The Dutch racist tradition.Bye Bye Zwarte Piet!/Danger of fascism

Do 20 December 2018 07:00 | Astrid Essed | 812 keer bekeken | 0 reacties | 0 x aanbevolen | Artikel voorlezen


This is a longread about a racist caricature and the threat of fascism
in the Netherlands
The American ''Father Christmas'' Santa Claus and the Dutch
''Sinterklaas are two different Fairy Tale Figures, although Santa Claus
is derived from the Medieval Dutch ''Sinterlklaas''
So the Dutch Feast of ''Sinterklaaas'' [5 december]
  is not Christmas Feast!
Dear Readers,
How would you react, when you saw, in nowadays 21st century,  a steamboat, navigating
on sea, river or channel, throwing its anchour, and an
 old, solemn white man with a
beard and a mitre, a Bishop, holding his Entrance [''Intocht''
in Dutch] in the city or village with as his servant a black guy in an old fashioned
Moorish costume, speaking with an odd accent, with a strange
looking Afro hairpiece, big fat red lips, strange golden [slave like] earrlngs, running around, screaming, kicking, oddly laughinh
and for the rest looking very stupid?
You guess already?
It's the Dutch Sinterklaas [Dutch for Saint Nicholas] Feast and it is
yearly enjoyed at 5 december.
Several weeks before, there is the Entrance or Arrival [In Dutch:
Intocht] of Sinterklaas, a National Sinterklaas Intocht [Entrance] and
local Entrances.
I hope, that you'll be embarassed and indignant, recognizing a caricature
of black people?
Then we are talking business.....
Because not only this ''Zwarte Piet'' [Dutch for Black Pete] [1]
is an embarrasment, he is, of course, not really black, but a black painted 
figure, like the former American ''Blackface'' in movies.....[2]
I refer to the annual Dutch Sinterklaas Feast [Dutch for Saint Nicholas], at
5 december.
Several weeks before, there is the Entrance or Arrival [In Dutch:
Intocht] of Sinterklaas, a National Sinterklaas Intocht [Entrance] and
local Intochten [Entrances].
Today I want to talk with you about ''Zwarte Piet'' 
a not so nice Fairy Tale Creature, who happens [and for my concern:
''happened''] to be the black helper of ''Sinterklaas'' or
St Nicolaas [Saint Nicholas] [3], who
comes from Spain each year, giving the children presents and
sweet candies, at least, when they are obedient......[4].
When they are naughty, they get nothing......
Traditionally, naughty children are being ''punished'' by ''Zwarte Piet''
[from now  on for my English readers ''Black Pete], getting no presents
at all, but are being put in a sack and been brought to Spain. 
HAHAHA, that's the tradition, which could be nice, isn't it?
Were it not, that that whole ''Black Pete'' figure stems from a racist tradition
from the 19th century, the century of slavery, racist supremacist theories
and fanatical colonialism.
''Blackface'' Black Pete [Zwarte Piet] at first appeared in 1850 in a book by
the Dutch teacher J. Schenkman, titled ''Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht'' ("Saint Nicholas and his Servant"), [5], but there are signs that Black Pete
operated earlier in the 19th century and was called ''Pietermanknecht''
(Dutch for Pete my Servant] [6]
Be as it may:
Crucial to the story is, that Black Pete was depicted as
black, which meant in the 19th century racist times:
A servant of the white man [woman]
And that was the main problem with the Blackface tradition:
Picturing black as inferior didn't originate out of nothing:
It stemmed from the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade and
the 17th, 18th, 19th slavery in the America's
Racism developed and reached its absolute lowest point
in the 19th century, when slavery, fanatical colonialism
the great West European colonial Empires originated from the 19th century]
and race supremacy theories from ''white over black''
Against this background black meant
''inferior ''race'', a servant, ridiculous, stupid and also aggressive,
because ''Black Pete'' was putting naughty children in a bag, dragging
them to Spaionm, where ''Sinterklaas'' and Black Pete came from.
Black Pete was dressed ridiculously:
In a so called ''Moorish costume'' ,which was mainly based on
the paintings of white masters in  the Netherlands,
picturing themselves with servants or slaves dressed
in Moorish clothes, [see the photo's in my article].
So imaging Black Pete like that, symbols, seen in the light
of slavery, a subordinate role.
 Inferiority of ''race''
And Black Pete not only was dressed in that costume in the 19th century, but sticked to it untill now, 2018, the 21st century!
This is no innocent folklore, but downright racism, because through
the 19th century and a great deal of the 20th century, Black Pete remained
''funny'', ''stupid'', ''agressive'' and most of all:
A servant.
Moreover it stroked, that Black Pete spoke with a strange
Surinamese like accent [but not real Surinamese: Suriname or
Dutch Guyana is an ex colony of the Netherlands with a
history of slavery and it lies in South America, north of Brasil] 
While ''Sinterklaas'' spoke the Dutch language correctly from the
moment he first came from Spain and set foot
in the Netherlands with his steamboat!
In a colonial and later post colonial society, which had developed
institutional racism [8] the Figure of Black Pete helped to confirm
a negative inmage of black people in general, consciously or, and
that's worse, subconsciously. [9]
Admitted, during the second half of the 20th century and nowadays,
the strange accent with which Zwarte Piet spoke [in contrary with Sinterklaas] is gone, but the other strereotypes, slave earrings, 
fat red lips, a strange Afro hair piece, stupid behaviour and especially
the black skin of course, still remain.
Similarities with the racist caricature of Black Pete were
Golliwog [in Great Britain] [10] and in the USA, Black Face characters
in theatres and films [11], both also originated in the 19th century [12]
Although  Golliwogs and Blackface stereotypes have not completely 
disapeared, they are on their retour and at least most modern
people acknowledge the racist character and peopole maintaining
Golliwog or Blackface are being pointed as backward and racist.[13]
In the Netherlands however, anti Black Pete protests still cause a storm.
More about that in a minute.
But first about the sillty arguments of the Black Pete defenders:
Now some defenders of Blackface Zwarte Piet go out of their way to prove, that
Sinterklaas also in the Medieval Netherlands was accompanied by black men, or black ghosts, or whatsoever. [14]
Maybe, maybe not
Opinions differ [15]
But so what, if he already existed in the Middle Ages!
The point is not, whether before the 19th century there was 
[perhaps] a black companion of Sinterklaas.
Point is the RACIST CARICATURE Black Pete has become from
the 19th century untill now!
And that's the reason of the protests, not whether there was some black ghost
or companion in the Middle Ages.
Because to put things clear:
The concept of ''race'', especially the black race inferior to the
''white race'' is an invention from the 17th century, the period
of transatlantic slavery and slavery in the America's [16]
The horror period of slavery in the America's, which lasted
at least 300 years, provided the patterns of black ''inferiority''
So Black Pete was a product from that background:
Black Pete being subordinate to the white Sinterklaas and
Black Pete being stupid and inferior because of his
Black Pete defenders argue, that there is nothing stereotype or
racist to the Figure Black Pete, sincwe his blackness stems from
coming out of the chimney. [17]
Now that may be the explanation for the [possible] black companions
of Sinterklaas in the Middle Ages in different European countries [18],
but, again, that was in the Middle Ages and has nothing to do with
the racist caricature of the 19th century Black Pete.
And it is utter nonsense to allege, that the nowadays racist
caricature became ''black'', coming from the chimney.
Or does ''coming out of the chimney'' means, that someone
gets an Afro hairpiece, silly golden earrings, fat lips, a Moorish
dress and and all black skin?
It would have been more convincing, when such a figure had
traces of soot in his face, as the way opposers of the
racist Black Pete caricature want to reform the character now.
In the socalled ''roetveegpieten'' [in English ''soot faced Petes'', see
one of the photo's at the article]
Black Pete defenders always refer to the tradition
Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet [Black Pete] as a Feast
for Children.
But nothing is less true:
Because during Sinterklaas time, black children 
are being teased  [and were teased]
with the appearance of Black Pete, not only calling
them ''Zwarte Piet'' [Black Pete],  but also ''stupid'', ''ugly'',
''dirty'' and more demeaning words. [19]
And to my opinion and many other protesters of Black Pete,
a children's Feast is only a children's Feast, if ALL children
benefit from it!
There's much to say about the protests and demonstrations
against the racist caricature Black Pete and I am not going to mention
them all [that would fill a book], but a brief overview:
Although there were decennialong protests against Black Pete, in 2011
there was a real breakthrouigh, when a group of five black artists,
among else Quincy Gario and Kno'ledge Cesare [Jerry Affryie], protested
at the Grand Entrance of Sinterklaas in Dordrecht, holding a T shirt
with the text ''"Zwarte Piet is Racism", met police brutality and
were arrested. [20]
But police brutality didn't prevent people from protesting!
Protest organisations against Black Pete racism were founded,
like Kick Out Zwarte Piet, which organizes the annual anti
Blackface Black Pete demonstrations! [21]
From 2011 peaceful anti Black Pete protesters were met
by fierce police brutality.
I can't recall all incidents here, but one horror example
are two different arrests of one of the Kick Out Zwarte Piet leaders,
Kno'ledge Cesare [who also protested at Dordrecht in 2011
and met police brutality too], one in Gouda and the other
in Rotterdam.
See Youtube films under note 22
Massarrests of peaceful anti Black Pete protesters took place,
also accompanied with police violence.[23]
See for more information under note 24
Every society struggles with changes of behaviour and tradition,
so it is not strange, that a majority of Dutch people didn't see the point, felt [sometimes] offended because they wrongly thought of being accused of racism [it is the caricature that's racist, not
necessarily the people, who love Zwarte Piet. That depends
of their behaviour and remarks regarding the subject], and
stood behind the Fairy Tale Figure of their youth.
Yet it's interesting to see, that although Black Pete defenders
argued, that Black Pete is ''only a Feast for children'', many Dutch adults were very upset about any criticism of Zwarte
Piet [Black Pete] and sent furious reactions and even death threats to people, who opposed Zwarte Piet, like
Anouk, a popular singer and the Dutch children's Ombudsman,
who wrote a very critical report about Zwarte Piet, emphasizing,
that the Figure of Black Pete leads to discrimination and
a low self esteem of black children. [25]
If it is ''only a Children's Feast'', why then all the fuss?
Even worse:
When the opposers of Zwarte Piet were black, they received
racist threats as death threats, like happened to TV presentator
and now politician Sylvana Simons and other black Zwarte Piet protesters.[26]
If this is all about a Children's Feast, why all this fuss?
Why all those violent threats and even racist attacks?
Is it not clear, that especially those racist attacks reveal what
moves many Black Face defenders most:
Is that not a clear proof, that what they defend is a racist
tradition also?
Because, again, why else black children are being teased,
sometimes very maliciously, with being ''dirty'' and ''stupid'' 
as Black Pete [27], giving them a low self esteem, as they themselves testimony. [28]
And  not only their testimony:
The Dutch children's Ombudsman wrote a very critical report about Zwarte Piet, emphasizing,
that the Figure of Black Pete leads to discrimination and
a low self esteem of black children. [29]
In the fight for keeping Black Pete it can't be bizarre enough.
After the announcement, that the National Grand Entrance of
Sinterklaas [there are a lot of local Entrances too, but this one
is sponsored by TV and broadcasted] would take place in the small Frisian town Dokkum, the organisation Kick Out Zwarte Piet announced [in the Netherlands one doesn't have to ask permission to demonstrate, but has to announce it to the
mayor of the city, who can only forbid or limit the demonstration,
when there is a danger of disturbing the peace] its anti Black Pete demonstration and agreements were made with the major.
However, pro Blackface people heard that and a local
businesswoman, Jenny Douwes, incited people on
Facebook to protest against it.
This resulted in a dangerous b;lockade of the highway
on the place the busses with the anti Blackface protesters
were approaching Dokkum.
The demonstration didn't take place, for on the last momenty
the mayor forbid it out of fear for clashes between pro and anti
Blackface groups.
In fact, the major was especially afraid for the coming of neo-nazi's, who would use the pro Blackface cause for their own
dirty agenda.
But the ''Blokkeerfriezen'' [the roadblocking Frisians] had
to face Court and were convicted because of violations of the right on demonstration [30]
BIZARRE, Blocking a road to defend Blackface....
So far are people prepared to go.....
But since we are not longer living in the 19th century with 
fervent colonialism, slavery and white supremacy ideas, changes
in the Figure of Blackface Zwarte Piet are inevitable, despite all
death threats, hatespeeches and a road blockade.
You see it already in the steets:
A growing number of children go to the Grand Entrance of
Sinterklaas as soot faced Petes or sometimes as they are.
See the foto's at this article.
But also the colour of Pete is changing.
You see a growing number of soot faced Petes, accompanying
A growing  number of schools have said ''Goodbye'' to Black Pete and allow only soot faced Petes. [31]
High profile store ''De Bijenkorf'' has Golden Petes from 2015
The big supermarkets react in varying way.
The ''zak''  of Sinterklaas[''zak'' in English: bag, where the candies or presents
are hidden en is believed, that ''Black Pete'' is putting
naughty children in to bring them to Spain, where
Sinterklaas and Pete live] is mostly not imaged with
Black Pete anymore, but with Sinterklaas himself.
Some supermarkets change the colour of Black Pete,
but most of them offer a variety of colours, including black.
The grocery chain Lidl is the only one reported to have completely eliminated images deemed racial caricatures. They will have coloring pictures that children may color as they choose.  [33]
However, like most developments, changes are going faster and
earlier in the big cities than in smaller towns and villages.
Thus the areas of North and South Holland and Utrecht have seen the most change, while Drenthe, Friesland, and Zeeland, the least.  [34] 
I already mentioned the report of the children's Ombudsman
September 30, 2016, suggesting that Zwarte Pete be "stripped of discriminatory or stereotypical characteristics." Otherwise children's rights for fair treatment and protection from discrimination may be violated. "The figure of Zwarte Piet can contribute to bullying, exclusion or discrimination, and is therefore contrary to the [International Convention on the Rights of the Child]," the report continued. "Many [children of color] who experience discrimination in their daily lives say that it's worse around Sinterklaas time." And further, "Several Black children found the typical characteristics and buffoonish behavior of Black Pete to be 'negative and discriminatory against people with dark skin.'" These characteristics "must be changed so children of colour do not experience any adverse effects, and every child feels safe" during  Sinterklaastijd. [35]
I also mentioned, that following the report the Children's Ombudsman received dozens of angry reactions and numerous threats.  [36]
If it is about ''just a Children's Feast'', why then all those hysterical reactions?
The fight against the racist caricature Black Pete is supported
internantionally and at an important level.
The United Nations!
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
wrote a report, issued in 2015, demanding from the Dutch government 
a change in the racist features of Black Pete  [37]
I quote from the report:
'' While the Committee understands that the tradition of Sinterklaas and Black Pete is enjoyed by many persons in Dutch society, the Committee notes with concern that the character of Black Pete is sometimes portrayed in a manner that reflects negative stereotypes of people of African descent and is experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery, which is injurious to the dignity and self-esteem of children and adults of African descent.  '' 
Another quote:
'' Considering that even a deeply-rooted cultural tradition does not justify discriminatory practices and stereotypes, the Committee recommends that the State party actively promote the elimination of those features of the character of Black Pete which reflect negative stereotypes and are experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery. The Committee recommends that the State party find a reasonable balance, such as a different portrayal of Black Pete and ensure respect of human dignity and human rights of all inhabitants of the State party. The Committee further recommends that the State party ensure non-discrimination in the enjoyment of freedom of expression and association, and that attacks on protesters be effectively investigated and duly prosecuted.'' [38]
Earlier, in 2013, Verene Shephard, a Un official, wrote the Dutch government
with the same sort of critics about Black Pete
I quote from the letter:
'' The character and image of Black Pete perpetuate a stereotyped image of African people and people of African descent as second-class citizens, fostering an underlying sense of inferiority within Dutch society and stirring racial differences as well as racism. During the celebration, numerous people playing the Black Pete figure blacken their faces, wear bright red lipstick as well as afro wigs. The Black Pete figure is to act as a fool and as a servant of Santa Claus. The Black Pete segment of Santa Claus celebrations is experienced by African people and people of African descent as a living trace of past slavery and oppression, tracing back to the country’s past involvement in the trade of African slaves in the previous centuries. Reportedly, a growing opposition to the racial profiling of Black Pete within the Dutch society, including by people of non-African origins, is to be noticed. However, it is also alleged that no response has been given to associations defending the rights of African people and people of African descent in the Netherlands, which are asking for dialogue on this issue.''
Clear language, as well from the UN report as the letter of mrs Verene Shephard!
Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
So we have seen backward stupidity, threaths, racist or not,
road blockades and hateful stuff on social media.
But it can be worse, when the Hand of fascism reveals itself:
One of the main characteristics of fascism is creating
scapegoats or ''enemies'' of the people or
the State.
Another side is violence.
And both showed itself in a horror way:
Not long ago [november 2018], extreme right wing and pro Pete journalist Weird Duk
wrote a malicious article in the Dutch paper ''The Telegraph'',
titled ''The danger of a radical agenda'', thereby demonising
the Kick Out Zwarte Pete movement, accusing the leaders to
be ''dangerous'' and ''extreme'' [40]
But the worst thing was the photo at the article, picturing
Mitchell Esajas and Kno'ledge Cesare [Jerry Afriyie] as
sinister figures, looking down at a peaceful Dutch landscape
with mills and dark clouds as the foreboding of a catastrophe. [41]
This horror photo is going back in Time, when - in Nazi Germany
of the thirty years- Jews were portrayed equally.
I mention here especially a drawing of a Jew, looking down
on a world Globe, which reminds of the Telegraph
image of Mitchell Esajas and Jerry Affriyie, looking down
on the Netherlands......
And it is not out of the blue, that I make this comparison
in regard to the Telegraph:
For the Telegraph has a bad reputation in the past, having
collaborated with the nazi German occupation in the
Netherlands in the Second World War!
See under note 42 an antisemitic article in the Telegraph
from 1942.
I quote a passage [first in Dutch]

Jood is en blijft Duitsland's vijand, of hij nu uit

Portugal, of kersvers uit Jeruzalem, al dan niet voorzien

van een Nederlandse pas of identiteiotskaart, hier verzeild is geraakt'

Translated In English:

''Jew is and remains the enemy of Germany, whether he

set foot in the Netherlands, coming from Portugal, or

newly arrived from Jerusalem, whether or not

in the possession of a Dutch passport or identity card.''


Apparently, the Telegraph has learned nothing from the past......



The hateful article was only the beginning:

During the Entrance of Sinterklaas, which takes place in several

cities and towns [the National Entrance, which also is broadcasted

on TV, was in Zaanstad, North Holland], there were anti Black Pete 

protests in at least 18 cities across the Netherlands and while the

Black Pete protesters were peaceful, a bunch of fascist thugs attacked

the protesters in several cities with eggs, bananas and beer cans and what was

still worse [and the reason why I call them ''fascist thugs''], some brought 

Hitler salutes and uttered racist insults. [43]

You can see photo's of the agressive fascist gangs at my article.

Especially in Eindhoven and Rotterdam, pro Pete gangs were very

agrressive. [44]

In Nijmegen en Zwolle,  anti Black Pete demonstrations were cancelled , after mayors said they could not guarantee protesters’ safety. [45]

These are very dangerous developments, because 

succeeding in violence, although there were

arrests too [46] fascist thugs get confidence and

will enlarge their street operations, which 

leads to as well more fascist power as intimidation

of their opponent.

And the very fascist streetoperations is a direct 

threat to black migrants and other migrants'

of colour.

Combined with the two fascist political parties,

the PVV [Party for Freedom] of G Wilders and the Forum for Democracy of Thierry Baudet [47]



Evidently not all pro Black Pete supporters are racists, nor 

are all pro Black Pete supporters, who attacked the Black Pete

supporters fascists.

Some indeed were ''asos'' [anti socials], like prime minister Rutte stated. [48]

But that's not the point here.

The whole thing lies in the fact, that fascists 

have made the Black Pete question to their cause,

because this seemingly ''innocent'' Sinterklaas

Feast with Black Pete is an easy way to reach many

people, since the majority of the Dutch still valuates

''Zwarte Piet'' [49]

So not only politically, but also by means of

a Feast, fascism gradually creeps into Dutch society.

Like a poison snake.

Fascism is:

Extreme, hierarchic State control with a dominant


Exclusion of all people, who are ''foreign'' and thus, according to fascists, don't belong to

the ''Pure Nation [Pure ''race'', here of course

the ''white race'']'', whether they are Jews or black people.

Fascism stands for intimidation and terror and that was exactly what fascists did with the attacks on

peaceful Black Pete protesters!

And fascism is always seeking for a scapegoat,

an ''enemy'', who operates inside the ''Pure Nation''

as a sort of fifth colonne. [50]

And what suits Dutch white [of course there is fascism in other parts of the world too with different ''scapegoats''] facists better than pick up black people and other people of colour, who are already being discriminated and often treated as secondhand civilians.

And the best of it:

In order to win those Dutch people overr, who don't want to

be openly racist, that socalled ''innocent Children's

Feast ''Sinterklaas'is the best way to attack black people, since the most Black Pete protesters are black

[although there are many white allies to in

the fight against Zwarte Piet]

So that explains the sudden fascist interest in

Black Pete.

But there is more to worry about than the link

fascism-Zwarte Piet, since almost certainly

Zwarte Piet is going to dissapear.

Because fascism is multitasking!

Directed against refugees [who mostly are black

or of colour], black people and people of colour

in general, Jews [although somewhat hidden because of

the past], Roma [''gypsies'' a pejorative term for Roma]

But they are also anti EU ,anti the governmental ''elite'

and against the detoriation of the health services in

the Netherrlands.

And that seeming diversity, sometimes with 

some thruth in it [as their objections against the

governmental elite and their seeming worries

about the detoriation of the health services in

the Netherlands]

But the binding element is their racist hatred and

extreme law and order mentality.

To fight fascism in word and deed, that is

the task that lie ahead of us.

Before it is too late.

Astrid Essed



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