The Rijkmuseum has started a program that will revise hurtful ethnic designations that have been placed within the descriptions of the museums art collection. The colonial term ‘neger’ or negro will be updated with a term that is more suitable for the 21st century. Dutchnews.nl reported, on Wednesday, that the museum has changed the name of a photograph taken by Hendrik Doyer from ‘Black negerinnitje’ to ‘Surinamese Girl’. “A black woman used to be quickly described as a Negro or negress. Now many people rightly experience that as derogatory,” explained the Rijkmusuem history department curator, Eveline Sint Nicolaas.
The staff welcomed the changes. “Everyone is really positive about it. We hope to have a lot of the work completed by the Spring. At the beginning of the new year we will share our experience with other museums. The ethnological museum has a lot of experience, but for a lot of museums this is unknown territory,” said Sint Nicolaas. The NLTimes.nl states that “the Rijkmuseum’s collection consists of thousands of objects, each with a title and descriptions”.
The decision too drop the terms was made due to a growing sense of discomfort regarding the history behind the terms. The Netherlands was involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and held colonies in America, the Caribbean, South America, Africa, India, South East Asia and China. The Dutch claimed that they didn’t have enslaved in the Netherlands, but this has been found to be untrue. Jennifer Tosch, founder and operator, of the Amsterdam Black Heritage Tours, shows visitors numerous locations in Amsterdam where the Black presence is clearly visible. Enslaved Africans also lived and worked as servants in Amsterdam. Paintings in the Rijksmuseum confirm their presence in the Netherlands.
Tosch, co-author of the Amsterdam Slavery Heritage Guide, recently started a new museum tour titled the ‘Black Presence & Colonial History in the Rijksmuseum’. The tour is the first of its kind and focuses on showcasing art works from the Dutch Golden Age. Tosch believes that the tour sheds light on a Black historical narrative that didn’t only transpire in the former Dutch slave colonies but also in the streets of Amsterdam. “Denial is a harsh word. I think they [Dutch] have systematically erased that part of the history. In 1863, when slavery was legally abolished here in the Netherlands it really wasn’t the end of slavery. The owners of the enslaved were compensated and demanded that they be compensated for abolishing slavery. But, the slaves were required to work 10 more years. After which they were allowed to go,” said Tosch.
Dutch slave owner compensation
In Amsterdam, researchers have identified slave owners who were compensated in 1863 when the Dutch began the 10-year process of abolishing slavery. Approximately, 50-different locations have been identified as buildings that were owned by individuals who owned or profited from slavery. For example, one family received 300 Guilders per owned enslaved in Suriname and 200 Guilders per owned enslaved in Curaçao.
Neger vs N-word
The word ‘negro’ was used to describe a dark-skinned person of Africa, south of the Sahara. In the Dutch dictionary the word ‘neger’ first appeared in 1644. The dictionary states that the word described a shipload of enslaved Africans. In 1863, during the Dutch abolishment of slavery, the words meaning had changed to ‘Black slave’. Neger and the n-word originate from the Spanish and Portuguese word ‘negro’.