Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Why Zwarte Piet has nothing to do with racism.

Some Zwarte-Piet-haters would say it's not my call to defend Zwarte Piet since I was not born Dutch. But that would be as racist as it gets, since I've been living in the Netherlands for more than 7 years and even according to the Dutch laws I'm almost as Dutch as possible.

Although in the beginning I was confused with the contradictions of the Sinterklaas/SaintNicolas story (see an older post of mine if you speak Greek), I realized it's just a mix of several christian and old pagan traditions, as the research of this journalist also shows (the Macedonia referred in those videos is of course the Greek province and not the country FYROM):


So I soon stopped trying to explain it with logic and just indulged myself in it. Especially when you celebrate it with a Dutch family you feel the beauty of this tradition. The gifts, the poems, the visit of the Sint, the playfulness of the Zwarte Piet, the chocolate letters, the pepernoten :)

A (small I believe) group of black people and some extreme-left white people (who hate traditions anyway) believe Zwarte Piet is promoting racism. They make a lot of fuss about it every year. Every year bigger I'd say. This year they reached the United Nations. I think that was a drop too much for the already full cup; and the Dutchies reacted very angry to this intervention of the UN.

Although Saint Nicolas probably never had slaves, yes, most likely Zwarte Piet took today's form in the years of slavery when the Dutchies got rich by performing slave trade  (if you notice his typical big round earing). But children today learn nothing about that (until they get old enough and learn about slavery at school). Actually children have no idea what racism is. They just see a funny active playful black young guy and a boring serieus old white guy and they naturally identify themselves with Zwarte Piet, not Sinterklaas. Many children are actually afraid of Sinterklaas, as you see in this picture, whereas they love Zwarte Piet.

They dress like him and they talk about him all the time. He's the one playing with them and he's the one giving them pepernoten (sweets). They don't see a white master and a black slave. They see a white guy and a black guy, just as they see that in the Dutch society, in their schools for example; you see both black and white children in every Dutch school.

They even celebrate it in Curacao, an island where I believe more than 95% of the inhabitants are black. Why don't they find it racist?! (

Then the Zwarte-Piet-haters will tell you, "even if children do not understand racism, they get used to a system where the black guy is the helper and the white guy is the boss. These are the models Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas are promoting".  Trying not to lose your mind, you ask them if that's true then why Dutch parents dress their children as Zwarte Piet instead of Sinterklaas? Isn't that destroying their future by making them identify themselves with the helper/slave instead of the boss/master?! Stupid Dutch parents...

How I see it? I think Zwarte Piet is very educating for the children and I'll explain why. I see that children love Zwarte Piet and don't learn racism through it. In contrary they learn that in society there are both white and black people and we can all hang out with each other and have fun all together (shall I remind you the period when we were not even allowed to sit next to each other in bus or a church?). Later when they are old enough they learn about the origin of Zwarte Piet and about slavery and how bad it was. This way they won't repeat the mistakes of their ancestors when they grow up.

And if I were a black person, I would be happy I also make part of a Dutch tradition and that I am not totally alienated from the Dutch culture. I mean what do we prefer? A totally white Dutch tradition, with only whites and only for the whites? How are we gonna feel ONE like this one day? We won't. The "allochtonen" will never feel 100% Dutch, if we don't see a part of ourselves in the Dutch culture.

I mean, as a Greek, I should be furious when I hear that the Greek tradition (yes, Asia Minor was Greek/Byzantine at the time) of Saint Vassilios, bischop of Cesaria, has turned into Saint Nikolaos, bishop of Myrna, a Turk (sic!!) that comes from Spain with the boat on a white horse with a black helper. Instead, I'm happy this Greek tradition reached Netherlands and got loved by the Dutch. And I can relate to it through its origin.

In the end nothing is by definition good or bad in life. It's what you make out of it. You can use a knife to kill someone or you can use it to cut a piece of bread and give it to a hungry child.

And something last for the Dutch tolerance. Yes, the Dutch were and ARE tolerant. But I have the impression that the last decades we have pushed them too hard. We brought them to their limits. There is already a heavy atmosphere in the Dutch society the last 20 years, because, despite the fact that the tolerance story went good the previous centuries and helped them grow and thrive, the tolerance they showed to the muslims didn't turn out good. 50 years later, the muslim population still hasn't integrated to the Dutch society, contrary to the populations from the ex-dutch colonies who are completely integrated. And on the top of this heavy and difficult atmosphere, the UN comes and tells the Dutch people that their most beloved tradition, 5th of December, is racist and they have to abolish it or at least chop off half of it... the black half. Let's not put any more pressure to the Dutch. We have to admit we have reached the point of exaggeration.

In the worst case, if this fight reaches a dead-end, I suggest the Dutch, the funny, surprising, open-minded and innovative people they are to go and surprise us one more time and introduce the Zwarte Sinterklaas and the Witte (if not other colours) Piet! This way they'll show they're cool with a black guy being their... boss and that all that master-slave black-white nagging is nonsense  :)

To cheer up a little bit, I finish with a funny video-clip with Zwarte Piet. Happy Sinterklaas everyone! Make sure you've bought your pepernoten, less than a month left :)


Aly N said...

I think it just offends people because it's black face. In case you don't know what that is here is a definition Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a black person. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the spread of racial stereotypes such as the "happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation" or the "dandified coon".Also why can't a person who is African American be zwarte Piet. Do you get what I am trying to say ?

Georgios said...

You must be blind having not seen the pics in this article of children dressed as Zwarte Piet...

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with ALY N. If your intention is to say black and white people. Why not have a black person play Zwarte Piet

Georgios said...

I've seen black people playing Zwarte Piet. But don't forget that this tradition holds from way before black people came to the Netherlands

Georgios said...

If it's a racist tradition, why isn't abolished in Curacao, where the vast majority of the citizens is black?