really well as a consequence of these classes; almost 93% of the students, on average, graduate and 82% attend college. Reason enough for teachers and students to stand up against lawmakers and the public opinion.

Why is having an Ethnic Study department threatening to these lawmakers and seen as Anti-American? And why, in the public opinion, should ‘other’ histories and cultures not be included in the curriculum? The documentary explores these questions and has been praised for doing so. For Redmond screening Precious Knowledge is also a way to start a much-needed conversation about the broader themes addressed in the film that hit close to home. How do we deal with the Dutch colonial history and is there place to learn and teach about different cultures? Truth be told, the histories of slavery and colonialism are not incorporated in the Dutch dominant historical narrative. They are seen as separate histories that exist next to ‘Dutch’ history and are hardly ever seen as a point of departure. The consequence being that alternative histories are hardly incorporated in Dutch curricula. And if they are incorporated into the broader dominant historical narrative, we see that the process of knowledge production is not neutral. Meaning that, Dutch colonial history is often produced from a Eurocentric perspective and is positioned as superior to ‘other histories’. So how do we learn about these contested histories that shape our identities, our place in society and our sense of belonging? It is time to look at the uncomfortable silences and ruptures in Dutch history that painfully expose the relationship between the coloniality of knowledge and power.  Who has the power to create Dutch history and who is deemed worthy to be included? Who really knows about Dutch colonial history?

Our panel, Patricia Schor, Egbert Alejandro Martina and Magda Pattiiha will further delve into these issues and speak about their experience with contested knowledge production and the educational system in the Netherlands. Patricia Schor, academic and activist against Zwarte Piet has experienced how hard it is to challenge an educational system that believes that exposing children to blackface is perfectly normal (read more about that here). Magda Pattiiha, teacher at a Dutch school, who often speaks and blogs (in Dutch) about the position of Dutch-Moluccan students in the Netherlands, will address the problematic relationship between the Dutch and Indonesia. Egbert Alejandro Martina, writer and media-critic (check his blog here), is interested in the knowledge production around colonial history and the ways in which this knowledge influences present day representations and identities.

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