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View Full Version : European Holiday Tradition Sparks Racism Debate


Williamsser
Dec 6th, 2012, 04:22 AM
http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/EI-BX660_blackp_G_20121205183123.jpg

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324640104578161254142769678.html?m od=googlenews_wsj

AMSTERDAM—A longtime holiday tradition in the Netherlands and Belgium has come under fire, with some critics calling the practice racist.

In the popular imagination, Sinterklaas, who inspired the creation of Santa Claus, lands in Northern Europe in mid-November and returns to his native Spain on Dec. 6 by steamship, having delivered thousands of small gifts at night with help of his black sidekick, known as Zwarte Piet, or "Black Pete."

Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas, as Saint Nicholas is known in Dutch, have been a cherished part of seasonal festivities in the two countries since the 19th century.

Thousands of men and boys re-enact the practice every year, handing out spiced cookies and candies in schools, towns and villages across the countries. In recent weeks, the duo have been celebrated in songs and made daily appearances on children's television shows.

But a vociferous minority in the Netherlands is calling for the custom of dressing up Zwarte Piet to be scrapped.

Amsterdam's city councilor, Andrée van Es, fanned the debate with recent comments to fellow city councilors about the custom that were widely picked up by the Dutch media.

"The feast of Sinterklaas started out without Zwarte Piet and it's time to carry on without Zwarte Piet," she said.

She said racial overtones should be toned down by having Piet's face smeared with soot instead of fully covered in black, presumably to hew to the narrative that he tumbles down chimneys to deliver small gifts.

A Dutch cultural think tank has also blasted Piet as "essentially…a racist phenomenon." John Helsloot, an ethnologist at the Meertens Institute for Dutch Language and Culture, said Piet's depiction firmly frames "dark-skinned people in a position of subservience."

Piet first appears in lithographs in a popular children's book by teacher Jan Schenkman in 1850, and is depicted as a dark-skinned servant dressed in white, Moorish clothing, waiting on the Bishop-like figure of Sinterklaas.

"There's no doubt this is a black person and over time, this has evolved into a caricature of a black person," said Mr. Helsloot in a telephone interview. "People here love to dress up and they unquestionably celebrate this pictorial tradition. But it's in part also a racist tradition."

It remains unclear where Piet's creator got his inspiration, though historians point to a number of possible pagan origins. Some say Piet started out in popular folklore as a personification of the devil, who is later tamed by Sinterklaas. Others point to 16th and 17th century Amsterdam, when "Black Clauses" used to knock on doors looking for naughty children ahead of Saint Nicholas Day, which occurs Dec. 6.

Last year, the former Dutch colony of Suriname said government-backed celebrations involving Zwarte Piet were considered an insult to the "black part of Suriname's community." A popular Dutch website, GeenStijl.nl, also launched a campaign this year to scrap the custom.

Although the debate about Zwarte Piet occurs each year, antidiscrimination bodies in both countries have registered only a handful of formal complaints. Attempts to modernize the character, with rainbow-colored face paint, for example, have failed.

"We feel the custom should be adapted, so that the racial stereotypes are less obvious," said Eddie Nieuwenhuizen of Article 1, a Dutch antidiscrimination center. Still, he said his organization had received only three Piet-related complaints this year.

Many Dutch and Belgians, meanwhile, balk at the notion of doing away with Piet. The Dutch news website RTL Nieuws carried out an online poll of 4,300 readers this week that showed 86% were against the notion of celebrating Sinterklaas without Piet. Mr. Helsloot said he and anyone who spoke out against the custom received hate mail.

The Netherlands' Saint Nicholas Society is lobbying to have the tradition listed as an "intangible heritage" by the United Nations' cultural arm, Unesco.

stromatolite
Dec 6th, 2012, 07:29 AM
This crap gets dragged out like clockwork at this time of year by so-called anti-racists in the Netherlands. Tomorrow, as usual, they will have forgotten all about it again until next year.

There is a lot you could say about this, but I think the most important thing is that Dutch kids don't appear to associate the tradition of Zwarte Piet even in the slightest degree with notions of racial differences. The "anti-Pieten" should use their energy to fight genuine instances and sources of racism in this country, of which sadly there are more than enough.

The Witch-king
Dec 6th, 2012, 07:59 AM
This crap gets dragged out like clockwork at this time of year by so-called anti-racists in the Netherlands. Tomorrow, as usual, they will have forgotten all about it again until next year.

There is a lot you could say about this, but I think the most important thing is that Dutch kids don't appear to associate the tradition of Zwarte Piet even in the slightest degree with notions of racial differences. The "anti-Pieten" should use their energy to fight genuine instances and sources of racism in this country, of which sadly there are more than enough.

Really? I get so many mixed messages about the Netherlands. People always tell me it's this racially harmonious heaven.

stromatolite
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:10 AM
Really? I get so many mixed messages about the Netherlands. People always tell me it's this racially harmonious heaven.

Not any more, if it ever was. Although these days it's more about immigrants from Islamic countries than about those from the former Carribean colonies.

borrowedheaven
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:18 AM
The story they told me as a kid is that Zwarte Piet is black because he goes down the chimneys all the time and he can't get the ashes off. I know it's not the original meaning, but I've never met any kid who thought Piet was a black person.

Elwin.
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:25 AM
Lulz. We get this shit every year. Everyone got raised with this. There's nothing racial about it. There's no racism intended. Everyone loves the Zwarte (Black) Pieten.


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The Witch-king
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:27 AM
Not any more, if it ever was. Although these days it's more about immigrants from Islamic countries than about those from the former Carribean colonies.

Could you elaborate?

The story they told me as a kid is that Zwarte Piet is black because he goes down the chimneys all the time and he can't get the ashes off. I know it's not the original meaning, but I've never met any kid who thought Piet was a black person.

Maybe that's how black people become black :lol:

borrowedheaven
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:29 AM
Maybe that's how black people become black :lol:

But as part of his job, you know. That's how Zwarte Piet delivers presents.

The Witch-king
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:42 AM
But as part of his job, you know. That's how Zwarte Piet delivers presents.

Are there many 'black' figures in Dutch folklore?

borrowedheaven
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:44 AM
It's the only one I can think of.

stromatolite
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:47 AM
The story they told me as a kid is that Zwarte Piet is black because he goes down the chimneys all the time and he can't get the ashes off. I know it's not the original meaning, but I've never met any kid who thought Piet was a black person.

No, apparently that's just a myth. It seems that the character has Moorish origins, which makes sense when you consider that Sinterklaas is supposed to come from Spain (actually he lived in what is now Turkey, but nobody knows that anymore)

stromatolite
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:48 AM
Could you elaborate?

I'd rather not, it's pretty depressing. Just google Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) and you will find plenty of what I'm referring to.

borrowedheaven
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:50 AM
No, apparently that's just a myth. It seems that the character has Moorish origins, which makes sense when you consider that Sinterklaas is supposed to come from Spain (actually he lived in what is now Turkey, but nobody knows that anymore)

I know that's the original meaning. But it's not like any kid is gonna believe that over the ashes thing.

stromatolite
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:54 AM
I know that's the original meaning. But it's not like any kid is gonna believe that over the ashes thing.

Sorry, I misread your original post.

I agree, kids aren't stupid, they know the Pieten are "black". But it's got nothing to do with black people in the real world, any more than Sinterklaas has anything to do with their old bearded neighbour.

Elwin.
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:56 AM
Really? I get so many mixed messages about the Netherlands. People always tell me it's this racially harmonious heaven.

It's double. I mean, we were the first country have gay marriage.
But the last couple of years there's starting to be more tension between Dutch people and immigrants. The PVV (Anti Islam party of Geert Wilders) also had a hand in this.
The problem is that there are certain groups that are causing alot of trouble. Nowadays 65% of Moroccan youth had encounters with police already. Muslim immigrants also tend to be less tolerant towards gays and modern women. However, we also have a large group of Turkish and other Muslim immigrants, and they don't really cause any problems. It's mainly the Moroccans.
Plus there's a smaller group of Eastern Europeans (mainly Poles and Romanians) who's causing trouble. I can relate, recently we had a study in the stop where i work. And 85% cases of shoplifting were caused by Poles and Romanians.
I hope i don't sound racist, because there's a large group who's doing perfectly fine. I mean, not all Poles,Romanians,Moroccan get in trouble with police and stuff. I'm friends with Muslims and i love them.
But it's a problem and you can't deny it

borrowedheaven
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:59 AM
Sorry, I misread your original post.

I agree, kids aren't stupid, they know the Pieten are "black". But it's got nothing to do with black people in the real world, any more than Sinterklaas has anything to do with their old bearded neighbour.

Again :lol: I don't know about you but I totally believed that Piet was black because of the ashes. Up to a certain age you don't question those things. And when you do, you're probably old enough to stop believing in Sinterklaas anyway.

stromatolite
Dec 6th, 2012, 09:01 AM
It's double. I mean, we were the first country have gay marriage.
But the last couple of years there's starting to be more tension between Dutch people and immigrants. The PVV (Anti Islam party of Geert Wilders) also had a hand in this.
The problem is that there are certain groups that are causing alot of trouble. Nowadays 65% of Moroccan youth had encounters with police already. Muslim immigrants also tend to be less tolerant towards gays and modern women. However, we also have a large group of Turkish immigrants, and they don't really cause any problems. It's mostly the Moroccans.
Plus there's a smaller group of Eastern Europeans (mainly Poles and Romanians) who's causing trouble. I can relate, recently we had a study in the stop where i work. And 85% cases of shoplifting were caused by Poles and Romanians.
I hope i don't sound racist, because there's a large group who's doing perfectly fine. I mean, not all Poles,Romanians,Moroccan get in trouble with police and stuff. I'm friends with Muslims and i love them.
But it's a problem and you can't deny it

This is the reasonable voice that unfortunately gets snowed under in a lot of discussions. I think a lot of the problems arose because back in the last decades of the previous century nobody wanted to talk about the problems, which always existed. In my view it's just as racist to believe that all immigrants are saints as it is to blame them for all of society's problems, which is unfortunately the sentiment that Wilders is trying to tap into. The truth, as usual, is in the middle.

stromatolite
Dec 6th, 2012, 09:09 AM
Again :lol: I don't know about you but I totally believed that Piet was black because of the ashes. Up to a certain age you don't question those things. And when you do, you're probably old enough to stop believing in Sinterklaas anyway.

:facepalm: Jesus, I really need to improve my reading skills.:lol:

My problem is probably that I didn't grow up in the Netherlands, so never believed in Sinterklaas anyway.

Bartosh
Dec 6th, 2012, 01:16 PM
Plus there's a smaller group of Eastern Europeans (mainly Poles and Romanians) who's causing trouble. I can relate, recently we had a study in the stop where i work. And 85% cases of shoplifting were caused by Poles and Romanians.

You know what's funny/ridiculous - I've heard quite a lot of my friends saying that Poland is now a better and safer place to live because almost all of the chavs (Tokkie?) and in general people from margins of society are now in UK/the Netherlands etc. :tape::lol: not that I'm complaining but it must be pretty annoying for you guys :tape:

Just Do It
Dec 6th, 2012, 02:19 PM
I am getting sick of all the racist talk and of the people who constantly play on racist card.

Bart
Dec 6th, 2012, 04:39 PM
The story they told me as a kid is that Zwarte Piet is black because he goes down the chimneys all the time and he can't get the ashes off. I know it's not the original meaning, but I've never met any kid who thought Piet was a black person.

Yes, that's what they tell every child :shrug:

No racism at all. It's just tradition, no Sinterklaas without Zwarte Piet.
Seriously, the word "racism" must be the most overused word ever. I'm sick of it.

Melange
Dec 6th, 2012, 07:07 PM
Yes, that's what they tell every child :shrug:

No racism at all. It's just tradition, no Sinterklaas without Zwarte Piet.
Seriously, the word "racism" must be the most overused word ever. I'm sick of it.

The impression I get from this forum is that America is one of the most racist countries in the world.

miffedmax
Dec 6th, 2012, 07:14 PM
The impression I get from this forum is that America is one of the most racist countries in the world.

It's also, by it's very nature, one of the few that has historically had to deal with issues of race/ethnicity on a meaningful level. Which is not to say we've done a great job of it.

C. Drone
Dec 6th, 2012, 07:16 PM
"European Holiday Tradition" and article only mentions Zwarte Piet... :scratch:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Companions_of_Saint_Nicholas
Looks even more ridiculous calling it racism.

Dominic
Dec 6th, 2012, 08:25 PM
I am getting sick of all the racist talk and of the people who constantly play on racist card.

I know, seriously ridiculous :rolleyes: