here we go…

stolen from amsterdamon, because it’s a really really bizarre thing about living here in the netherlands…

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9 comments

  1. oh this is such a tough one, and i agree with one of the men in that docu: the cognitive dissonance of what you see here, and what you remember as child that funny black peter to be like, makes it a little tough to judge, when mind and memory clash. the anticipation of black peter coming into your classroom handing out all that candy, nicknamed ‘black peter the friend of all children’ is still a far stretch from acknowledging the racist undertones of the image. i don’t think as children we were even aware he was a negro, we were always told they were black because of going down all those chimneys to bring us presents. but the etymology of the image is certainly racist.

    blah, it’s confusing. i love zwarte piet 🙂 yummie… marcepein.

    1. I’ve been told by a historian that the chimney legend came as part of an effort to make him less racially charged– that Piet dates back to an old European tradition that depicts the devil as a black youth. The Saint returns from Spain, having conquered Satan in the shape of a Moor.

      I do think that at a certain point, Holland at least has to act to counter the worst excesses of the minstrel makeup, which almost certainly came with Piet in that time frame. A black cultural figure is an interesting idea– but the red lips and rolling white eyes are offensive by virtually any standards.

      1. yes of course cultures give new twists to old traditions aging back centuries when so obviously racist in their original shape and form. there have been schools introducing blue and yellow piets as well, but they were largely mocked by traditionalists. a little less red lips and other racial cliche’s would be welcome indeed. but you cannot simply dismiss the current sinterklaas party as racist because the 17th century version was.

      2. A tradition can be racially charged, even if the children who enjoy it have no racial motives. Can’t it?

        You’re right, of course, but I think I react badly to the obvious Minstrel makeup together with the assertion that he “isn’t a black person at all!”. That seems too easy– a bit like dodging the point. I also think that to have a real discussion about whether Piet should be kept and in what form, it would be better for everyone to be honest about what he really is and was. I tend to think that people dodge the issue because they know if they faced him straight on, they might lose their childhood memories and feel obliged to give him up.

        Another solution would be to make him black, but give him back his dignity and have him played by Dutch people of colore.

        This may be one of these Dutch things that can’t be discussed with buitenlanders. I’ve been here more than 11 years, and Piet still triggers my ick reaction in a major way.

      3. oh on tv there have been colored dutchmen playing the role of zwarte piet. and they surely evolved a long way from just being servants. what’s more honorable than being de “rijmpiet” … the one who writes the poetry that comes with your present? and the kapiteinspiet, the mighty captain of his boat? sint is merely a senile old fart completely run by his brigade of piets 🙂

        if you don’t have any emotional ties to the stories it’s easy to dismiss them as out-dated. and the strory would still work with a black sinterklaas as well, but you cannot completely escape the origins and still hold on to a tradition many value highly as one of the last authentically dutch fests. this is far as it gets: from slave to running the party.

  2. Truth is stranger than fiction. As an American, where the dissection of many things as racially charged is pretty common, empathize with the muddle. It is hard to extricate ones self from traditions…examine if your own reactions to them carry the bigottry that the tradition stemmed from. An example here in advertising is both the ‘mammy’ of Aunt Jemima Syrup and the chef on Cream of Wheat. These marketing images are seen as racist, though I have never held them to be derogatory and was surprised to hear others dissect them as such.

    1. I neglected to put this link in my previous post. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University . Several years ago I attended a fascinating lecture on racist imagery given by the curator of this collection.

  3. Thief!! Well, I don’t mind at all as virtually no one reads my livejournal 😛 I’ve lived here over 10 years now, and I STILL can’t get used to this tradition.
    I do have a goal this year of getting some pix with me and Piet…..dressing up as him might be going a bit too far…..it’s days like Dec 5 where I REALLY feel like a foreigner here…at the very least, it feels like being in the Twilight Zone….

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