“Please come with me, sir.”
Empanju Bamenga, a city councilor and educator from Eindhoven in the Netherlands, heard this shortly after arriving at the airport in his hometown in 2018 after a short work tour.
He quickly realized that he had been selected for an additional security test because he was a black man. After all, he was a Dutch citizen who arrived at a Dutch airport, carrying a Dutch passport. It was clear that there was no obvious reason to express him alone other than the color of his skin.
This was not the first experience of Baminger ethnic profiling in the Netherlands – after all, it is not a rare experience for Dutch citizens with a minority background. In the past I have personally come out of the passport control queue at Schiffhole Airport for a “routine” security check. I was going to a conference in the UK, where I would give a lecture, I’m not making it, racial profiling.
Faced with this kind of discrimination, we all want to shout: “Is it because of the color of my skin, is it because you think I’m not looking Dutch enough?” But we don’t usually say anything out loud, because we don’t want to provoke the customs officer and hold him longer than necessary. We go with it and swallow the pain.
But after his experience in 2018, Bamenga decided to do something about it. He first filed an official complaint. And later, in support of rights groups such as Amnesty International, Radar, Control Alt Delete, and the PIPL-NGCM, he brought a lawsuit against the Dutch government for stopping ethnic profiling.
The Maraucci police force (Kamar) in charge of border security in the Netherlands tried to legitimize the decision to single out Bamenga for special interrogation of his officer, claiming that he “matched the risk profile” because he was walking fast, traveling on his own, well-dressed, and “Not Dutch” was showing.
That day, Bamenga was a lone traveler walking quickly to Eindhoven Airport after a decorated suit – in various ways, he was no different from the thousands of Joe travelers every day. But unlike them, Bamenga was selected for the special question. The determining factor, and there is no other way around it, was its so-called “non-Dutch appearance”. In Bamenga, Dutch police saw a Dutch professional not returning home from work, but a potential Nigerian trafficker.
On September 22, the Hague District Court finally reached a verdict in the Bamenga case. “Nationality does not have to be an objective indication of nationality, but it can be,” the judge ruled. Ethnicity may not be the only criterion for separating passengers for additional checks, but it may certainly be a criterion among others.
With this ruling, the court combined skin color and nationality – reinforcing the idea that Dutch must be white. Of course, this was something that the Dutch people already knew ethnically, but the court ruling made it official. The judgment stands in favor of the obsolete and general version of the legal, and seemingly sophisticated, version: “Well, ‘we’ are white, and ‘they’ are black, aren’t they?”
As a result of decades of immigration and colonialism, thousands of people from around the world – some voluntarily, some not – have died in the Netherlands. And their presence in the country has shattered the notion of “white duchess”. Subsequent colonial immigration from the Dutch East Indies and Malukka, followed by labor migration from Suriname and the Dutch Antilles, Turkey and Morocco, and recent arrivals of refugees from Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Congo, etc., stirred up the whole notion that Dutch . Or so you might think.
But, being “white” or “black” is not a material indicator of anything. This ethnic classification is political, not biological. What we are dealing with here is a colonial colonial legacy.
How black does one have to be regularly from the queues at Dutch airports? How white is not regularly selected for the “random” question? These questions are really uncomfortable and difficult to answer. But then, for good, what does “Dutch-looking” mean?
The court’s view that racism or discrimination can only occur when the security forces select a person for additional questioning solely or primarily based on their ethnic or racial characteristics is also problematic for multiple reasons. This ruling gives the idea that there is no problem with ethnic profiling unless ethnicity is used “in conjunction” with other criteria.
Moreover, the practice of security forces is often erratic and complex. When selecting someone for interrogation, they probably rely on a combination of different criteria, not racial and ethnic boundaries. In this context, it is almost impossible to determine what is the “main” factor behind the decision to isolate a person for additional safety checks at an airport, bus station or on the road. Therefore, the court’s decision does nothing to prevent the security forces from using ethnicity as the sole or primary criterion when deciding who to question.
Kmar, on his part, claims that ethnicity does not play a role in his generalized risk profile in the first place. These profiles are based on complex statistical calculations, it says, and correspond to broad developments, for example, in the case of migration. It argues that its profiles are not racial, but rather neutral and measurable risk indicators, such as the airport of departure of the questioner, the airport of their arrival, the nature of their flight ticket (one-way or return), age or gender of those traveling with them.
Considered individually from each other, these indicators seem to be actually neutral, but in combination, they can clearly become proxies for ethnicity or races. And in the case of Bamenga, the court ruling gave the security forces a cart blanche to continue using such seemingly neutral criteria to legitimize ethnic profiling.
In the Bamenga case, the judge gave priority to the alleged effectiveness of the stop over the principle of seemingly non-discrimination. This was a major failure, as it was the responsibility of the courts to control the excesses of the security forces, reverse their problematic decisions and put an end to discriminatory practices.
As far as I’m concerned, we should free the world from all forms of racial thinking – including its illegal embrace among progressives. But let’s first focus on the racial thinking underlying our organization. We cannot create a post-racial nation when our security forces, leading institutions and courts are casually assembled with races, races and nationalities.
Bamenga was in Italy to give a talk on the meaning of independence. Perhaps Dutch courts and other institutions should give him a few hours to hear his case so that money is not lost in his own country.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al Jazeera.