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The role of Dutch heritage in shaping contemporary discourses on coloniality

by Kimmy Mac Donald

1  Introduction: heritage and power

This paper provides a postcolonial analysis of a strongly contested piece of Dutch heritage: The Golden Coach (Brassem, 2021). More specifically: the side panel on the coach devoted to the Dutch colonies, named Hulde der Koloniën, and its implications for contemporary postcolonial inequalities (figure 1). The coach is currently on display at the Amsterdam Museum, in an exhibition dedicated to showing the controversial history surrounding the Golden Coach. The coach, with its racialised decorations and its role of conveying national pride, provides a prime example of the power of heritage.

Heritage is an inherently political concept. Certain aspects of history are selected and given a role in present-day society (Graham, Ashworth & Tunbridge, 2016). This selection process consists of several decisions that have to be made regarding the importance of historical events and the actors that partook in them.  During their lectures, Dr. Carl Haarnack (2021), Dr. Rose Mary Allen (2021) and Dr Cynthia Abrahams (2021) showed that history is a collection of stories, told through literature and poetry, fixed on paper, or through oral traditions, passed on from generation to generation. Heritage then is about what memories we decide to cherish and, perhaps more importantly, what parts of history are actively hidden (Graham, Ashworth & Tunbridge, 2016). Decisions as to which voices are silenced and which stories remain untold are made by powerful actors across a variety of historical eras. These decisions strongly influence what becomes national heritage and what does not. Presenting historical events in a celebratory and laudatory light, is often an active effort to conceal the darkness attached to these events. The Hulde der Koloniën panel on the Golden Coach is an example of a piece of heritage specifically curated to depict a glorification of the colonial past of the Netherlands (Amsterdam Museum, 2021).

I deem it necessary to shed light on the stories not told; the stories that belong to the oppressed. I have visited The Golden Coach exhibition at the Amsterdam museum, which aims to do exactly that: uncovering the multilateral past of the coach and of Dutch colonialism as a whole. In addition to this, I have consulted a family member of mine that has first-hand experience with the process of postcolonial migration. My objective here was to get a better understanding of how the differences between first and second generation migrants influence the development of the postcolonial debate. The following sections of this paper will address these issues.

Figure 1: The colonial panel on the Golden Coach: Hulde der Koloniën

2  The Golden Coach as national heritage

Historical events are, in many different ways, reflected in today’s society. The way in which Dutch people treat, use or see an artefact such as the Golden Coach reflects the societal views on colonialism. The fact that the coach is currently stored in a museum exhibition, rather than used as a celebratory carriage on a national holiday (Prinsjesdag), is already a win in terms of fighting postcolonial inequalities (Amsterdam Museum, 2021). By displaying the coach and its colonial panel in a way that honours all parts of its history, we are widening the meaning of Dutch heritage. It is about recognising the pain and suffering that are behind the once glorified ‘achievements’ of the Netherlands as a coloniser (Biekman, 2021). This is done particularly well in the last part of The Golden Coach exhibition, which focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement and other activists with the objective of addressing postcolonial inequalities. In this section, an art piece by artist AiRich is displayed: BLOODY GOLD (figure 2). In his guest lecture, spoken and visual thought artist Melanin Kris touched on the importance of art in shaping the present and the future (Kris, 2021). This piece, BLOODY GOLD, is an example of how art can shape contemporary discourses on colonialism. By changing the societal view on the colonial past, a consciousness is awakened regarding the ‘colonial present’ (Oostindie, 2014). This idea of a ‘colonial present’ has everything to do with postcolonial inequalities that affect people of color in our time. By recognising the reality that today’s society is built on systemic racialisation and discrimination, the delusion of the Netherlands as an ‘innocent’ country is lifted (Wekker, 2016). This opens up a broad discussion regarding inequalities and racism in the Netherlands, and the role of certain pieces of heritage in perpetuating these inequalities. An example of said heritage: the Golden Coach. In BLOODY GOLD, AiRich contradicts the discourse that glorifies the Dutch colonial past, and juxtaposes it with a more realistic image that emphasises the suffering behind colonialism. The placement of the Golden Coach in the Amsterdam Museum and the inclusiveness of its exhibition are the result of an activist struggle going against a strong political counteract (Biekman, 2021; Wilders, 2020). This indicates an increase in acceptance of black activism, as there is a need for social space for anti-colonial activism to thrive, develop and succeed at its objectives. In the next section I will elaborate upon this development seen in the achievements of the black activist movement.

Figure 2: AiRich, Bloody gold. Hulde aan de koloniën / Hoe zit het met de herstelschade (photo: Steenman, 2021).

3  Personal reflection on postcolonial activism

When one compares black activism between generations, an increase in acceptance and allies can be observed. In order to analyse this phenomenon, I consulted my father (Mac Donald, 2021). He was born in Suriname in 1967, moved to Curaçao at the age of eight and moved to the Netherlands at the age of eighteen. This generation of migrants from Suriname and the Antilles has had to deal directly with postcolonial effects such as racism (Oostindie, 2014). In the stories my father told me about his life as a migrant from the old colonies, the efforts to fit in, adapt and work hard in order to ‘get by’ are central. The awareness of systemic racism and consistent discrimination caused the migrant population to ‘keep their heads down’ rather than combat the inequalities. A reason for this could be that society offered less room for equality activism during that time. To contradict the dominant (white supremacist) system would mean to risk economic and social security (Wekker, 2016). One could say that the struggle to survive weighed heavier than the struggle for equal rights.

This situation, however, has changed drastically over the past few decades. Along with the rise of social media platforms and the ability to connect with allies all across the globe has enabled all kinds of black activist moments to ‘speak up’ (Amsterdam Museum, 2021). Postcolonial inequalities are thereby addressed more assertively. The Amsterdam Museum has also picked up on this development (Biekman, 2021) and its exhibition has become part of a collection of postcolonial critiques in the form of music, theatre, literature, poetry and other arts.

I distinctly remember my father’s surprise regarding my decision to attend the Black Lives Matter protest in The Hague. I assume it seems difficult to believe that once ‘unthinkable’ political debates are now topics of open discussion, in which different social groups have earned the right to voice their opinions. (Lawson & Elwood, 2018). There is no longer the need to ‘obey’ the dominant discourse that structurally marginalises people of color. In other words, there is room for discursive dissonance. Room for resistance and transformative change.

4  References

Abrahams, C. (2021). Guest lecture 8: The Unknown Caribbean, UvA course.

Allen, R. M. (2021). Guest lecture 2: The Unknown Caribbean, UvA course.

Amsterdam Museum. (2021). De Gouden Koets, audio tour. Retrieved from

Biekman, B. (2021). ‘Protest tegen de Gouden Koets: Hulde der Koloniën of misdaad tegen de mensheid?’, YouTube <>

Brassem, E. (2021, 18 June). ‘De Gouden Koets staat nu in een museum, maar komt hij daar ooit nog wel uit?’ Retrieved from

Graham, B., Ashworth, G., & Tunbridge, J. (2016). A Geography of Heritage. London: Routledge, 1-7.

Haarnack, C. (2021). Guest lecture 6: The Unknown Caribbean, UvA course.

Lawson, V. & Elwood, S. (2018). Hegemonies are not totalities! Repoliticizing poverty as resistance. In Werner M et al (eds) Doreen Massey: Critical Dialogues. Agenda publishing, (pp. 233-246).

Mac Donald, T. (2021, 26 December). Personal interaction.

Oostindie, G. (2014). From Colonial Past to Postcolonial Present. In Discovering the Dutch (pp. 133–144).

Steenman, J. K. (2021). AiRich, BLOODY GOLD. HULDE AAN DE KOLONIËN / HOE ZIT HET MET DE HERSTELSCHADE? Collage. Courtesy de kunstenaar en CBK Zuidoost, 2021, Amsterdam Museum. Retrieved from

Utrecht, R. (n.d.). Zijpaneel gouden koets: Hulde der Koloniën. Retrieved from

Wekker, G. (2016). White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Racism. Durham: Duke University Press. 1-26

Wilders, G. (2020). Twitter post by Geert Wilders. Retrieved from

[Final paper for The Unknown Caribbean: Artistic key moments in Dutch-Caribbean history, UvA, 31 December 2021.]

Kimmy Mac Donald is a third year’s student in Future Planet Studies, University of Amsterdam.

Another read on the Gouden Koets, here (in Dutch)

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