From private parts to public matters – Race and boys taking a shower in their underwear

A few days ago a Dutch football commentator made a remark on Dutch TV about Moroccan-Dutch youth at football clubs. According to him, if too many Moroccan-Dutch youth join a club the white people leave their club as they do not want to have too many Moroccan-Dutch youth. It is bit the same racial mechanism that creates black schools: when black kids enter a white school after some time white parents withdraw their children.According to DutchNews:

Derksen, 67, told television programme Voetbal Inside on Monday that some amateur clubs no longer function or are disappearing because their percentage of players with a Moroccan background is too high. ‘I will be dismissed as a racist but I really don’t give a damn,’ he told the show. Some clubs have been damaged because they are located in areas where many Moroccan families live, he said. Moroccan players dominate and the Dutch boys go to other clubs. ‘They don’t want to work with nine Moroccan lads who don’t dare to shower naked,’ he said. Challenged by presenter Wilfred Genee, Derksen went on to say there is a problem which society is not acknowledging. ‘There is a reason I moved from Gouda where lots of Moroccans live,’ he said.

Moroccan-Dutch boys at football
One of the arguments that was being used against Moroccan-Dutch youth is the fact that many of them shower after the game wearing their underwear while many white Dutch youth apparently do not. Of course there were other arguments too: the Moroccan-Dutch youth would cause disturbances on and off the field, lack respect and are supposed to be violent. Nothwithstanding the fact that there have been serious incidents in which Moroccan-Dutch youth were involved the process at work here is pertains to racialization: categorizing a diverse group of people into a violent, inferior and unwanted other. The arguments used, although some of them may be based on actual incidents, are used to protect the entitlement and privilege of white people against Moroccan-Dutch people.

In particular I was struck by the argument of boys showering in their underwear. There are several stories in Dutch newspapers about youth showering after sports still wearing underwear. In most stories people refer to Moroccan-Dutch and Turkish-Dutch youth as trendsetters and the white Dutch youth who followed this trend. The current discussion prompted a remark by one Moroccan-Dutch student saying: ‘Older men wanting young boys over whom they have no say at all to shower naked, that is kinda creepy to me’. Of course, the football commentator does not want to sexualize the young boys’ bodies but the remark says something about controlling young people’s bodies and the fact that there are, as usual, multiple perspectives possible here. It could also be about personal hygiene (a perspective that is in fact emphasized in schools and sports clubs) but that is argument the commentator did not mention: it was about too much Moroccan-Dutch young men.

Bodily citizenship
We have become accustomed by now about politicians and opinion leaders in Western Europe referring to, in particular, the bodily attitudes and habits of Muslims as indicators of people’s willingness to share in the so-called common values and norms of society. Or more precisely as indicators of people’s lack of capacity or willingness to integrate and of the failures of the multiculturalism of the elite. Often this pertains to hair and/or face covering, refusing to shake hands with the opposite sex, praying in the streets, and so on. What normal is in a particular society is portrayed by the political elites and opinion makers by criticizing the opposite. These debates turn formal citizenship into a problem of bodily citizenship and a stronger emphasis on shared liberal values free of religion is seen as the answer to this problem.

The example of boys wearing underwear is seen by the football commentator and many others as something ‘we’ (white Dutch, Dutch society) do not do during communal showers: we shower naked (and then have a beer together). Sometimes the practice is seen as evidence of Dutch society as a whole becoming more prudish although there is no research to substantiate such impression. What such arguments do is turning the boys’ bodies, and in particular their private parts, into a public matter. The field of contention no longer only involves the micro politics at sports clubs and schools but the boys’ (and their parents’) attitudes towards their own bodies. Accepting this practice and the idea that white boys apparently have begun to do the same then becomes a double problem: it goes against the Dutch way of doing things and is an example of creeping islamization.

The problem of islamization becomes tangible and identifiable through the body of the racialized Moroccan-Dutch boys who have come hypervisible as trouble makers and unable to integrate properly. All kinds of social, political and cultural meanings are projected onto their bodies but, in this case, in particular the threat to ‘our’ way of life.

Private, public and power
As such the debate that ensued after the comments by the football commentator was not about not accepting Moroccan-Dutch boys because they are Moroccan-Dutch boys, a racist argument if you ever have one, but the victims of this racist attitude are blamed for disrespecting and threatening ‘our way of life’ and for their own fate of being the unacceptable Other. Interestingly the Dutch football commentator who made the remarks started off by saying: ‘people might call me racist, but I don’t care’ which has become a way of discarding critique on racist practices much the same way as accusing others of pulling the race card. It is a way of trying to maintain the status quo by shifting the blame to those who are the objects of racist practices because of their alleged unwillingness to integrate and sticking to ways that go against ‘our own’.

This particular example also shows how far the Dutch debates about Islam, ethnicity, integration and imposing what is taken to be ‘our way of life’ actually go. Although the Moroccan-Dutch (and many other) boys attempt to keep their private parts private in an environment that blurs the distinction between public and private (communal showers) this has now become a matter of public debates. The question if boys need to be forced to shower naked against their will is not being asked but clearly the boys’ well being is not an argument in the debates at all.

One thought on “From private parts to public matters – Race and boys taking a shower in their underwear

  1. If you shower in your underwear, then isn’t it wet when you get dressed? Is there quick-dry underwear in the Netherlands or how does that work?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *