Through a close reading of Anton de Kom’s Wij slaven van Suriname (We Slaves of Suriname), this essay explores the complex legal, symbolic, social, and political lives of differentially positioned humans in the Dutch colonial and postindependent context. Firstly, De Kom’s 1934 book reveals the fundamental dualism between legal subjects and rightless bodies in the Dutch colonial context and how European law and the rights of citizens enabled the maximum exploitation of colonized and enslaved bodies. Contrary to universalist-inclusive and progressive notions of legal citizenship and the law, the concept of what the author terms “citizenship violence” seems appropriate to appreciate the dynamics revealed in Wij slaven. However, as De Kom demonstrates, the colonized were not passive subjects; they resisted citizenship violence in multiple ways. Secondly, in discussing the racialization of citizenship and belonging in contemporary Dutch society as part of broader European patterns, the essay highlights some ominous colonial afterlives.

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