Amsterdam residents can pick up a free book on the city’s history of slavery

Last year, on behalf of the municipality of Amsterdam, the International Institute of Social History explored the city’s historic role in the global slave trade and published its findings in a book entitled Amsterdam and the History of Slavery.

Now, all residents are offered a free copy of the book when they swing by one of the city’s larger libraries, or at city hall. The book highlights Amsterdam’s role in the organization and management of slaves, and how the racist ideals of the Dutch “golden age” are still pervasive today.

Readers will learn about the Dutch traders who shipped more than 600,000 African people to North and South America, and between 660,000 and 1.1 million people around the Indian Ocean. Only last year did King Willem-Alexander of Holland apologize for the extreme brutality that Indonesian slaves experienced at the hands of Dutch colonialists.

In a country and a city that is often characterized as tolerant and accepting, it is still (and perhaps even more) important to recognize the foundation of systematic oppression that underlies the racist and polarizing attitudes at the root of current power dynamics and inform how we experience each other every day.

Rutger Groot Wassink, deputy mayor of Amsterdam, wisely expresses that the city’s identity “is partly determined by our shared past, the beautiful and the terrible,” and stresses the importance of facing the facts. “In this way, we can share the lessons of the past with each other and pass them on to new generations.”

If you’re not into books, King Willem-Alexander has your back. Last month, the King opened the first exhibition on slavery to be shown in Amsterdam. It is shown at the Rijksmuseum and explores the lives of ten individuals who were involved in the Dutch slave trade between the early 17th century and 1863 when the practice was deemed illegal in Suriname and the Antilles.

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