Posts Tagged ‘Black Pete’

UN now asks for calm debate on Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in Dutch Sinterklaas tradition

November 22, 2013

Not the last word on the Black Pete issue but a step in the right direction, that is how I would qualify the report of the UN [Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, WGPAD] who looked into Zwarte Piet. On Tuesday 19 November it called on the Dutch Government to take the lead in the ongoing debate about whether it is time the tradition undergo a change. The experts said that facilitation by Government of the debate would serve to promote understanding, mutual respect and intercultural dialogue. “In the meantime we ask for calm and an end to the abuse directed at opponents of the tradition in the Netherlands and the UN Experts”.

Verene Shepherd (Jamaica Observer photo)This is a lot more realistic than the rather sudden and uninformed demand by Group Chairperson Verene Shepherd who –in anticipation of the final report– told newspapers that her own opinion was that “Zwarte Piet should be abolished” which then created a strong popular backlash against any changes. The experts now explain in the statement that their task had not been an ‘investigation,’ nor was there any intention to reach a judgment [SIC]. They pointed out that the Zwarte Piet tradition has evolved and continues to evolve, saying: “Cultures and traditions are not static – they change in response to evolving contexts and in the light of understanding of how dignity and all human rights can be enjoyed by all.” They added though that it is clear that many people, especially people of African descent living in the Netherlands, consider that aspects of it are rooted in unacceptable, colonial attitudes that they find racist and offensive.

They said it is for the people of the Netherlands to discuss and decide how elements that offend might be modified. “Zwarte Piet is interpreted in different ways, but critical questions are how to treat the concerns of those who feel offended, and those who are unhappy about changing a long-held tradition for children? How do we respect the views of all those living in multicultural societies?” The experts recommended Government facilitate an “open, inclusive, non-confrontational and respectful” debate on the issue. This is a lot closer to what I advocated in this blog. Let’s continue next year.

[The statement by the experts comes just days after the Second Chamber almost unanimously 9135 of 150 MPS) voted against a motion that aimed to forbid giving Zwarte Piet a different color than black. Exactly one of the future modifications I had suggested – see link below. The motion was brought by the extreme nationalist PVV party which felt that the calls for a Piet with different colors were a “blatant assault” on Dutch heritage and tradition.]

via Panel: Calm debate on Zwarte Piet needed – NL Times.

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Latest news: Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) welcome in Amsterdam says Dutch judge

November 8, 2013

Sintpietreus

A judge in the Netherlands has just now (8 November) decided that the annual event of Sinterklaas arriving in the capital Amsterdam – with Black Petes – can go ahead as planned on Sunday next week. The judge is of the opinion that the mayor has been right in giving permission. As this was an urgent procedure there is no appeal possible, but the case could proceed before a regular bench and the judge pointed out that the national discussion should not have to end with this judgement.

via Zwarte Piet welkom bij intocht in Amsterdam, oordeelt rechter – nrc.nl.

My own view on the Sinterklaas and Black Pete controversy: different colors

October 23, 2013

English: Sinterklaas en zwartepiet

Sinterklaas en zwarte piet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems that some politicians expressed as their view that the UN should act on Syria as quickly as on the Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) issue! A bit unfair given that smaller problems (and Black Pete is a comparatively small one) are easier to tackle and allow show some quick progress.  While the popular feelings in my country of origin (the Netherlands) run high and are overwhelmingly against any changes in the Sinterklaas celebration, I personally feel that some chances would not do great harm. In fact, I think both parties are exaggerating. Those who think it is institutionalized racism have not experienced the celebration and seen the happy faces of small children, including black kids. Those who think this is purely hypersensitivity or political correctness gone overboard have never been discriminated on the basis of the color of their skin.

The Sinterklaas celebration is a marvelous and unique event that enthralls kids enormously. It is very old (17th century, I believe) but the ‘black Pete’ helper was added only around 1850. In view of the sensitivity of a minority of Dutch citizens and that of a majority of world citizens (however much they misunderstand the issue) it would not be great disaster if there were some more changes to accommodate ill-feelings. After all,  few years ago the Dutch introduced women ‘black Petes’ – so why not another novelty: e.g. color them in a few different colors. In a decade from now nobody (especially small kids under 10 who are the only ones who believe in the good man!) will remember anything about all this history, the black color, the controversy.

What should not be done is to abolish or condemn the whole Sinterklaas tradition on 5 December which is much bigger and richer than the relative minor issue of the color of the helper.

PS In the informative piece of ABC News (see link below) there is an indication of the strong popular feeling in the Netherlands: a Facebook page seeking to preserve the clowns in blackface makeup known as “Black Petes” as part of the “Sinterklaas” childrens’ festival has become the fastest-growing Dutch language page ever, receiving a million ‘likes’ in a single day.

UN expert now suggests Sinterklaas celebration in the Netherlands is return to slavery

October 22, 2013

According to the Dutch news programme Een Vandaag of 22 October, the Head of the UN working group dealing with the Zwarte Piet [Black Pete] issue in the Dutch Sinterklaas celebration, Verene Shepherd, has declared that: “The working group cannot understand why the Dutch do not see that this is a return to slavery and that in the 21st century this celebration has to stop” [translation HT]. If correct, this will create further controversy as it implies that the whole Sinterklaas event should be scrapped – sounds like a bit of overreach in terms of mandate….

via EenVandaag :: het nieuws- en actualiteiten programma van de TROS en AVRO op Nederland 1.

Is Dutch Sinterklaas celebration racist?

October 20, 2013

Two Zwarte Pieten [660x300]

(Two blackfaced white Dutch girls walking the streets during the Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet celebration)

Although not directly related to human rights defenders, as a Dutchman I feel obliged to alert readers to the issue of whether the longstanding tradition of ‘Zwarte Piet’ (black Peter) is an innocent cultural exception or an expression of deeply ingrained racism. It has become a hot potato in the Dutch media after a letter by four UN Special Rapporteurs asked for a clarification from Dutch authorities on whether a Dutch caricature called “Black Pete” who accompanies Saint Nicholas during a traditional children’s festival is racist. “Please indicate to which extent your government has involved Dutch society, including African people… in the discussions regarding the choice of ‘Santa Claus and Black Pete’ as expression of cultural significance in the country,” it said. According to information we have received… the character and image of Black Pete perpetuate a stereotyped image of African people and people of African descent as second-class citizens, said the letter, dated January this year and published Saturday on the NRC’s website.

In the Netherlands itself emotions are flaring over the sensitive issue. The big majority of Dutch people clearly feel that a marvelous old tradition (I certainly have very fond memories of the Dutch Sinterklaas festivities) is being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness ( according to the Dutch newspaper the Telegraph some 66 percent said they would prefer that the entire Saint Nicholas festival be dropped rather than stripping it of the Black Pete character).  On the other hand, when Amsterdam held a public hearing on Thursday, 21 complaints about Black Pete were filed asking the Dutch capital to revoke the permit for this year’s festival. Mayor Eberhard van der Laan is to rule on the permit in early November, his spokeswoman Tahira Limon said.

But Black Pete’s supporters called for the children’s Saint Nicholas festival to go ahead, arguing that it has been part of a Dutch tradition dating as far back as the 16th century, with the Black Petes first appearing around the 1850s.

Seen from outside the Netherlands the tradition argument seems not get much track. A blog post in the UK Telegraph makes strong arguments against its continuation and refers to a a piece in This Is Africa, where the journalist Siji Jabaar mounts a “formidable evisceration of the tradition, in which he forensically lays bare the history and evolution of Zwarte Piet, and demolishes one by one the arguments in favour of the practice“, which has this nugget of a question:  “If the Dutch government thinks that Zwarte Piet is correct, just invite Barack Obama over for dinner on the 5th of December. But we all know they ain’t gonna do that; they ain’t that dumb.”.

Judge for yourself by reading the full references below:

But please note that the phrase: ‘In the United stated you have Santa Claus, in the UK he’s Father Christmas, and in the Netherlands he’s called Sinterklaas” is not fully correct. Sinterklaas is celebrated on 5 December not 25 December and the Dutch now also embrace a different Santa ClausRelated articles