White Innocence: Reflections on Public Debates and Political-Analytical Challenges. An Interview with Gloria Wekker
DiGeSt: Journal of Diversity and Gender Studies Volume 5 Issue 1 (2018)
Nella van den Brandt, Lieke Schrijvers, Amal Miri, and Nawal Mustafa.
I had the pleasure of interviewing prof. dr. emirita Gloria Wekker with three dear colleagues in the Winter of 2017. With great pride and gratitude toward everyone included in the process, I can now announce that the edited and translated version of this conversation has been published in the journal DiGeSt.
This contribution is an interview with social and cultural anthropologist of Surinamese-Dutch background Gloria Wekker. It discusses the debate that ensued in the Netherlands after the publication of her book White Innocence (2016), now translated in Dutch as Witte Onschuld (2017). The interview covers the reception of the book, Wekker’s future work, and her legacy for the academic as well as public debates about gender and race. It goes into methodological questions concerning intersectional analysis and the notion of race as a social construct. Although all of us have a different academic and social background, what we have in common is that Gloria Wekker inspired us for many years. Although we came in touch with Wekker many years ago as a professor in Gender and Ethnicity, she became a public figure after the publication of the book White Innocence. In White Innocence Gloria Wekker explores a central paradox of Dutch culture: the passionate denial of racial discrimination and colonial violence coexisting alongside aggressive racism and xenophobia. Accessing a cultural archive built over 400 years of Dutch colonial rule, Wekker fundamentally challenges Dutch racial exceptionalism by undermining the dominant narrative of the Netherlands as a “gentle” and “ethical” nation. Wekker shifts attention in debates on racism from the victimization of people of colour, to a critical mirror and analysis of whiteness, which sparked many debates in public and political life.
Through reading and discussing Gloria Wekker’s work and organising the interview, we hoped to learn more about how we, variously situated in our own disciplines and contexts, could further develop the interdisciplinary and intersectional study of gender through rethinking issues such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and class. Given our various disciplinary backgrounds (anthropology, sociology, law, gender studies, religiousstudies), social positions and upbringings (in terms of race, ethnicity, religion-secularity, sexuality, national/regional backgrounds), and life experiences, we learned a great deal about the different ways in which we all connected and responded to Wekker’s writing.