Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Netherlands:Where Santa´s helpers look like black faced Minstrels in America

The Netherlands:Where Santa´s helpers look like black faced Minstrels in America

     I lived in the Netherlands from August 2006 until
August 2010. I was pusuing an L.L.M. but left unfinished.

     There were many things that I liked about the Netherlands.

     I loved walking along the canals; it was peaceful. I really
enjoyed taking the canal cruise boats. They put me to sleep.
The water.

     And, there are so many people that I met and liked and respected,
Paul, from Amsterdam; Ton, from Zaandam; Naima, Saskia, whom
I met at the Prix d´Ami coffeeshop. Jeremy too at both the Rokerij and
later the Prix d´Ami.  It was a good laugh. Guillamo, Josune (?) Too
many to name. Stella, Mary, Jacintha...

     Jackie, from Austrailia by way of Chicago...I have never forgotten
having those meals on Friday.

     All of my teachers at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, Harmen,

     The one big shocker was Santa´s, or (“Sinterklaas,” in the Netherlands)
helpers. They were not the elves that I had grown up used to in America.
No, these reminded me of the performers I´d seen in America´s minstrel
shows. White actors and actresses with blackened faces....playing derogatory

     The only minstrel performers that I saw live was in a skit...part of a show
put on at my school. It was a Catholic school, St. Charles Borremeo, in
Woburn, Massachusetts, which is outside of Boston.

     In the Netherlands, Santa, is known as “Sinterklaas.” December 5th is the
day children receive their presents from “Sinterklaas.”  You will not see reindeer
with Sinterklass. He has helpers named Zwarte Piet, Black Pete, who is the
attraction for children.

     I don´t  remember seeing  Zwarte Piet, (Black Pete) my first  Christmas
(2006). I don´t know why...except I was consumed with school, cramming for
exams and more. I also went to Köln that Christmas. But, in 2007 I moved to
Haarlem and saw plenty of  Zwarte Piets. They are both men and women. My
son was with me, and I remember when we walked around a corner and saw
some with children.

    My first thought was that you wouldn´t see this in America, and most likely
not even in Cape Town, South Africa. When I asked about  Zwarte Piet, and
offered my thoughts that it smacked of racism I was told that the black face was
supposed to be soot from the chimneys, but that doesn´t account for the kinky
black hair, or the lips.

     Most Dutch are adament that it is not racist at all; it´s a tradition. But, this
tradition does not have a long lineage. It begins between 1845-1850. The Dutch
outlawed slavery in 1814, yet it continued in some colonies until 1863.

     Both America and the Netherlands among many countries were slave owning
and trading countries, and America´s minstrel shows began in the same era.

     The spread on the civil rights movement in America helped to eliminate many
of the minstrel performances. The Dutch people who defend these racist characters
should ask themselves "What did we do for more than a thousand years until
1850 when Zwarte Piet came into being.

     It is also is this character demeaning. Yes, it is offensive. Can the Netherlands
do without it? Yes, slavery was abolished, and many other negative things. This
one has to go.

     This issue was blown open when Quinsy Gario, a performance artist from the
Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao was arrested and brutally beaten last  November
for wearing a T~shirt that said "Zwarte Piet is racism."

There are some links to videos below


Dutch tradition caught in racist accusations




Criticism of Dutch "Black Pete" tradition grows

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