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PART ONE Spatial Justice and the Right to the City: Conflicts around Access to Public Urban Space
Urban Discourses in the Making: American and European Contexts

Segregation or Assimilation: Dutch Government Research on Ethnic Minorities in Dutch Cities and its American Frames of Reference

Ruud Janssens


While formulating a national policy for ethnic minorities since the 1980s, Dutch government officials interpreted immigrant problems in the cities through American sociological studies. The way the officials defined minorities and immigrant problems as well as their cherry picking of American research contributed to the failure of policy planners to formulate policies to create equality for all Dutch citizens. On the contrary, the officials’ reports increased ethnic conflicts in Dutch society.

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1On 5 November 2004, after the murder of cineaste Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist in Amsterdam, The New York Times editorial under the heading “Deadly Hatreds in the Netherlands” stated: “Something sad and terrible is happening in the Netherlands, long one of Europe’s most tolerant, decent and multicultural societies.”1 In the two decades before the murder, immigration had led to heated debates in the Netherlands. The inflow of immigrants from (former) colonies like Suriname and the Dutch Antilles, labor migrants from Turkey and Morocco, and refugees from a range of countries raised concern about the social consequences for Dutch society. Reflecting the public debate about immigration, politicians made a range of statements from celebrating cultural diversity to condemning Islam and deploring the decline of civilization.

2Since about half of the immigrants lived in the four biggest cities of the Netherlands, the debate about immigration was often a discussion about ethnic groups in an urban setting. While the confrontations at the local level were regularly about the building of mosques, crime, run down neighborhoods, housing, unemployment, affirmative action, and discrimination, at the national level politicians wanted to formulate a social policy based on equality. National government officials were concerned about ethnic minorities in cities, because they read American sociological studies on immigration and city life, from Robert Park and the Chicago School in the 1920s to recent studies by Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou, and feared segregation, ethnic tensions, crime, and poverty. In their mostly statistical studies, government policy planners described how different ethnic minorities were from Dutch citizens and how important it was that immigrants should integrate into Dutch society. The word integrate might give the impression that policy planners would find it acceptable if immigrants kept (part of) their own culture, as long as they would fit in with Dutch society. As I will show, while policy planners used the word integration, they actually mostly meant assimilation, and expected immigrants to become similar to the Dutch. By using American analytic models, policy planners at the national level defined policies at the local level, while trying to force ethnic minorities to adapt to a Dutch way of life.

3 In the 1980s, the Dutch government formulated a new Minorities Policy, in which it wanted to guarantee equal access for all Dutch citizens to social goods such as housing, jobs, and education. The government gathered new statistical data to support political initiatives for equality, which resulted in a political and public debate that set ethnic minorities apart from the rest of Dutch society. Soon the focus of the debate switched from equal access for all to the question whether ethnic minorities wanted or were able to become equals.

4The focus of this essay is on these statistics. Since they concerned housing, unemployment, and education, some government officials raised the question if social and economic problems impeded the achievement of equality by ethnic minorities. However, to avoid the stigmatization of any ethnic group, the government devised a national policy for all ethnic minorities. In order to establish the active role government officials had in defining an ethnic problem in the Netherlands, I will highlight two aspects of the policy. First, I will show how the definition of ethnic minorities contributed to the perception of social problems caused by the presence of immigrants. Second, I will analyze the governmental studies on immigrants in major Dutch cities, which drew heavily on American scholarly studies on immigrants and segregation. What began with the intention of giving ethnic minorities equal access to housing, jobs, and education, resulted in a focus on the differences between Dutch and immigrant culture. Using statistical data as their source, the government reproached ethnic minorities for not making an effort to assimilate. The way policy planners and makers defined minorities, minority problems, and threats to city life (if not Dutch society), drawing on the related statistics, shaped popular perceptions of immigrants and immigration policies. This process was filled with ironies, because government officials increased the magnitude of the social problems as well as cherry picked theories from American urban sociology from the 1920s onward, implementing misguided policies, which were rooted in skewed assumptions.

1. Dutch Government Studies of Immigrants

5In 1983, the Dutch Parliament adopted a new Constitution. After about twenty years of deliberation, the various Dutch political parties settled on a compromise. The new Constitution was based, in part, on the 1961 European Social Charter and the 1966 International Treaty on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The Constitution included new fundamental social rights such as equal opportunity to make use of social, economic, and cultural policies. The new Constitution led to a new Minorities Policy, also adopted in 1983. Previously, the government had a different policy for each major ethnic group. With the new emphasis on equality in access and use of social and economic rights for all citizens, the Dutch government wanted to make sure that all groups were treated fairly. In order to be able to assess the situation of various social groups, the Dutch government needed new statistical material. The Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (Central Bureau for Statistics; CBS) and the Sociaal & Cultureel Planbureau (Social & Cultural Planning Agency; SCP), both government institutions, had to gather the new data.

  • 2 Marco Martiniello and Jan Rath, "Introduction," in Selected Studies in International Migration and (...)

6As political scientist Marco Martiniello and sociologist Jan Rath pointed out in their 2010 collection of essays about migration studies, there were few scholars in Europe working on immigration before the 1990s.2 Sometimes government agencies contracted social scientists to write studies about immigration in The Netherlands, but mostly policy planners based their work on statistical material. When policy planners or social scientists needed a theoretical framework, they turned to American theories about immigration.

  • 3 Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Ita (...)
  • 4 Martiniello and Rath, Introduction, 15.

7Martiniello and Rath raised the question if the adaption of American concepts was such a positive development, since these ideas were developed in a specific cultural context. One of the examples Martiniello and Rath used to illustrate how some theoretical concepts could be mangled in translation is the term “ethnicity.” They pointed to Nathan Glazer and Daniel Moynihan’s 1963 study Beyond the Melting Pot. Based on their research in New York City, Glazer and Moynihan found that various ethnic groups would shed their original ethnicity when they lived in the United States, and create a new ethnicity, based on their traditional culture and the new American culture in which they lived. As Glazer and Moynihan wrote: “Italian-Americans might share precious little with Italians in Italy, but in America they were a distinctive group that maintained itself, was identifiable, and gave something to those who were identified with it, just as it also gave burdens that those in the group had to bear.”3 Since the publication of Glazer and Moynihan’s work, the term ethnicity was used in relation to immigrant groups that could contain several identities: their culture could have elements from the home country, from American culture, and new elements created in the United States. Overall, they could still be considered American. In Martiniello and Rath’s reading, for Europeans, who often saw immigrants as a temporary migrant labor force, such bringing together of ethnic and national identities was inconceivable. In the European context, a different ethnicity implied a threat to the national culture of the host country­.4

8Martiniello and Rath raised two important points. First, in 2010, they were still convinced of American dominance in the theories and concepts used in European immigration studies. Second, while there is a considerable reservoir of negative images of immigration both in the United States and in Europe, there is hardly a European equivalent to the American optimistic view on immigration in the United States (with ideas such as the classic “melting pot,” President John F. Kennedy’s book A Nation of Immigrants, praising the contributions of all immigrants groups to American society and culture, or the more recent ideas about the advantages of multiculturalism). As I will show in my analysis, Dutch policy planners and makers think in terms of integration or assimilation, but not in terms of the contributions immigrants and their culture can make to Dutch society. Such an attitude by the Dutch government has actually made it harder for immigrants to adapt to the host culture.

2. The Definition of Minorities

  • 5  Nota Minderhedenbeleid, Handelingen Tweede Kamer, 16102, no. 21, 1982-1983 sess., (September 15, 1 (...)
  • 6  Antilleans, Moluccans, and Surinamese are people from (former) Dutch colonies. The Dutch Antilles (...)

9The 1983 equality-oriented Minorities Policy focused on “1) social and economic deficits, 2) legal status and discrimination, and 3) the limited participation and upsetting isolation in society” of minorities. The bill mentioned specific attention to education, housing, employment, and legal status as policy goals.5 The Minorities Policy defined the following groups as minorities “Antilleans, foreign employees, Moluccans, Surinamese, refugees, people in trailer camps, and gypsies.”6 Interestingly, the government did not include the largest immigrant groups: German, Indonesian, Turkish, and Moroccan immigrants. It is unclear why they made such a distinction, but the Minorities Policy may have listed only the groups they found most problematic.

2.1. Who is a Minority Member?

10Since there was only a limited amount of statistical data available in the 1980s, government officials made a selection of the groups and topics they would research. Initially, they would focus on the “Mediterranean groups” (i.e. Turks and Moroccans), Surinamese, and Antilleans, leaving out refugees, trailer park people, and other foreigners mentioned in the Minorities Policy. They studied access to “public goods” such as education, employment, income, and housing.

  • 7 Minderhedenbeleid 1992, Handelingen Tweede Kamer, 22314, no. 11, 1991-1992 sess., (July 2, 1992), 1 (...)

11The new Minorities Policy led to changes in the registration of immigrants. It included Surinamese and Antilleans as minority groups, yet since most of them had the Dutch nationality, their numbers did not show up in the statistics. Only in 1992 did the Dutch government switch to a definition of ethnic minority that considered an individual’s place of birth, as well as that of their parents, decisive, so that Surinamese and Antillean people would be included in the statistics. Meanwhile the government explicitly stated they wanted to support socially disadvantaged minority groups rather than condemn or stigmatize them.7

  • 8 J. A. A. de Beer, "Hoeveel Allochtonen Zijn Er in Nederland?" in Allochtonen in Nederland 1996, eds (...)

12The redefinition of ethnic minorities had important consequences. One result was that the overall size of ethnic minorities increased. Not only were Surinamese-Dutch and Antilleans included in the new statistics, but second-generation “immigrants” as well. According to a 1996 government report, if only first-generation immigrants were counted, there were 166,000 Turks, 140,000 Moroccans, and 181,000 Surinamese in the Netherlands on January 1, 1995. If the second-generation was included as well, the numbers increased to 264,000 Turkish-Dutch, 219,000 Moroccan-Dutch, and 278,000 Surinamese-Dutch citizens. The new definition of minorities led to an increase in the overall number of ethnic minorities from 1,387,000 to 2,572,000 persons (the total population of the Netherlands was 15.4 million at that time, which meant that ethnic minorities accounted for 16% of the Dutch population compared to earlier estimates of 9%).8 In spite of the intention of the government to solve social problems and not to stigmatize people, for politicians who wanted to discuss immigration and ethnic minorities in terms of problems, the size of the ethnic minorities (and the problems they might have in Dutch society, or Dutch society might have with them) almost doubled, only because of the statistics used.

  • 9  Han Nicolaas and Arnoud Sprangers, "Migranten, Vreemdelingen En Vluchtelingen: Begrippen Op Het Te (...)
  • 10  

13The new definition of ethnic minorities led to confusion in the governmental departments. Officials debated whether an individual belonged to an ethnic minority when he or she and one of his or her parents were born abroad, or when just one of his or her parents was born abroad. In 1999, the Ministry of the Interior and the Central Bureau for Statistics drew up a new definition of ethnic minorities, which was to be used by the Dutch government. In the new definition, a person belonged to an ethnic minority if one of his or her parents were born abroad.9 According to the new definition, there were 2.7 million ethnic minority members (nearly 17 % of the overall population) in the Netherlands on January 1, 1999.10

14The new government policy no longer spoke of ethnic minorities, but of “allochtoon” to refer to a person with at least one parent born abroad and “autochtoon” for Dutch people. The terms entered the public debate, and over time especially the term “allochtoon” acquired negative connotations, indicating a failure to assimilate.11

15The terms autochtoon and allochtoon were not in line with the legal position of Dutch citizens and immigrants. According to Dutch law, a person has Dutch citizenship if one of his or her parents is a Dutch citizen.12 Whereas the Dutch statistics count an individual as an “allochtoon” in case one parent is a foreigner, Dutch law considers an individual to be a Dutch citizen if the other parent is Dutch. Consequently, government statistics compute more “allochtonen” than would register under the legal definition of a Dutch citizen.

Table 1. Allochtonen in the Netherlands in 2013

Immigrants by Nationality

Numbers (absolute) in 2013

Total Population


Total Western






United States




Total Non-Western








Dutch Antilles




Source: Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek.13

  • 14  Nicolaas and Sprangers, “Migranten, Vreemdelingen En Vluchtelingen: Begrippen Op Het Terrein Van A (...)
  • 15  Keij, “Standaarddefinitie Allochtonen,” 2.

16When the Ministry of the Interior and the Central Bureau for Statistics drew up their new definition of allochtoon, they also created two new subcategories: Western and non-Western allochtonen.14 The reason for this subdivision was “the different socio-economic and cultural position of Western and non-Western allochtonen.” If a group was close to the Dutch population socio-economically or culturally, it was considered to be “Western,” and if not, then the group was “non-Western.”15 According to this definition, “Western” and “non-Western’ were not so much geographic indications, but economic and cultural concepts. It was not clear how economic, social or cultural proximity to the Dutch society was defined, and whether an ethnic group could move from a “non-Western” to a “Western” status, or the other way around. This approach led to peculiar definitions of ethnic groups in Dutch society, especially if one took the geographical indication seriously. Indonesians (born in the colonial Dutch East Indies before Indonesia became independent in 1949) and the Japanese (“employees of large Japanese firms, living in the Netherlands with their families”) were placed in the Western immigrants category.16 The non-Western immigrant group included the Chinese, Moroccans, Turks, Surinamese, and Dutch Antilleans (the last two groups originate in (former) colonies of the Netherlands, just like Indonesia). By these definitions, the Western and non-Western immigrants were about equal in size in 2013 (there is an almost 390,000 person difference, see table 1). Yet by putting the wealthy Japanese immigrants and assimilated Indonesians in the Western category, the government emphasized integration as a distinctive feature of the “Western” groups.

2.2. Statistics on Unemployment, Education, and Housing

17In 1987, the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) published the first statistical overview on ethnic minorities, which began a series of yearly reports, either written by the CBS or the Social and Cultural Planning Bureau (SCP). These reports offered a great deal of information. Ranging from 150 to over 500 pages, they contained statistics and research methods. Gleaning data on a regular basis, researchers tried to establish trends, but they could hardly do so, given the fact that the data available before 2000 was scarce. Since we have the advantage of hindsight, I will offer an overview of the key statistics. Having already analyzed the statistics pertaining to the size of the ethnic minority population, I will now focus on the statistics on the job market, education, and housing. Minority policies were a political issue. Therefore, specific details within a particular category would change over time, and new types of data would be collected to answer new questions. If sometimes the research became more detailed, it offered new insights as well. Overall, though, the major trends are clear.

2.2.1. Labor Statistics and Immigrants

18As regards to labor statistics, two kinds of data were emphasized. The first statistics concerned the rate of unemployment. It was always higher among ethnic minorities than among the Dutch. Yet, a positive development took place around the year 2000, when the unemployment rate among Turkish and Moroccan men dropped from above 30% to around 10%. This was due to a surge in prosperity in the Dutch economy. Although after 2000 unemployment numbers remained higher among ethnic minorities than among the Dutch, the gap was not as dramatic as in the early 1990s. This positive development could be interpreted as a sign of integration of Turks and Moroccans into Dutch society.

19The second kind of statistical data accounted for the factor of gender in access to the labor market. Women as a gender group scored overall lower in the category than men. In 1971, only 30% of women were part of the labor force, a number that increased to over 50% since 2000. In the 1970s and 1980s Turkish women had a higher labor market participation than Dutch women, but since 1990 the former scored substantially lower than the latter. Moroccan women always scored a great deal lower and Antillean women slightly lower than Dutch women. Surinamese women scored at the same level as Dutch women. After 2000, the participation rate of women in the workforce was used to show how modern or integrated certain ethnic groups were in Dutch society. Surinamese women were seen as very emancipated, since they had about the same participation in the labor market as Dutch women.

Table 2. Unemployment by ethnic group








Total population


































Total population

































Source: Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek.17

2.2.2. Education and immigrants

  • 18  Ibid., 70.
  • 19  For the translation and explanation of Dutch educational terms, see Nuffic Glossary, at http://nuf (...)

20Politicians and government officials saw education as an important integrating factor. This refers both to teaching immigrants the Dutch language and introducing them, especially the second-generation immigrants, to Dutch culture.18 Over the years, the reports focused on two statistics: what kind of education students followed after elementary school and the overall education level of Dutch society. The statistics divided education into vocational training and advanced secondary education, the latter including university preparatory education.19 Among the Dutch students there is close to a 50/50 split, while among Surinamese and Antillean students around 70% have vocational training and 30% advanced secondary education. Among Turkish and Moroccan students this split was respectively 80% and 20%. Over the years, participation of all ethnic groups in advanced secondary and university preparatory education increased steadily.

  • 20 Vliet, Ooijevaar and Bie, Jaarrapport Integratie 2012, 70.

21Another important education statistic is the educational level attained by people in the labor force. In 1983, the majority of the Turkish and Moroccan immigrants had only an elementary education at best. Within twenty years, these numbers dropped from 66% and 73% to 27% and 26% respectively. This meant that almost 3 out of 4 children of Turkish and Moroccan immigrants finished secondary education. It is true that in 2000 only 10% of them finished higher vocational education or had a university degree, but even that development is impressive, compared to a mere 1% seventeen years earlier. A 2012 report, which for the first time presented a comprehensive view on ethnic minorities and education, concluded that problems and eventually lower levels of education for certain minority groups were probably more closely related to the educational level of the parents than to the pupils’ and students’ culture of origin.20

22 The overall number of Dutch with higher vocational education or university education has increased over the last thirty years as well, from 12 to 27%. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to analyze the factors leading to the success of Dutch public education, over the last thirty years the Dutch school system, at all levels, has been very successful in getting more students to higher levels of education.

2.2.3. Housing

23The category of housing is very complicated, because different reports studied different aspects of this topic. The basic question was whether ethnic minorities lived, on average, in worse housing conditions than the Dutch. The Minorities Policy asked for the following information: how many people lived on their own or shared a house, how many people shared a room, how many people lived in houses with only a little luxury, how many people lived in houses built after World War II, and how many owned or rented their house. Answers to some questions, like the one concerning house ownership or rental, were predictable since most ethnic minorities rented their house. Other questions, for instance the one about the luxury of the house, were hard to answer or to quantify. Many did not know when the house they lived in was built. This question was relevant, because, for instance, many pre-World War II houses had no bathtub, shower, or central heating. During the 1970s, many housing associations had begun to build mostly showers in the older houses. Maybe because the questions about housing did not deliver clear answers and because not only the government but also institutions like the housing associations played an important role in housing, starting from 1992, housing was not included in the statistical reports anymore.

3. Immigrants: A National Integration Issue or a Big City Problem?

  • 21 Ibid., 24.

24It was in 1988 that the statistical reports mentioned for the first time that the largest ethnic minority groups lived in the four biggest cities. Of the Surinamese 56% lived in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague or Utrecht, and the same was true for 48% of the Moroccans, 36% of the Turks, and 30% of the Antilleans. Of the total Dutch population, only 11% lived in these four major cities.21 These statistics suggested that immigration problems basically were social and economic problems, limited to an urban setting. Instead of social problems, statisticians discussed immigration and the concomitant problems mainly in terms of culture. In 1989, the authors of the SCP report began to pay attention to minorities and Dutch culture. This interest in ethnic culture within Dutch society would later develop into the question whether and to what extent immigrants could or would integrate.

3.1. Robert Park and the Social Decline of Dutch Cities

  • 22 P. M. T. Tesser et al., Rapportage Minderheden 1995 (Den Haag: Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, 199 (...)

25The 1995 SCP report returned its focus to the ethnic minorities’ spatial settlement patterns in the Netherlands. Negative reporting in the media by then had created a public image of ethnic minorities as living close together in specific neighborhoods in the four major Dutch cities, which were characterized by “social decline, corruption, and crime.” The SCP believed that this public image was not based on reliable data, which they wanted to provide.22

  • 23 See Robert Ezra Park, Ernest Watson Burgess and Roderick Duncan MacKenzie, The City (Chicago, Ill.: (...)
  • 24 Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underc (...)
  • 25 Tesser et al., Rapportage Minderheden 1995, 15, 426.

26The authors of the report referred to American theories about ghettos and how a concentration of the poor increased poverty. They pointed out that the debate about immigration and settlement was not limited to the United States, but played out in the Netherlands as well. Their partial understanding (or reading) of the American sociological studies led not so much to a better insight into the problem of urban immigrants, but only slightly nuanced the negative media portrayal, without challenging the theoretical assumptions underpinning the media-generated image. Following the American example, the Dutch government believed that the immigrant problems in the Netherlands had to be addressed (in the way policy planners already proposed); otherwise, the social problems might get worse. The report made repeated references to, on the one hand, Robert Park and the 1920s Chicago School of Sociology (with their model of migrants moving from poor neighborhoods to middle class neighborhoods, while assimilating into society);23 on the other hand, to Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton’s 1993 book American Apartheid, which claimed that specifically African Americans migrants from the South lived confined to the racial ghettos of Northern cities, permanently segregated, unemployed, and poor.24 The Dutch authors noted that in the Netherlands there were no ghettos in the American sense; each ethnic minority knew poverty, unemployment, and crime, but they did not live segregated by ethnicity.25

27The authors of the SCP report displayed a rather selective reading of Robert Park, Douglas Massey, and Nancy Denton. They took some basic ideas from these American authors, but missed out on some of the nuances of their scholarship that could have created more insight into the Dutch situation. Park was convinced that the second-generation of an ethnic group adapted to American life. He also posited the idea that diverse communities in big cities contributed to the happiness of individuals and would offer geniuses and adventurers the opportunity to play a significant role in society. As Park wrote:  

the segregation of the urban population tends to facilitate the mobility of the individual man. The processes of segregation establish moral distances which make the city a mosaic of little worlds which touch but do not interpenetrate. This makes it possible for individuals to pass quickly and easily from one moral milieu to another, and encourages the fascinating but dangerous experiment of living at the same time in several different contiguous, but otherwise widely separated, worlds. … The attraction of the metropolis is due in part … to the fact that in the long run every individual finds somewhere among the varied manifestations of city life the sort of environment in which he expands and feels at ease; finds, in short, the moral climate in which his peculiar nature obtains the stimulations that bring his innate dispositions to full and free expression. … In a small community it is the normal man, the man without eccentricity or genius, who seems most likely to succeed. The small community often tolerates eccentricity. The city, on the contrary, rewards it.26

28Park had a more dynamic view of city and immigrant life and of the life of the “natives” than the Dutch statisticians. He also looked at the city from the perspective of individuals, while the statisticians were, naturally, expected to think in terms of groups, rather than individuals. The Minorities Policy also asked statisticians to think in terms of accessibility and equality, which tended to create a mode of thinking which rewarded the ethnic minorities’ conformity to the Dutch culture. Park, with his attention to the relationship between individuals and ethnic groups, was able to see the advantages of cultural diversity, an option never considered by the Dutch government officials.

  • 27  See Park Dixon Goist, “City and ‘Community’: The Urban Theory of Robert Park,” American Quarterly (...)
  • 28  See Wolfgang Vortkamp, “Partizipation und Gemeinschaft: Louis Wirths Soziologie der Moderne in der (...)

29The statisticians were right in stating that Park thought in terms of assimilation, although they did not seem to be familiar with the remainder of his work. Their lack of understanding the context and critique of Park’s ideas showed that they were not really interested in the (American) debates on cities and immigrants; rather, they used Park to support their own ideas. Consequently, they overlooked different perspectives and helpful insights in the debate about immigrant culture, city life, and government policies. Park based his ideas on Social Darwinism, taking social conflict as the central assumption underlying his scholarship. He believed that it was not government interference but natural selection that would lead to the assimilation of ethnic minorities. He had little interest in the study of social inequality.27 To mention just one example, Louis Wirth, one of Park’s prominent students, had a different approach to the study of urban immigrants. He believed in a heterogeneous, culturally pluralistic society. According to Wirth, social planning was important— because it was bad government policies and lack of corporate responsibility, rather than the urban residents themselves that caused high crime rates and poor health in cities.28 Where Park’s ideas seemed identical to those of Dutch policy planners, his concepts based on natural selection were very different from the considerations of Dutch government officials and politicians. Wirth’s ideas were all about government planning, just as in the Dutch situation, but he believed in a culturally pluralistic society, and was far from blaming the ethnic minorities for social problems. Dutch politicians and policy planners did not even contemplate such concepts.

  • 29 Massey and Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass, 2. See also pa (...)

30As in the case of Park, the SCP report authors also missed a key part of Massey and Denton’s argument. They used American Apartheid to show that the living conditions of ethnic minorities in the Netherlands were not as bad as in the United States. The gist of Massey and Denton’s argument was that the African American ghettos were created by the Caucasian majority: “This extreme racial isolation did not just happen: it was manufactured by whites through a series of self-conscious actions and purposeful institutional arrangements that continue today.”29 Even though African Americans and Caucasians had lived in the same neighborhoods in nineteenth-century cities, when industrialization led to the migration of African Americans from the countryside to the cities, they ended up in segregated neighborhoods. Caucasians controlled the housing market, and it was their racism that created segregation. This argument could also be relevant for the Dutch situation, because it emphasized not so much the role of the ethnic minority, but the attitude of the majority toward the minority. In the Dutch statistical research on accessibility and equality for ethnic minorities occasional attention was paid to discrimination and the attitudes of the Dutch majority toward ethnic minorities. Overall, though, the research was about whether and how ethnic minorities in the Netherlands were assimilating into the lifestyle of the Dutch. If Massey and Denton’s argument about the importance of acceptance of minorities by the majority was valid, then the research in the Netherlands on the practices of ethnic minorities and their efforts to integrate was largely irrelevant.   

  • 30  Ibid., 4-7.
  • 31 Ibid., 413-420.

31When the SCP report authors studied life in ethnic neighborhoods in the Netherlands, they focused, as did Massey and Denton, on one-parent families, crime, and segregation (in addition to the standard topics of education, health, and unemployment.30 Overall, the Turkish and Moroccan communities were more segregated than those of the Surinamese and Antilleans. Detailed research in Amsterdam showed that all neighborhoods were ethnically mixed, which meant that the Dutch and ethnic minorities lived together. Nationally, only in 5.3% of the postal code areas more than 70% of the population was of one specific, non-Dutch ethnic group. The authors believed that the geographic dispersal of ethnic minorities at the micro-level was a consequence of the municipal housing policies, which in its turn was due to a housing shortage (in the bigger Dutch cities, municipalities have policies to allocate housing to all citizens, both ethnic Dutch and immigrants).31 Also, the availability of housing for ethnic minorities in certain urban neighborhoods was a consequence of the suburbanization of the ethnic Dutch that was taking place since the end of the 1960s.

  • 32  Ibid., 442-443.
  • 33  I could not locate any statistics specifically on working Surinamese single mothers. According to (...)
  • 34  Although the policy planners did not refer to American studies on the links between poverty and on (...)

32According to the SCP authors, one-parent families in American ghettos were associated with poverty, lack of supervision, and bad education. Since there were hardly any one-parent families among the Turks and Moroccans, the SCP research focused on the Surinamese, Antillean, and Dutch families. As regards the Surinamese and Antilleans, half of the families were one-parent families, but in poor neighborhoods, the proportions were higher: two thirds of the Antilleans and three quarters of the Surinamese families were one-parent families. For about three quarters of the one-parent families, the head of the family was unemployed. If they had a job, they earned less than a two-parent family with one income. Members of Dutch one-parent families had more to spend individually than members of Surinamese and Antillean two-parent families – that might have been caused, in part, by the number of children per family, which was higher among Surinamese and Antillean families. Compared to the American context, the situation of Surinamese and Antillean one-parent families was much better, even though the latter were in a disadvantageous position in the Dutch society, stated the SCP report.32 In other reports, discussed above, Surinamese women were praised for their participation in the labor market on a level equal to Dutch women. Almost half of the Surinamese one-parent families were working women.33 So in some SCP reports, the Surinamese women were seen as progressive because they had a job, and in other SCP reports they were condemned for being a single parent, which was linked to poverty and the bad education of their children.34

  • 35 Tesser et al., Rapportage Minderheden 1995, 453-466.

33The SCP report saw education as a means to counterbalance the lack of education of the first-generation immigrants and the disadvantageous situation in poor neighborhoods. White flight did not only mean that Dutch families moved to suburbia, but also that these parents, especially if they had higher education, did not want their children to go to so-called “black schools,” that is, schools attended by minority children. The Dutch parents believed that the educational level of these schools was below standard. The SCP report did see differences in test results between school children from poor neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods, which they called confusingly “weak, but significant.” While they concluded that “white flight” resulted in, on average, poorer school performance in poor neighborhoods, they also pointed to schools in poor neighborhoods that did well, and to schools in richer neighborhoods that did not so well. Those findings made it hard to support the Dutch parents’ tendency to self-segregate by moving their children to “white schools.”35

  • 36 The authors did not refer to their reading of Robert Park, who had noted, somewhat ironically, that (...)
  • 37  Tesser et al., Rapportage Minderheden 1995, 466-472.

34Finally, the SCP report discussed crime. Referring once again to American studies, they saw crime as a possible reason why poor neighborhoods turned into ghettos.36 Although they stated that statistics and research concerning crime and population groups was limited, they also felt confident to conclude that a number of ethnic groups were overrepresented in crime, and that specific age groups scored above average as well. The researchers mentioned that they could not establish whether the crime rate increased because of the ethnicity of the criminals, or because of the low incomes of criminals (i.e. whether living in poverty led one to commit crimes, or whether criminality was more determined by ethnicity). Whereas age and gender were the likely determinants of crime, the researchers could not verify the relationship between crime and the place of residence. But the sense of insecurity and fear of crime were higher in poor neighborhoods than in other neighborhoods, leading to a tendency for all ethnicities to leave the neighborhood as soon as possible. Given the overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in these neighborhoods, and a relatively high presence of younger members of certain groups in crime, the researchers found this flight from the neighborhoods understandable.37

35The SCP researchers concluded their report by discussing possible government policies for dealing with the problems related to poor neighborhoods with a high concentration of ethnic minorities. One policy would be to counter the concentration of ethnic minorities by moving them to other neighborhoods. A possible policy was busing. Yet no such policies were implemented at the national level. Some cities, mostly smaller ones, did try to prevent high concentrations of ethnic groups, both in education and in housing. Another policy was the so-called “compensation policy,” which set out to counter the negative effects of living in poor neighborhoods. Such policies were not necessarily aimed at ethnic minorities, but were more general programs concerning crime prevention, the creation of jobs, and the emphasis on the idea of community in poor neighborhoods. Most of these policies were also executed at the level of city governance.

3.2. Alejandro Portes and Lack of Integration

  • 38 Brief Van De Minister Voor Grote Steden En Integratiebeleid, Handelingen Tweede Kamer, 26333, 1998- (...)

36In 2002, the government decided that in odd years it would bring out a report on the results of its minority policies. In even years they would publish “Integration Monitors,” which would focus on the actual position of the minorities in society. The SCP would write the report on the results of the policies. The SCP selected the Institute of Sociological-Economic Research (Instituut voor Sociologisch-Economisch Onderzoek; ISEO) of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam to write the Integration Monitor, which was to cover statistics on “demographics, education, language, integration [‘inburgering’], income, health, social contacts, housing, concentration/segregation, racism, images, crime, and remigration.”38

37The introduction of the Integration Monitor established new ways in which policy planners and politicians discussed ethnic minorities. Originally, the focus of the debate was creating successful policies to minimize and preferably erase the disadvantageous position of minorities in Dutch society. The statistics presented in the traditional fields of education and (un)employment showed a positive trend among ethnic minorities since 2000. The politicians who asked for more information, a request that led to the Monitor, wanted to check if the government policies for minorities were effective. They ended up with a new type of report that showed more categories in which Dutch people and immigrants were different. It is debatable whether these new categories were always relevant. The authors of the Monitor implied that a uniform population would form an ideal society; they did not consider whether diversity would offer any advantages, and they ignored the various lifestyles and social ideals among the Dutch.

  • 39  T. Ankersmit, Th. Roelandt, and J. Veenman, Minderheden in Beeld: Sociologisch-Economische Positie (...)

38Statisticians had already been looking at cultural aspects of immigrants and integration in earlier years. In 1989, the Ministry of the Interior had asked the ISEO to investigate the “social position” of “allochtonen” and the use of social benefits by them. ISEO set up a research project titled Social Position and Facilities Used by Allochtonen and Autochtonen (Sociale Positie en Voorzieningengebruik Allochtonen en Autochtonen; SPVA), based on an extensive public opinion poll. Originally, the questions were mainly aimed at establishing whether ethnic minorities were actually in touch with the ethnic Dutch. For instance, members of ethnic minorities were asked which ethnic groups they met most often at work (overall 68.5% had contacts within their own ethnic group, and 50.9% with Dutch people) and in their spare time (69% within their own ethnic group, and 18.4% with Dutch people). In 1989, the ISEO researchers concluded that 9.2% of ethnic minorities did not interact with Dutch society, 13.9% slightly, while 22.9% strongly identified with the Dutch, and 6.8% very strongly.39

  • 40 E. Martens and Y. Weijers, Integratiemonitor 2000 (Rotterdam: Instituut voor Sociologisch-Economisc (...)

39The 2000 report took a more negative approach to integration than its predecessor in 1989. While the focus of the 1989 report was on the extent that immigrants tried to be part of Dutch society, the 2000 report emphasized the lack of social interaction of immigrant groups with Dutch society. As regards informal participation, the Surinamese and Antilleans socialized more with ethnic Dutch than the other minorities did. Especially the refugee groups did not socialize with the Dutch, most notably the Somalians (74% of whom were only in touch with members of their own ethnic group). Among the Turks 50% socialized exclusively within their own ethnic group, while that was true for 40% of the Moroccans, 22% of the Surinamese, and 13% of the Antilleans. About half of the Dutch population said they had friends from one of the four traditional major immigrant groups (50% socialized exclusively within their own ethnic group). Apparently as the highest form of socialization, the researchers regarded inter-ethnic marriages. Among the Surinamese 36% of the marriages were with a Dutch person, among Turks 11%, and among Moroccans 10%. What inter-ethnic divorce did to socialization and integration was not mentioned in the report.40

  • 41 Edwin Martens and Instituut voor Sociologisch-Economisch Onderzoek, Minderheden in Beeld: SPVA-98 ( (...)

40The statistics for the 2000 Integration Monitor were based on the 1998 SPVA research, both written by Edwin Martens. He had explained in the 1998 report that education, labor, income, and housing described the social-economic position of the ethnic minorities, but he suggested that this information was incomplete. Social integration could only be measured if informal participation (i.e. contacts between ethnic minorities and the ethnic Dutch) and cultural (or normative) integration was included.41

41Martens wanted to see more cultural or normative integration. In his reading, this type of integration was identical to the idea of modernization, which he defined as follows:

The term modernization usually refers to the process in which an agrarian society transforms into an industrial or even post-industrial society. It is a process of increasing social differentiation, driven by science and technology. We are interested in the consequences of modernization at the cultural level, such as increasing rationalization and individualization. These can be considered as dimensions of rational thinking. On five of these dimensions we have collected information in the SPVA to see to what extent ethnic minorities had made progress to adjust.42

  • 43 The cities and towns were: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Enschede, Almere, A (...)
  • 44 Ibid., 1-2.

42Martens’ view on immigrants was condescending. He saw ethnic minorities as less modern and less rational than the ethnic Dutch. If Martens was serious about the difference between an agrarian and a post-industrial society, it is interesting to note that the SPVA research was executed in the four biggest cities and nine other big cities and towns in the Netherlands.43 The research among the Dutch was conducted in the same cities. Martens stated explicitly: “the data collected about the Dutch cannot be generalized to all Dutch people, because they are primarily intended for comparison with the ethnic minorities in the selected cities.”44 So, Martens consciously compared, in the context of modernization, people he associated with an agrarian society to Dutch city people. If his theory were right, it would automatically lead to a substantial difference between Dutch people and ethnic minorities. It would also mean that by only looking at Dutch city people, and excluding the Dutch in smaller towns and in the countryside, the Dutch would seem more modern than they were in general. Martens’ assumptions and approach should have raised serious doubts on the validity of his research results. Moreover, his statistics emphasized the backwardness and lack of integration of ethnic minorities.

  • 45 Martens and Weijers, Integratiemonitor 2000, 105.

43The Integration Monitor of 2000 used the five dimensions of modernization from the SPVA of 1998. Those five dimensions were: 1) emancipation of women; 2) individualization; 3) secularization; 4) democratization and respect for authority; and 5) general modern ideas.45 Based on their answers in opinion polls, all ethnic groups were divided into five categories of modernization, ranging from “very few” moderns to “very strong” modern.” The majority of Turks and Moroccans were in the “hardly modern” and “moderate modern” categories. Most Surinamese and Antilleans belonged to the “moderate modern” and “less strong modern” categories. Finally, the ethnic Dutch were in the “less strong modern” and “strong modern” categories.

  • 46 Ibid., 106, 126.

44Based on these numbers, the authors of the report concluded that the major ethnic groups, especially Turks and Moroccans, were not as “modern” as the Dutch. The authors noted that all of these groups were diverse in their response to modernity in themselves. They also concluded that the Dutch people as a group “cannot be considered to be ‘integrated.’ . . . With them, too, a part of the population is less modern, even if it is less so than among the other ethnic groups.”46

45The researchers went into even more details on how different groups within the ethnic categories looked at modernization. They ranked the various subcategories on a scale of 1 to 7 (with 7 representing “very strong” modern). According to these statistics, among Turks and Moroccans, women are more modern than men, while the opposite is true among the Surinamese, Antilleans, and Dutch. Apparently Turkish and Moroccan women had more progressive ideas about the emancipation of women, individualization, secularization, and respect for authorities than Turkish and Moroccan men had. All Turkish and Moroccan immigrants scored significantly lower than the Surinamese, Antilleans, and Dutch. The second-generation of all immigrant groups scored higher on the modernization scale than the first-generation, which could be an indication that these immigrant groups were integrating. Second-generation Antilleans were even more modern than the average Dutch person. Within all groups, younger people were more modern than older people. The “over 65 years” among the Dutch scored lower than eight age groups among the Antilleans and Surinamese.

Table 3. Median scores on the variable “modernization,” according to ethnicity, gender, generation, and age, on a scale from 1 to 7.
























1st generation






2nd generation






Age 15-19






Age 20-24






Age 25-29






Age 30-34






Age 35-44






Age 45-54






Age 55-64






Age over 65






Source: E.P. Martens & Y.M.R. Weijers, Integration Monitor 2000, 153.

46The conclusion that there are diverging opinions among the Dutch population about norms, values, and lifestyles did not lead the authors to question whether their standards of modern or not modern were too absolute, even for the Dutch. Their judgment that ethnic groups were not modern, and therefore not integrated, led to a negative assessment of these groups, while it was debatable whether the standards of modernization should have been so strict. This was yet another example in which government officials depicted ethnic minorities as different from the ethnic Dutch, with a focus on culture (while ignoring social and economic issues).

  • 47 Ibid., 118.

47Politics was the final dimension of integration considered by the authors. They found in their opinion poll that a limited number of members of any ethnic group seemed interested in Dutch political issues, or in being a politician. A striking deviation from this pattern was that in the city councils of Amsterdam, Deventer, and Helmond the share of ethnic minority council members was in proportion to the overall share of the ethnic groups in the local population.47

  • 48 Ibid., 96.

48The authors of the 2002 report introduced new socio-cultural integration statistics. They had gathered opinion polls in which Dutch citizens expressed their ideas about immigrants. In the period 1986 to 2000, between 29% (in 1986) and 44% (in 2000) of the Dutch believed that immigrants contributed positively to society, because they brought them in touch with others cultures. Around 75% of the Dutch found it a moral duty to welcome refugees. Yet a substantial part of the Dutch felt that immigrants should return to their country of origin after retirement (31% in 1986 and 21% in 2000), while at least half of the Dutch wanted immigrants who had received social security benefits for over a year to return to their country of origin as well (56% in 1994 and 50% in 2000). The majority of the Dutch wanted city councils to prevent immigrants from moving into their neighborhoods (83% in 1994 and 84% in 2000). Another new insight was offered by answers to the question how often Dutch people interacted with immigrants. 12% of the Dutch said they met on a daily basis with Turkish people, 11% with Moroccans, 12% with Surinamese, and 8% with Antilleans. More striking was the finding that 46% of the Dutch had never met a Turkish immigrant, 55% a Moroccan, 47% a Surinamese, and 65% an Antillean. The same statistical data could be read in another way. The ISEO authors wished to emphasize the overall averages, which stated that 80% of the Dutch met with foreigners, and 25% of the Dutch did so on a daily basis.48

  • 49  Ibid., 152.

49The 2002 Integration Monitor concluded with two scenarios. The first scenario, which the authors thought most likely, was that ethnic minorities would continue to do better in education and employment, which would lead to expansion of the middle class among ethnic minorities. The middle class would leave the poor neighborhoods, settle mainly in Dutch suburbia, and their contacts with Dutch people would increase. The second scenario assumed that ethnic minorities would continue to trail behind, which would lead to a permanent immigrant underclass, and a society without cohesion or solidarity.49 Although Park, Massey, and Denton were not mentioned, the report repeated the scenarios discussed in the 1995 SCP report.

  • 50 Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou, “Should Immigrants Assimilate?” The Public Interest 116 (Summer 1994 (...)

50The authors of the 2003 SCP report expressed an increasing doubt that integration would happen over time. The assumption that second- and third-generation immigrants would become an integral part of society, and that the distance between Dutch people and immigrants would disappear, became debatable. They referred to the article “Should Immigrants Assimilate?” by Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou, which stated that the optimistic integration model was based on North- and Western-European immigrants in the United States, but was less applicable to new ethnic immigrant groups.50 Incidents in Dutch public life such as increasing conflicts in Dutch society after 9/11, the popularity of Muslim fundamentalist Abu Jahjah among second-generation Moroccan youth, and the rowdy behavior of “allochtone” youth during the national remembrance of the World War II deaths on May 4, 2003, led SCP authors to ask whether these incidents might be indications that segregation rather than integration was taking place.

  • 51 Ibid., 21.

51The article by American social scientists Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou, though, was not about integration, but about assimilation, as the authors state in the title of the article. The SCP researchers did not even consider the differences between the concepts of integration and assimilation (neither in the research by Portes and Zhou, nor in their own thinking about the Dutch situation). Yet on the basis of the Portes and Zhou essay, which studied recent Haitian immigrants in the United States, the SCP researchers claimed that integration of Turkish, Moroccan, Surinamese, and Antillean immigrants in the Netherlands might not take place. Part of Portes and Zhou’s argument was that Haitian youth assimilated into inner city life rather than mainstream culture, which led to the disappearance of solidarity and mutual support in the Haitian immigrant community.51 Terms like mainstream versus inner city culture, and the importance of solidarity and mutual support in the immigrant community were concepts not used in the Dutch debate about ethnic minorities, neither in the government reports, nor in the public debate.

Conclusion: Diversity among Minorities, Consistency of Discourse

52Since 2009, the Ministry of the Interior has added new categories of ethnic minorities to the studies. Since the number of refugees had increased substantially, they needed to be included in the minority studies. The government policy planners studied refugees from Iran, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Later on, immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, like Poles, Bulgarians, and people from former Yugoslavia, were included in the statistics. Overall, these new groups are studied in the same way as the government officials studied earlier immigrant groups. On average, Iranians were doing well in education, the job market, and housing. Somalians were more likely to follow the patterns of Moroccans and Turks and in some cases scored lower.

53Events like 9/11 and the 2004 murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch Moroccan extremist Muslim led to concern in the reports about a widening gap between the Dutch population and ethnic minorities, specifically Muslims. Since 2008, immigrants (even if they have already lived in the Netherlands for many years) have had to take a citizen exam to prove that they have mastered the Dutch language and Dutch social customs. It was not clear to what extent this citizen exam contributed to the integration of ethnic minorities.

54In some statistical categories, the position of ethnic minorities did improve over the years, but in other cases it declined. The second generation did well in getting a higher education. According to the 2012 report, among all ethnic groups unemployment remained significantly higher (around 12%) than among the Dutch (at 4%). Housing also continued to be a problematic category. The majority of the ethnic minorities continued to live in the four biggest cities in the Netherlands. Political refugees who were originally located at various places around the country within a few years moved to the four big cities as well. This concentration of ethnic minorities in major cities was mostly a consequence of the behavior of these groups, the researchers explained. Immigrants often thought it would be easier to get a job in a big city, and they preferred to live close to their compatriots.

55Recently, researchers moved away from the idea of segregation, and pointed to the fact that most of the groups identified more with the city neighborhood they lived in than with the Netherlands. This type of very local integration was deemed to be positive. The researchers also pointed out that immigrants often moved from one neighborhood to another and saw this mobility as an indication of social and economic improvement. They did not realize or recognize this development was in line with the theories of Robert Park about how the assimilation of immigrants could be tracked in them moving from poorer to richer neighborhoods. In general, since 2004 the reports paid little attention to American literature on immigration. The various researchers did refer to books on civic life, such as Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone or Francis Fukuyama's Trust, but they only footnoted them and did not go into details about the theories underpinning the studies.

56With the recent reports, researchers have had the opportunity to establish trends among immigrants and ethnic minorities over a period of more than 20 years. Not surprisingly, it turned out that the groups that had been the longest in the Netherlands integrated the best. When children, either as young immigrants or the second-generation immigrants, were educated in the Dutch school system, their chances of success were higher compared to immigrants who had no Dutch education. Although overall ethnic minorities reached a lower level of education than the Dutch, they were catching up. The main conclusion seems to be that, over time, and in spite of problems in fields like employment, integration of ethnic minorities into Dutch society would happen in two or three generations. Such a conclusion indicated that the focus of politicians and statisticians on culture as an explanation for social and economic differences between the Dutch population and immigrants was misleading.

57Although politicians intended the 1983 Minorities Policy as a measure to ensure equal access to key social groups, such as housing, jobs, and education, the result was that immigrants were, in many respects, set apart as ethnic minorities. In order to track and measure the situation of minorities in Dutch society, government officials both expanded the number of people studied, and made a clear distinction between well-integrated Western immigrants and less-immigrated non-Western immigrants. Even when ethnic minorities were doing relatively well, for example around 2000, new categories such as modernization were added with the effect of emphasizing dissimilarity. Though politicians and government officials alike had expressed in the 1980s that they did not want the Minorities Policy to set immigrants apart from the rest of society, in the end the policy itself did so.

58In general, politicians and government officials focused on immigration statistics. When they tried to predict the future position of ethnic minorities, they regularly referred to American sociological literature on immigration. The American literature was not studied seriously; rather, various government officials tended to pick and choose whatever was convenient for the policies. Based on the premises of the Minorities Policy, politicians expected ethnic minorities to integrate, or rather assimilate, into Dutch society. Notably the works by Denton and Massey and Portes and Zhou were used as a warning that an American-type of segregation could take place in the Netherlands. In other words, Dutch government officials used American scholarly literature on ethnic minorities to warn politicians and the public that social problems could become even worse, unless political action was taken. In that sense, the role of the American literature was to emphasize the looming threat of social turmoil.

  • 52  Frank Bovenkerk et al., Vreemd Volk, Gemengde Gevoelens: Etnische Verhoudingen in Een Grote Stad ( (...)

59In 1985, four sociologists, Frank Bovenkerk, Kees Bruin, Lodewijk Brunt, and Huib Wouters, published a study of ethnic groups in Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. They found that the ethnic Dutch objected to non-Dutch cultures in their city. When it was about nuisance caused by neighbors, the Dutch were bothered by ethnic minorities as much as they were by their fellow Dutchmen. Both local and national government irritated the Dutch just as much as ethnic minorities did. Beset by such problems as the decay of poor neighborhoods and unemployment, Dutch locals reproached the government for positive discrimination (while understanding that ethnic minorities would make use of such arrangements). The idealistic, egalitarian intentions of the 1983 Minorities Policy contributed to ethnic conflict, because the ethnic Dutch felt that ethnic minorities got preferential treatment. The researchers found many examples where Dutch citizens had realized that when they phrased their problems in terms of ethnic conflict, local and national government would all of a sudden respond to their complaints.52 In other words, politicians had expressed in the Minorities Policies their idea that minorities and Dutch people should have equal access to social goods, and Dutch citizens became aware that by emphasizing ethnic conflict politicians helped them to achieve their political and social goals sooner. As shown above, government officials collecting data to inform the execution of the Minorities Policy also stressed cultural differences between the Dutch population and ethnic minorities. All in all, the 1983 Minorities Policy contributed to ethnic conflict in Dutch society.

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1 I would like to thank Don Weber and Charlotte Hille for their generous and insightful criticism of the first draft of this paper. All errors are mine. The New York Times editorial is quoted by Jaap Verheul in “Could this Have Happened in Holland? Perceptions of Dutch Multiculturalism after 9/11,” in Derek Rubin and Jaap Verheul, eds., American Multiculturalism after 9/11: Transatlantic Perspectives (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009), 191.

2 Marco Martiniello and Jan Rath, "Introduction," in Selected Studies in International Migration and Immigrant Incorporation, eds. Marco Martiniello and Jan Rath (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010), 11.

3 Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970), xxxiii.

4 Martiniello and Rath, Introduction, 15.

5  Nota Minderhedenbeleid, Handelingen Tweede Kamer, 16102, no. 21, 1982-1983 sess., (September 15, 1983b), 9.

6  Antilleans, Moluccans, and Surinamese are people from (former) Dutch colonies. The Dutch Antilles is a group of islands in the Caribbean, including Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Saba, and Sint Eustatius, which became an autonomous part of the kingdom of the Netherlands in 2010. Suriname, in South America, became independent in 1975. The Moluccas is an island group in Indonesia. When Indonesia became independent in 1949, many Moluccans wanted to have their own independent state, which the Dutch government promised to them. The Dutch government could not deliver on its promises. A large group of Moluccans, a majority of whom had served in the Dutch colonial army (Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger; KNIL), moved to the Netherlands, where they declared the independent Moluccan Republic (which has only been recognized by the state of Benin).

7 Minderhedenbeleid 1992, Handelingen Tweede Kamer, 22314, no. 11, 1991-1992 sess., (July 2, 1992), 1-19.

8 J. A. A. de Beer, "Hoeveel Allochtonen Zijn Er in Nederland?" in Allochtonen in Nederland 1996, eds. F. W. M. Hulse and P. van der Laan (Voorburg/Heerlen: Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 1996), 27; "CBS Statline: Bevolking Kerncijfers." Centraal Bureau voor Statistiek,,10,20,30,40,45,50,60,62-63&HDR=G1&STB=T&VW=T (accessed October 24, 2013).

9  Han Nicolaas and Arnoud Sprangers, "Migranten, Vreemdelingen En Vluchtelingen: Begrippen Op Het Terrein Van Asiel En Buitenlandse Migratie," Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, (accessed August 22, 2013).


Ingeborg Keij, "Standaarddefinitie Allochtonen," Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, (accessed August 22, 2013).

11 Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, "Begrippen: Overzicht," (accessed August 13, 2013).

12 Dutch government, "Rijkswet Op Het Nederlanderschap, 1984," (accessed August 13, 2013). Until 1985 only when the head of the family was Dutch did the child get Dutch citizenship. In 1985, the law was changed and the child was granted Dutch citizenship if one of the parents was Dutch. See Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, Minderheden in Nederland: Statistisch Vademecum 1987 (Den Haag: Staatsuitgeverij, 1987).

13 Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, "Bevolking; Generatie, Geslacht, Leeftijd En Herkomstgroepering, 1 Januari 2013,",3-4,46,59,94,101,137,152,220,237,247&D6=9-17&HDR=T&STB=G1,G2,G3,G4,G5&VW=T (accessed August 13, 2013).

14  Nicolaas and Sprangers, “Migranten, Vreemdelingen En Vluchtelingen: Begrippen Op Het Terrein Van Asiel En Buitenlandse Migratie,” 1.

15  Keij, “Standaarddefinitie Allochtonen,” 2.

16 Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, “Begrippen: Overzicht.” It is striking to note that in the former Dutch East Indies, colonial authorities also put the Japanese in the category “European,” and not in the category “Alien Orientals,” in which the Chinese could be found. See J. E. Ellemers and R. E. F. Vaillant, Indische Nederlanders En Gerepatrieerden (Muiderberg: Dick Coutinho, 1985), 15-16.

17 Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, Minderheden in Nederland: Statistisch Vademecum 1987, 51; Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, Minderheden in Nederland: Statistisch Vademecum 1992, 108; Allochtonen in Nederland 1996, 99; Allochtonen in Nederland 2001, 108; Jaarrapport Integratie 2005, 85; Rik van der Vliet, Jeroen Ooijevaar and Ronald van der Bie, Jaarrapport Integratie 2012 (Den Haag/Heerlen: Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 2012).

18  Ibid., 70.

19  For the translation and explanation of Dutch educational terms, see Nuffic Glossary, at

20 Vliet, Ooijevaar and Bie, Jaarrapport Integratie 2012, 70.

21 Ibid., 24.

22 P. M. T. Tesser et al., Rapportage Minderheden 1995 (Den Haag: Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, 1995), 9.

23 See Robert Ezra Park, Ernest Watson Burgess and Roderick Duncan MacKenzie, The City (Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press, 1925).

24 Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).

25 Tesser et al., Rapportage Minderheden 1995, 15, 426.

26 Park, Burgess and MacKenzie, The City, 40-41.

27  See Park Dixon Goist, “City and ‘Community’: The Urban Theory of Robert Park,” American Quarterly 23, no. 1 (Spring 1971): 46-59, Richard C. Helmes-Hayes, “'A Dualistic Vision': Robert Ezra Park and the Classical Ecological Theory of Social Inequality,” The Sociological Quarterly 28, no. 3 (Autumn 1987): 387-409, Stanford M. Lyman, “Civilization, Culture, and Color: Changing Foundations of Robert E. Park’s Sociology of Race Relations,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 4, no. 3 (Spring 1991): 285-300, and Edward Shils, “The Sociology of Robert Park,” The American Sociologist 27, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 88-106.

28  See Wolfgang Vortkamp, “Partizipation und Gemeinschaft: Louis Wirths Soziologie der Moderne in der Tradition der Chicagoer Schule,” Soziale Welt, Jahrgang 49, Heft 3 (1998): 275-294, and Roger A. Salerno, “Theory and Action in Louis Wirth’s ‘Urbanization,’” International Social Science Review, 67, no. 2 (Spring 1992): 51-59.

29 Massey and Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass, 2. See also page 83.

30  Ibid., 4-7.

31 Ibid., 413-420.

32  Ibid., 442-443.

33  I could not locate any statistics specifically on working Surinamese single mothers. According to the 2005 government statistics, of the 58,000 non-Western single mothers, 22.000 had a job. The statistics were not further specified to ethnic group. CBS, Statline.,9-11&D4=4-12&HDR=T&STB=G2,G1,G3&VW=T (accessed December 29, 2014).

34  Although the policy planners did not refer to American studies on the links between poverty and one-parent families, an awareness of this discourse might have been helpful in analyzing the Dutch situation. Especially Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 paper “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” led to an intense debate in the United States. Moynihan claimed that one-parent families with absentee fathers led to poverty and unemployment among African Americans. In the public debate in the United States, Moynihan was accused of racism and anti-feminism, while civil rights activist William Ryan coined the phrase “blaming the victim” in his response to Moynihan’s ideas. The response by scholars to Moynihan’s thesis included studies in which the problem was not so much determined by ethnic culture, but rather by poverty. In some studies poverty was defined in the economic sense, while other studies discussed it in the context of a society-wide culture of poverty, which led to one-parent families. The Dutch policy makers, by assuming that one-parent families led to poverty, took the same position as American conservatives in their response to the Moynihan report, who not just stated that family instability caused crime and poverty but also emphasized ethnic culture in this context. An understanding of the American debate on this issue might have informed the Dutch policy makers' emphasis on the cultural explanations over economic and social causes. (For the debate on the Moynihan report, see, for instance, Frank F. Furstenberg, “If Moynihan Had Only Known: Race, Class, and Family Change in the Late Twentieth Century,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621 (January 2009): 94-110; Douglas S. Massey and Robert J. Sampson, “Moynihan Redux: Legacies and Lessons,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621 (January 2009): 6-27; L. Alex Swan, “A Methodological Critique of the Moynihan Report,” The Black Scholar 5, no. 9 (June 1974): 18-24, and William Justus Wilson, “The Moynihan Report and Research on the Black Community,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621 (January 2009): 34-46.

35 Tesser et al., Rapportage Minderheden 1995, 453-466.

36 The authors did not refer to their reading of Robert Park, who had noted, somewhat ironically, that crime showed how well the second-generation integrated, changing from the crimes of their parents to the kinds of crimes the majority of the Americans committed (Park, Burgess and MacKenzie, The City, 27-28).

37  Tesser et al., Rapportage Minderheden 1995, 466-472.

38 Brief Van De Minister Voor Grote Steden En Integratiebeleid, Handelingen Tweede Kamer, 26333, 1998-1999 sess., (June 8, 1999).

39  T. Ankersmit, Th. Roelandt, and J. Veenman, Minderheden in Beeld: Sociologisch-Economische Positie Van Allochtonen (SPVA 1989; P1234) (Amsterdam: Netherlands Institute for Scientific Information Services, 1989).

40 E. Martens and Y. Weijers, Integratiemonitor 2000 (Rotterdam: Instituut voor Sociologisch-Economisch Onderzoek ISEO, 2000 ),100, 103-104.

41 Edwin Martens and Instituut voor Sociologisch-Economisch Onderzoek, Minderheden in Beeld: SPVA-98 (Rotterdam: Instituut voor Sociologisch-Economisch Onderzoek ISEO, 1999), 79.

42  Martens and Instituut voor Sociologisch-Economisch Onderzoek, Minderheden in Beeld: SPVA-98, 89. (quote translated from Dutch by the author).

43 The cities and towns were: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Enschede, Almere, Alphen aan den Rijn, Bergen op Zoom, Hoogezand-Sappemeer, Delft, Dordrecht and Tiel (Ibid., 7).

44 Ibid., 1-2.

45 Martens and Weijers, Integratiemonitor 2000, 105.

46 Ibid., 106, 126.

47 Ibid., 118.

48 Ibid., 96.

49  Ibid., 152.

50 Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou, “Should Immigrants Assimilate?” The Public Interest 116 (Summer 1994): 18-33.

51 Ibid., 21.

52  Frank Bovenkerk et al., Vreemd Volk, Gemengde Gevoelens: Etnische Verhoudingen in Een Grote Stad (Meppel: Boom, 1985), 20, 146.

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Electronic reference

Ruud Janssens, “Segregation or Assimilation: Dutch Government Research on Ethnic Minorities in Dutch Cities and its American Frames of Reference”European journal of American studies [Online], 10-3 | 2015, document 1.4, Online since 31 December 2015, connection on 24 July 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Ruud Janssens

Amerikanistiek, Universiteit van Amsterdam

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This text is under a Creative Commons license : Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Generic

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