We spoke to Mariska Jung and Gregor Walz of IDEM Rotterdam, an organisation devoted to ensuring that everyone – regardless of race, gender, sexuality – feels at home in their city.
In what ways will IDEM contribute to the governance of diversity?
The premise from which IDEM departs is that both professional and organisations run by inhabitants have extensive expertise on issues pertaining to IDEM’s four key work themes: integration, discrimination, emancipation of men and women, and emancipation of LGBT people. In fact, these organisations are the prime conveyors of knowledge about the meaning of IDEM’s themes in a day-to-day and localised setting.
What Rotterdam needs is a platform that connects small neighbourhood-based initiatives with larger urban ones in order to stimulate the effective and efficient exchange of knowledge concerning problems. This would facilitate cooperation across the city and provide potential for solutions. Alongside this, IDEM collects the insights of urban and national organisations in an effort to present research and experience-based knowledge in easily accessible ways. IDEM’s focus is on integration, discrimination and the emancipation of women/men and LGBT people simultaneously. At IDEM, we are aware that our four themes do not exist in isolation, but rather they frequently intersect with each other. In order to be relevant to the diverse city of Rotterdam, it is pivotal that we acknowledge that many inhabitants’ social positions are affected by issues pertaining to two or more of IDEM’s themes. This has consequences for the content of the work of local organisations and for the development of an urban agenda regarding these themes, and diversity in general.
Overall, IDEM supports and unites an urban network across integration, discrimination and emancipation of both men and women as well as LGBT people. It bundles and dispenses relevant knowledge in accessible ways and applies an intersectional approach. As such, IDEM contributes to the governance of diversity in the city because it centralises and facilitates the work of front-line professional and self-run organisations by identifying issues, providing solutions and setting the agenda regarding diversity in the city. Hence their observations, needs and experiences are essential to the development of social relations in Rotterdam at large.
How can Rotterdam policy better accommodate the increasingly complex diversity of people in the city?
Through conversations with IDEM’s network, our understanding that integration is a controversial term has been confirmed. For example, there is confusion about the intended target group. Are we talking about people of colour with a migration background whose families settled in the Netherlands decades, if not generations, ago? Or does the term refer solely to newly arriving people: high and low-skilled migrants, temporary EU labour migrants and refugees? Our partners warn against the dynamics of polarisation, stigmatisation and exclusion that may result from a narrow focus on integration. What is proposed instead is a move beyond the us-versus-them approach by centralising a shared identity as inhabitants of Rotterdam. What is it that unites inhabitants of Rotterdam and how can diversity be a central element of that shared identity? IDEM’s partners involved with the ‘integration’ theme have expressed particular interest in exploring such a city-based identity, and how this could benefit social cohesion in Rotterdam.
Furthermore, network partners are concerned about labour market discrimination and about a related issue: Rotterdam’s diversity is not reflected in the group of people who hold leadership positions in local government, civil society and private sector organisations. It is problematized by partners in IDEM’s network that prominent leadership positions in the city are often filled by white men. Initiatives such as De Board therefore actively connect bicultural people and women to leadership opportunities.
Another issue that negatively affects the city is Islamophobia. The Muslim-run platform SPIOR recently published the results of their year-long research: they received 172 validated complaints about Islamophobia. Seventy-two percent of the victims were Muslim women, 61% of the perpetrators were men and in 84% of the incidents the victim was visibly identifiable as Muslim, for example, wearing Islamic dress. Unfortunately, discrimination against Muslims is not a recent phenomenon, but it is slowly gaining more attention.
Rotterdam is already making positive policy contributions by initiating a platform against labour market discrimination: Rotterdam Platform tegen Arbeidsmarktdiscriminatie (Rotterdam Platform against Labour Market Discrimination). It is also explicitly developing policy to enhance social acceptance of sexual and gender diversity amongst Rotterdam inhabitants. However, there are plenty of remaining issues and areas of concern. Perhaps the need that is expressed most explicitly by IDEM’s network partners is that local governors move away from problematising Rotterdam’s diversity and move towards embracing and celebrating it as a strength, and meet this with concrete intentional efforts. This is of relevance to policy areas ranging from education to labour market, policing and cultural affairs.
We would be very interested in your opinion on the current governance of diversity by the municipality and/or what has changed since the coalition changed in 2014 (Leefbaar Rotterdam back in power) and our interview with RADAR in 2013 (under the previous coalition)?
Rotterdam’s current coalition government has taken a different path regarding diversity governance, both in content and in form. It has departed from an approach of embracing diversity (previous government) to focus on integration instead, as defined in its Integration Policy Plan. The focus has shifted the burden of responsibility from society as a whole to migrants and migrant communities. As the objective of integration is contested, and no clear definition of integration has been provided, there is significant uneasiness and conflict in the political arena and in the social field. In terms of funding of civil society organisations, a change in the municipal’s governance approach has meant that some organisations are facing financial difficulties, especially some of the migrant self-run organisations. While this is not a new development and is in line with national changes, it means that the civil society—which also forms the backbone of the work of initiatives such as IDEM—is becoming less flexible and resilient.
Discrimination is a major issue. In light of the current debates on ethnic profiling by the police, what is your opinion on this matter against the backdrop of an increasingly diverse city?
Ethnic profiling by the police is a serious issue that causes deeply felt and far-reaching feelings of exclusion and distrust between the people being ethnically profiled and Dutch society at large. Currently, public discussion is stuck on whether ethnic profiling occurs or not, and if so whether it occurs in a structural manner. We can think of a number of reasons why it is relevant to grasp the extent of ethnic profiling by the police. The discussion as it currently unfolds diverts attention away from talking about what is uncomfortable yet real: the prevalence of discrimination, stereotypes and racism in Dutch society, and also among authorities such as the police.
Longitudinal research on the relationship between criminality and young people in the 12-18 year old age group was conducted in various districts of Rotterdam. It was published by the Research Department of the National Police in 2014 and concluded that there is no causal effect between ethnicity and criminality. What does have a negative effect is having a network of criminal peers and living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood. However, the researchers signal that the perception of ‘culture’ as being of negative influence on the development of criminal behaviour is rife in Dutch society and there also among Dutch police officers. They state this may result with more complaints filed with the police by civilians concerning people of colour, and of police officers stopping people of colour disproportionally more often. These are remarkably strong conclusions. In order to tackle discrimination and racism, it is important to take them seriously.
Quite a few methods have already been developed to gain further insight into the frequency of ethnic profiling, to strengthen the rights of potential victims of ethnic profiling, to combat stereotypes among Dutch police officers, and to build trust between young people and the police. Rotterdam could be an important pioneer in this area through introducing various methods such as stop forms with its local police force, support concrete initiatives to combat stereotypes among police officers, and improve the relationship between local communities and local authorities. In a diverse city such as Rotterdam, it is essential that all inhabitants feel equally respected and treated justly.
Gregor Walz is a sociologist and the Research Coordinator of IDEM Rotterdam. He also supervises the research team of RADAR/Art.1 based in Rotterdam. Gregor’s central research focus concerns the protection of fundamental rights and the occurrence of discrimination, on both a local as well as a national level.