All the energies poured into critical theory, into novel
and demystifying theoretical praxes—have avoided the
major, I would say the determining political horizon
of modern Western culture, namely imperialism.
Edward Said, “Secular Interpretation”
“A Particular Knowledge . . .
This book is dedicated to an exploration of a strong paradox that is opera-
tive in the Netherlands and that, as I argue, is at the heart of the nation: the
passion, forcefulness, and even aggression that race, in its intersections
with gender, sexuality, and class, elicits among the white population, while
at the same time the reactions of denial, disavowal, and elusiveness reign
supreme. I am intrigued by the way that race pops up in unexpected places
and moments, literally as the return of the repressed, while a dominant
discourse stubbornly maintains that the Netherlands is and always has
been color-blind and antiracist, a place of extraordinary hospitality and
tolerance toward the racialized/ethnicized other, whether this quintessen-
tial other is perceived as black in some eras or as Muslim in others. One of
the key sites where this paradox is operative, I submit, is the white Dutch
sense of self, which takes center stage in this book. I strongly suspect that
with national variations, a similar configuration is operative in other inter-
national settings that have an imperial history. It is my—admittedly am-
bitious and iconoclastic—aim to write an ethnography of dominant white
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