ARA Week: Jennifer Tosch

This week is the Anti-Racism Awareness week and our university Radboud University contributes to this with an amazing program created by the DEI office and the ARA network! Have you checked it out already? If not, just quickly jump over there! 💪🏻💪🏼💪🏽💪🏾💪🏿

But what do we contribute to this? As our platform strives to not only present women that shaped our society but by doing so, be an inclusive and open platform committed to intersectionality, we also see Anti-Racism as a position we have to take. It is not enough to be non-racist, but we have to actively speak up and fight against racism by being anti-racist! And with this said, we wanted to find a way to contribute to the program of the Anti-Racism Awareness week and still keep our format: this week we will provide some addition to the program created by DEI and the ARA network. Our articles will act as background information to women that are part of their program.

This week starts with Jennifer Tosch. 📝

Jennifer Tosch is the founder of the black heritage tours. You can follow them in many cities for instance in New York, Amsterdam and Brussels. With those tours she raises awareness about the history of slavery, racism but also shows the black heritage that can be found in the cities! 🗺📍

Read more about her work in the full article below!

Jennifer Tosch | *1964 | USA | Founder Black Heritage Tours and Co-Founder: Sites of Memory Foundation, Author

“We have to anchor ourselves in the past, in order to see where we came from”


Maybe you have heard Jennifer Tosch during the Dutch Black Lives Matter protest on the Dam Square in Amsterdam, where she was the first person to speak to the crowd. She spoke about the narrative of racism, white supremacy and discrimination repeating and pursuing itself until nowadays. Tosch’s career is devoted to uncovering black heritage, hidden histories and narratives. 

Tosch’s parents were born and raised in Paramaribo, Suriname, which makes Tosch a Surinamese-American (SuriAm). Suriname was colonized by the Netherlands from 1667 until 1954. As an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Suriname was still not totally independent. It was only later, in 1975, that the Republic of Suriname was proclaimed. 

Just a year before Tosch was born, her parents immigrated to the United States to live their ‘American Dream’. It was in the heydays of the Civil Rights Movement, which induced extra challenges for these immigrants. In 2008, the financial crisis forced her to quit her job. This event encouraged Tosch to go back to the University of California at Berkeley to complete her bachelor’s degree. 

Tosch lost her mother who was battling breast cancer. Before she passed away, she sparingly spoke about her past in Suriname and the time after the Second World War, when she lived and studied in the Netherlands. These stories made Tosch curious about her own identity, heritage and narrative. So when she went back to university, she specifically took courses on the history of Suriname, the Dutch Antilles and the Netherlands. This subject matter was an inducement to gain more knowledge about the complex history of Suriname and the Netherlands, which she did by spending her last semester at a Dutch university, before graduating. 

At the Black Europe Summer School (BESS) in Amsterdam, she was educated about the Dutch colonial history in particular, and the historical and colonial legacies of European countries in general. After the summer school program she did her semester at Utrecht University. During that time Tosch felt a lot was missing from the discourse, which was mainly focused on the ‘Glory of the Dutch Golden Age’. The courses were not directly wrong, but they were by far incomplete. The Dutch canon had a blind spot for missing and hidden histories and experiences of Africans, Surinamese and Dutch Antilleans, who were part of the system and lived in The Netherlands as well during colonialism. The African Diaspora seemed to have no place in the Dutch canonical narrative of the so-called ‘Golden Age’. The ugly part of the past appeared to be left out or at least very incomplete. 

This led to Tosch’s great contribution in 2013 by starting: Black Heritage Tours in Amsterdam. These tours were born from the idea that our shared history, while experienced differently, is important for everyone. These tours provide its visitors with the other side of the story, a different point of view to the dominant history: the unheard narratives and hidden histories. Simultaneously, it creates a space for people to open up about their own experiences and histories and how these connect to the ‘known past’. The Black Heritage Tours – meanwhile also available in New York, and several other cities (and now also as virtual tours) – are compiled by her co-authors of 3 books: Amsterdam Slavery Heritage Guide (2014), Dutch NY Histories (2017) and Netherlands Slavery Heritage Guide (2019) and collaborations with scholars, historians, public officials, heritage tourism professionals, museums, and so on. 

Besides Tosch’s indignation of the one-sidedness of information in a Dutch course on the Dutch colonial past, she was motivated by her personal quest to learn more about her Surinamese roots. Tosch sticks with the idea that there is a potential danger in not telling diverse histories: over time the dominant history can become the only history. “My vision is that through this tour and the tireless work being done by dedicated scholars and activists throughout the Netherlands we will move from silence, shame and blame to when we will speak about ‘Black history’ with pride, and to claim the heritage that is rightfully shared” (Tosch). 

Back to the Dam Square, where I began this article. During this BLM-protest, Tosch stressed the importance of the ‘we’ in a movement towards multivocality in history telling. By this ‘we’, Tosch meant all Dutch people, who have to work together to achieve a more inclusive history telling, especially regarding its colonial past. 


Author: Marlijn Metzlar
Image: Humanity in Action×400.jpg

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