Friday, January 26, 2007

Allochthon, allochthon...

If you’re a white you’re an expat. Every other foreigner is an allochthon.[1]

This differentiation (or perhaps a better word is segregation) is even entrenched in the official Central Bureau of Statistics [Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS] of the Netherlands. In official census surveys, they make the distinction between ‘autochtoons’ (locals) and ‘allochtoons’ (people originally born in a different country). Strictly speaking, the Dutch royal family (of German descent) would be allochtons, but no one would ever dare say in public. And then there’s the third, dreadful distinction: the so-called ‘non-western allochthon’ (niet-westerse allochtoon), defined as someone from :

“one of the countries in the continents of Africa, Latin-America and Asia (excluding Indonesia and Japan), or Turkey.”

Coincidentally (or maybe deliberately) people from these places happen to have a different skin colour. But why are people from Indonesia and Japan not considered a so-called ‘non-western allochthon’?

“On the ground of their social-economic and social-cultural position, allochthons from Indonesia and Japan are seen as western allochthons. It primarily is concerned with people who are born in the formal Dutch-Indies, and employers of Japanese companies with their family.”

In truth, people born in the formal Dutch-Indies are (mostly) white people, whereas people from Japan, a nation long considered developed and part of the civilised world, are supposed to have a more… (putting it mildly in their own words) sophisticated “social-economic and social-cultural position”.

So when are you not an allochthon? According to the CBS, the third generation of people with a different skin colour. So for those in the first and second generation (like me), tough luck… whatever you do, however you try to integrate, eat, dress, drink and talk like a local Dutchman, you look and speak foreign, so you are foreign.

Why is every deed of an allochthon seen in a different light from that of an autochthon? Simple: Because it’s about allochthons! As long as you are deviate from the norm (generations who are born and bred in the Netherlands), your ‘deviation’ is often included in [other people’s] judgement of you and also placed in that perspective. This is the idea that we mention someone by the most characteristic [element] of his/her existence.

[…] It is actually more fundamental [than this]: while you can change your career, you are allochthon for your entire life. You simply cannot stop with it. It is like your gender. Of course, there are people who change their gender, but to change your ethnic background, that is only possible with Michael Jackson […]
Bahram Sadeghi

Time and again you get official statistics which show what a great gap there is between (non-western) allochthons and autochthons. In a recent report, it was revealed that by the year 2050, a third of the population will be ‘allochthon’. This is compared to around the 19% of allochtoons now (or more precisely 10% ‘non-western’ and 9% ‘western’). And in the latest report finds concludes that (so-called non-western) allochthons have less of a rate of success in completing higher education than autochtoons. So, while 60% of the ‘locals’ graduate after five years of tertiary professional education (hbo), only 40% of do so. And in terms of those enrolled in university, while around the half of the ‘locals’ graduate after six years of study, only a third of (non-western) allochthons succeed.

As helpful as they are, statistics are just numbers, figures, calculations and abstract facts which have nothing or little to reveal about reality. They lump people together into nicely compartmentalised groupings which has little purpose other than divide and stigmatise certain portions of the population. It seems like the perfect means for the government machinery to more easily and readily divide, classify and rule the population for the sake of efficiency and bureaucracy.

Again, ask yourselves these questions: What does it say about those so-called allochthons who are born and bred here and know of no other home than this country? What does this say about the level of integration between people of different backgrounds? And how does making an explicit differentiation between people of so-called ‘western’ and ‘non-western’ background help with integration at all? If anything, it polarises people and society, and plays into the hands of those populist politicians and parties who use these kind of figures and facts to fool the unknowing voter. A popular weblog ( produced a ‘Allochtoon-O-Meter’: with the use of the CBS statistics people can find out the percentage of (non-western) allochthons living in their neighbourhoods. The reactions of readers, those with few or no ‘allochthons’ as their neighbours rejoicing, and those with many ‘allochthons’ in their neighbourhood complaining and planning to move house, shows exactly how this kind of statistics is not at all helpful and counterproductive .

Discriminating, and disappointing… that, however much I personally do not fit into that wrong and racist stigma of the uncivilised, uneducated, benefit-claiming alien with a different skin colour, I should have to live the rest of my life labelled and seen as an ‘allochthon’…

I leave you with remarks from Iranian-born Dutch professor of integration at the University of Amsterdam, Halleh Ghorashi (emphasis mine and square brackets mine). She summed up the problem and issues in better words than I could:

”A positive development is that many more allochthons are belonging to the middle class. They have a great drive to emancipate themselves. The first generation began a new life here, they do everything to make something wonderful of it. And their children want to do better than their parents. That is succeeding more and more; there are many ‘social climbers’ amongst allochthons. Many more follow higher education, have jobs, pay taxes, go vote and feel themselves to be involved in society. But they must prove themselves time and again. [They are asked] time and again to distance [themselves] from the radicals. It is never enough. You become tired of this, and then you retreat to your own circle. […]

You should not lump people together into one [op één hoop gooien]. There are so many different new Netherlanders Turks, Surinamers, Morrocans, Indonesian Netherlanders, Antillians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Somalians, French, Afghans, Spaniards, and many more still. They are often equated with the group that cause problems. Take for example that TV-game show in which a candidate has to give another word for ‘non-conformistic person’ [‘onaangepast persoon’]. Instead of ‘asocial’ she said ‘allochthon’. […]

The new Netherlander is dynamic, future-oriented and self-conscious. He is open, prepared to change, he dares to undergo the experiment. He is hybrid: he dares to combine the best of diverse worlds with one another. […]

It is now about seeking contact with one another. We should look for ways to bridge the differences between groups. This is possible from a communal sense: we all feel like a Netherlander. It is an important step that many more new Netherlanders dare to come out for this: I am a Netherlander. […]

Often it is asked where we are from. Netherlanders always put so much emphasis [on the fact] that we do not belong here. This way, this will never be our country.

[This] was part of the Dutch democratic culture: giving others room. Tolerance is also a characteristic of civilisation. The society of today is no longer tolerant. You can treat others rudely without having to feel ashamed. Tolerance is choosing between two evils: between a taking up a conflict and letting the other be as he is. Now, we appear to be choosing for conflict and for laying down obligations [on others, namely foreigners]. But a hard attitude does not make you feel safer; instead you are going to feel even more unsafe.

We are accustomed to our freedom of expression. we act as if we can say anything, even if you insult others, even if you denigrate others. But the louder you scream, the weaker you stand. Whoever stands strong in his shoes is calm, peaceful, listens, lets others finish talking.

Freedom is important, but you must know how to treat it. Someone who only considers himself, is a democratic amateur. You are a professional when you also know the boundaries of freedom. You must give the other room, you must create room for the other. […] The Netherlands in the past few years has falling back from a professional democracy to amateur democracy.

[1] Allochthon comes from the Greek ‘allo' = other, and 'chthon' = earth. Autochthon also.

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