The Coates piece, written by Guss Valk, was among others in a series of reviews on books on race and racism in the U.S. Between The World and Me is a poignant compilation of anecdotes and heartfelt words from Coates to his 14-year-old son about race and how to navigate through American society in a Black male body.
Sure, the book has received some controversy for Coates’ views and transparency, but the way the NRC decided to illustrate their take on the work was quite telling of race relations in not only the Netherlands, but also the harmful disconnect in telling and understanding the story of racism in America.
Valk explained that he had no knowledge of the headlines or images used by editors, and was “sorry to learn that people had been offended.”
Michel Krielaars, editor of the book supplement for NRC, said the piece was removed from online so that Non-Dutch speakers would not be offended when they saw the headline on Twitter, but the article and illustrations still remain on the site’s online reader.
In emails, Krielaars addressed the headline’s origin with The Washington Post:
“The article by our Washington correspondent Guus Valk in the weekly Book Supplement of NRC Handelsblad was a review of three books about race relations in the United States: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, and Mat Johnson’s Loving Day. It dealt with the persistence of racism and the continuing inequality in the US. The tone of the article is pessimistic, and the illustrations, as well as the headline, were meant to reflect that. There is no racist remark to be read in the review, because that is not our cup of tea.”
The headline is a [fictional] quote made by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas [in The Sellout]. Mr. Valk describes this sequence in his review because it says a lot about the race discussion in the US.
The drawings are a literal illustrations of ‘stereotype’ and ‘white’ aggression, the above mentioned books are dealing with. They are ugly, unkind, and offensive – and they are meant to be, because they cover the content of the reviewed books. Of course, they were not intended to offend. Actually, it is rather stupid to think so.
The images associated with Blackness are unmatched in comparison to those supposed to depict White Americans in a negative way. In the illustrations, the Black American is in complete blackface holding the U.S. flag, while the White figure in the picture is holding a gun.
On the topic of this depiction, Krielaars told The Washington Post:
“Yes, it was a conscious decision to depict the situation with the use of stereotypical blackface portraits. Like I said: the illustrations are offensive, because the racial situation in the US, as described in the reviewed books, is offensive. Note that ‘whiteness’ in these illustrations is depicted as someone with a gun. I wouldn’t call it irony: it’s cynicism. And it was meant to be cynical.”
Krielaars insists the NRC did not intend to offend any readers, but his statements seem to contradict. When taking in the true meaning of images and terms with such a deep-seated pain for Black people, one cannot ignore the wrong in the editorial decision made to include them.
Holland has a history of race issues and also a lack of Black representation. Krielaars admitted there are no Black employees at the NRC.
In addition to the majority of the country being White, the racist representation is still part of the culture, as many people fight to keep the right to dress in blackface as Zwarte Pete (Black Pete) for a national holiday every year – despite attempts from anti-racism organizations to bring the practice to an end.
Coates’ message was lost and trimmed down to the dehumanizing images and language used to analyze the story he told. When the editors decided to tell the story this way, perhaps they thought it was an accurate portrayal of the bind of Black people in America and a way to show their Dutch readers how horrible our race relations are. Despite the direction of their efforts, it was unfortunate to, yet again, witness insensitivity from miles away and to see Black bodies falsely portrayed.
SOURCES: The Washington Post | PHOTO CREDIT : Getty | VIDEO SOURCE: NDN