Posts Tagged ‘Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent’

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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