Beyond blackface: emancipation through the struggle against Black pete, Dutch racism and Afrophobia | New Urban CollectiveNew Urban Collective

Every December 5th the Dutch celebrate ‘Sinterklaas’, a feast rooted in Middle Age folklore. The legend goes that Saint Nicholas travels from Spain in the Netherlands every year with his steamboat to reward the children who have behaved well with presents and punish those who have behaved naughty. The old, wise and kind white saint dressed in his red and white robe and cloak moves from chimney to chimney on his loyal white horse to distribute presents en delicacies to the well behaved children. The saint, however, does not have to do all of this work himself, he is accompanied by an army of helpers, the “Black Petes” [Zwarte Pieten], a crew of clownish and acrobatic figures dressed in Moorish page suits, who supposedly have become black because they climb through the chimneys at night secretly giving out the presents while the children sleep.The controversy starts where myth and reality meet. A few weeks before the actual holiday, Sinterklaas and his Black Petes are welcomed by a national fanfare and parade. Dutch children and parents who have been preparing for this event for weeks through games and assignments on schools, through children’s TV shows and shops filled with Sinterklaas and Black Pete imagery. The Black Petes, however, are played by white people who paint their faces black, wear Afro wigs and golden ‘creole’ earring and thicken their lips with red lipstick. Indeed, these are white people dressing up in blackface. While Blackfacing, they play their role as the subservient, unintelligent, childish and clownish caricature helping the old, wise and kind white Saint to carry out the work. For the majority of Dutch people, this “innocent children’s holiday” is a period of pleasure and bonding between friends and family as the tradition involves writing and exchanging poems, giving and receiving gifts and spending time with loved ones. To others, especially black people, however, Black Pete reflects a painful colonial history where white men who considered themselves superior subjugated, dehumanized and enslaved black bodies which they deemed inferior. Critics of this Dutch tradition are met with verbal and in some cases even physical aggression by its staunch defenders. As a result, the controversy surrounding the Dutch tradition has sparked activism and a national debate about the Dutch colonial legacy, identity, citizenship and institutional racism.


via Beyond blackface: emancipation through the struggle against Black pete, Dutch racism and Afrophobia | New Urban CollectiveNew Urban Collective.

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