Today (October 8, 2013) I sent this open <100 words letter to the Dutch version of “Metro” in reply to another open letter stating: “we should stop bothering about Zwarte Piet and whether it is racist or not.”as it (according to the writer): “is a centuries old tradition” and fun for kids. It became “Letter of the day” and led to the statement: “Black Piet is a slave, we should stop pretending this is not so” offered for response to a panel of white people on that same page.
The text I sent:
Nederland heeft historisch gezien absoluut geen schone handen met betrekking tot slavernij en onderdrukking. De slavenhandel ten tijde van het VOC en de bezetting en de uitbuiting van Indonesie tot en met (grofweg) 1940 hebben voor een belangrijk deel bijgedragen aan de welvaart van Nederland.
Zwarte piet racistisch? Een slaaf? De verkeerde vragen.
Zwarte piet is een uitbeelding van racistische stereotypen.
Een eeuwenoude traditie?
Niet echt. Zwarte Piet bestaat sinds 1848, werd pas rond 1930 structureel onderdeel van het feest en vervangt o.a. een door Sint Nicolaas gevangen en onderworpen demon met magische krachten.
Translated roughly into:
The Netherlands has dirty hands in regards to its history of slavery and oppression. The slave trade at the time of the VOC and the occupation and exploitation of Indonesia unitl (roughly) 1940 have largely contributed to the prosperity of the Netherlands.
“Is Zwarte Piet racistisch? A slave?” are both [derailing and] wrong questions.
Zwarte Piet is a depiction of racist stereotypes.
A “centuries-old tradition?”
Not really. Zwarte Piet was created in 1848, only became structural part of the festival around 1930 and replacesc a demon with magical powers caught and subjected by Saint Nicholas.
The answers given by “the panel”on the earlier mentioned statement: “Black Piet is a slave […]”is typical for the lack of awareness you see on other places (online and offline) as well.
“From origin a slave, but — like women have voting rights now, Piet is now a free citizen, working for Sinterklaas” (Neeltje Waagmeester)
“Let that children’s party for what it is, it really will not influence the view on discrimination of a seven-year old.” (Karin Venverloo)
“Nonsense! What about the seven dwarves under Snowwhite? And what about brilsmurf under Big Smurf? Come on!” (Maarten Dortmond)
While these seem all “reasonable” statements from the point of view of the white and unaffected, they all reflect a very short-sighted point of view: “It does not affect me or us. So why bother? Why do you bother? Just let us be and have our innocent party!” they do not take into consideration the possibility that Zwarte Piet might be indeed a stereotyped black person, from the hair to the black paint and as such might feel as an insult to others.
To take womens voting rights as an example and assume “we are all free people now” is like: enough material for another full blog post.
“Liberation from the Dutch oppression, murdering and pillaging” festival
I think these same people would consider differently if and when there would be festivals elsewhere (China, the Gold coast, South Africa, Indonesia) where the Dutch come in, pillage and ravage villages, rape some boys and some women, take people away on ships, rob all the riches of the land, destroy cultures and implement their own, treat everyone like shit and then leave again: after which the real festival of liberation starts, ended with a bill of “lost revenue” and a reference to “police actions” which is symbolically applauded and laughed away and followed by fireworks and joyfulness and presents. Especially when that event is already advertised and prepared for by TV specials two months beforehand.
Or when the Jews in Holland would remember the second world war in similar fashion, replaying the deportation and Dutch betrayal and collaberation leading to the encampment and death of roughly one million Jews in the Second World War (which apparently assumes that the war Europe waged on the world from 1800 on does not count or should be called “World War Zero”.)
Following Dutch tradition of denial, they could respond: “What is all this complaining by the Dutch about? This is tradition! Our kids really love this festival. We already start preparing months beforehand. And look at those happy faces when the Dutch are gone! And sure, this does not affect you does it, since it is so long ago? You are no longer rapists and pillagers and racist and collaborators to fascist regimes are you? It is all play! Fun!”
To be clear: to repeat over and over and over again a racist stereotype and deny any attachement to the past is a sign of three things:
- Ignorance of the past of the Netherlands as an aggeressive, abusive, racist, slave-trading country
- Ignorance of the point of origin of Zwarte Piet (as a fabrication with clear racist and classist origins)
- Unawareness of the present, in which the Netherlands is no longer a country where only white people work and live