Saturday, December 15, 2007

Zwarte Piet

I was recently in the Netherlands, the first time I've ever been there around the Christmas season. As I walked the streets, in a bid to do some Christmas shopping, I came across what was for me a shocking spectacle. It was the Sinterklas, the dutch version of Saint Nikolaus or Father Christmas, accompanied not by Elves, Knecht Ruprecht, or Sneguruchka, his granddaughter like the Russian Ded Moroz usually is. No, the Dutch Sinterklas is accompanied by his "black" , nowadays clownish, previously sinister servant Zwarte Piet. Zwarte piet as I saw it in Holland was a white person with their face painted black and wearing red lipstick, a curly, essentially afro wig, gold earrings, like those worn by the slaves of old. And on almost all shop windows, there were the too numerous to count essential stickers of the black, goggle-eyed, red lipped, curly haired Piet. You can read more about Zwarte Piet and see pictures on Wikipedia

As I walked through that shopping center, I was in shocked that the very "tolerant" dutch people should have such a tradition, and should live it in the 21st century with such gusto. And still wonder why integration isn't happening. For me the fact that Dutch people try to justify this practice when a considerable part of the population is non white says it all. It all reminds me of the carnival in Germany last February, when a colleague told me he and his wife wanted to dress as Africans, asked me where the could find African fabric, which I told him. I even showed his wife how to tie a head tie. Only for him to send me pictures later on and I see that the had also painted their faces black and of course applied red lipstick as well, with the required gold rings in their ears of course. I guess I should be grateful that they at least wore clothes.

As for Zwarte Piet, I am pretty certain black people in Holland are taunted with that name. God help any balck parent who makes the mistake of calling their kid Peter. Maybe one day the Dutch will finally move into this century, and I don't mean by allowing all sorts of junk to be smoked in their coffee shops or sex shows in every street corner.


joicee said...

Aaah your´e back; Hope you had a nice time in Nigeria.
Dear, don´t let those bigots bother you. They aren´t even worth it AT ALL. I was in amsterdam once(not during the christmas period) and I was a bit disappointed anyway.
It will take a long time before making caricatures of black people will cease in mainland Europe. That will be the day.
Have a nice wkd.

Marin said...

Hey Joicee, how are you doing? Hows life in Frieburg?What plans do you have for Christmas? Nigeria was nice, things are veeerrrryyyy sloooowwwwllyyy changing for the better. Anyways have a nice weekend as well.

joicee said...

I´m fine.. thanks for asking.Last time I stayed here for the Xmas hols ..It was quite boring,I got drunk on gluhwein(now how sad is that) so I would be traveling to England to spend the Xmas break over there.

Dutchman in NJ said...

Hey Marin,

Interesting observation, however, here's a real Duthman's perspective. Being born and raised in Holland, moved to the US in 2000. We as a half Dutch family, my wife is American, still celibrate Sinterklaas here in the US, including the part called "ZWARTE PIET", which mind you, has ZERO NEGATIVE, let alone DISCRIMINATORY background. However, I cannot help to think that the utmost amount of Politically Correctness triggered your posting here. Have you tried to talk with Afro-African people in Holland, oh wait, the majority of the black people in Holland are actually from Suriname, a former Dutch colony, anyways, before I drift off/away, have you tried asking them, how they felt about this?

It truly saddens me that a festivity such as Sinterklaas will have to undergo any amount of scrutiny from -mind you- a visiting foreigner. The Dutch have always been open to newcomers, and really tried to welcome them into their country and culture, however, your blog does not really address that part. I can only hope that the Dutch Sinterklaas will never have to undergo the same amount/account of Politically Correctness as Christmas has received in the US, where we cannot wish people a Merry Christmas anymore, as we are too afraid in offending people.

I will continue to share this part of our/my history and culture with our daughter whilst living here in the US.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marin,
I just came across your blog and wanted to respond to DM in NJ about 'Zwarte Piet'.
I must first apologize for venting.
Great blog by the way. I will stop by more often.


Dutchman in nj said "....has ZERO NEGATIVE, let alone DISCRIMINATORY background......"

DM in NJ I think that you should take a picture of this 'Zwarte Piet' and show it to some of your Afro friends in NJ and see what they think.

My husband and I lived in The Netherlands for 5 long years and I tell everyone that it's a great and beautiful place to visit but it's a horrible place to live, because of long standing racist traditional crap like 'Zwarte Piet'. And the dutch defend it by saying that it's a children christmas story.
And what about the white children who look at African people and become afraid of them because of 'Zwarte Piet.?

.....besides the 'white' bishop using a small black boy as a man servant, what is truely upsetting in Holland (north & south)is when all the white Dutch people walk around with painted black faces. Try that stunt in Soho, London, Harlem, New York or J-burg, South Africa and ask the locals if they find such racist display is still vintage in the 21st century.

As Michael Caine said in the movie Austin Powers 3: 'there is only two things that I hate...intolerance and the DUTCH.'

When was the last time you lived in The Netherlands??? It's no longer an open or inviting country. It's a country fill with Xenophobia and (border line) hate.

Gaag gedaan Jonge!

Dutchman in NJ said...

First off, Mr/Mrs "ANONYMOUS", I left Holland in July of 2000.

Secondly, "DM in NJ I think that you should take a picture of this 'Zwarte Piet' and show it to some of your Afro friends in NJ and see what they think. ", that's throwing a Dutch tradition into a country that has had a whole century of slavery, the same country that "invented" Kwanzaa, do you really believe that would hold any ground. That's comparing apples to oranges.

Thirdly, I take offense, and at the same time, apologize for that, as this might be a direct effect of my Dutch pride (if there's anything...) in your statement that Holland is a horrible place to live. My wife, who's American fwiw, and a very liberal sociologist, would move back there in a heartbeat. Mind you, we lived in the worst part of Rotterdam, Rotterdam-West, known for it's racial issues, hatred and whatnot.

Fourthly, I take offense in this statement: "because of long standing racist traditional crap like 'Zwarte Piet'. And the dutch defend it by saying that it's a children christmas story.", I personally think the amount of racism in Holland is way less then anywhere else in the world, especially as compared to for instance the United States. Again, as per my initial response, I do believe that politically correctness has taken it's toll here.

Fourthly, I disagree that Holland isn't an open and welcoming country anymore. It is still, similarly to the US, a country that welcomes people that are willing to adapt to culture, language and habits. However, as a perfect example, if I were to fail to adapt to the US culture, langauge and habits, I would be in jail in a heartbeat, being sued left and right for harassment and lastly, have a miserable life.

However, I apologize to Marin for this lengthy response, and to Mr/Mrs Anonymous, well done, for responding anonymously....feel free to take this up further with me off-line, as not to further clog up Marin's blog.

Marin said...

Dutchman in NJ - there is no way you can convice me and most other black people that the Zwarte Piet tradition has no racial connotations. If you chose to bring your child up in that way - well its up to you and in my opinion a pity - but that is just my opinion.
@Anonymous, I understand you totally. My experience of the Dutch so far is that they are quite tolerant - I have never lived in the Netherlands of course. That ia all the more reason why I am amazed at the fierce defence the dutch generally put up when this issue is being discussed.

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