Traditionalists Vow to Fight Charges of Racism in Netherlands

In addition to Autumn traditions for 2014 – 1: Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet and Geert Wilders wants mandatory blackface at Dutch festival we would like to give the word to the Editor of ‘Defend Christmas‘  not because we would be in favour of that heathen festival which lures many Christians in taking actions against the Will of God, but because we all should know that we do live in a mixt society where there are many sorts of people, different cultures and different colours having to find a place to live in peace with each other.

Like Christmas isn’t really the point of contention some people make it out to be. It has been celebrated in different ways by different people in different cultures around the world since before the birth of Jesus Christ. The world’s largest Christmas community online and the Internet’s oldest ongoing celebration of Christmas contend that Christmas is special for that fact alone. For them

The diversity of thought around the season needs to be celebrated — not condemned.

Defend Christmas

For nearly 200 years the Netherlands have carried on the St. Nicholas tradition of Zwarte Piet, a black elf-like character that only last year was condemned by critics as a racist caricature. Traditionalists tell Defend Christmas that they are organizing counter protests and the Winter Festival of 2014 will feature more Black Petes than ever, all but guaranteeing this issue will once again be at the forefront of media discussions of Christmas.

The complaints against Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, began outside of the country, which does not have a long term history of racial issues, and it has exploded into an emotional debate as Christmas traditionalists inside the country cry foul.

While the character of St. Nicholas, both in a historic sense and in contemporary practice, has some similarities to Britain’s Father Christmas or America’s Santa Claus, the tradition of St. Nicholas is decidedly different in the Netherlands. Sinterklaas, as he is known, shows up in mid-November in many communities, usually riding a white horse and wearing the traditional Bishop’s robes of St. Nicholas.

Nicholas was, in fact, a Catholic bishop of world fame who lived in the 5th century. His tradition in the Netherlands is as much — still — a religious tradition as it is a seasonal celebration. He comes into town sometimes with dozens of assistants known as Black Petes. And together — Nicholas and Zwarte Piet — they determine which children are well behaved. They visit schools, hospitals, churches, stores and even private homes for weeks at a time leading up to St. Nicholas Day, traditionally observed on December 6th.

Children respond by singing Sinterklaas songs leaving out wish lists and water and hay for the horse. If St. Nicholas happens by while checking on their behavior, the next morning children may find chocolate coins or letter, candy treats, pepernoten, and little gifts in their shoes. Everyone hopes for sweets, not coal or a little bag of salt. In some families he may stop by every night, but usually just once or several times—and not if the children have been naughty that day or forgot to sing their songs. By tradition St. Nicholas hands out the goodies while Zwarte Piete doles out the bad stuff.

While there is some history of Zwarte Piet taking on darker and more sinister forms of punishment his character over time has become more one of whimsy and mischief. Ironically, it is the character of Sinterklaas that has remained more serious while Zwarte Piet has come to bring the more light-hearted element to the proceedings.

Last year the Jamaican chair of the UN Human Rights Commission condemned the practice of Black Pete. “The working group cannot understand that why it is that people in the Netherlands cannot see that this is a throwback to slavery and that in the 21st century this practice should stop. As a black person, I feel that if I was living in the Netherlands I would object to it,” she said.

Those comments cast an international media spotlight on the Christmas traditions in the Netherlands and led to hundreds of protesters marching on a park in The Hague in support of Dutch traditions.

This summer a court agreed that Black Pete is racist and encouraged organizers to change the tradition. In response the mayor of Amsterdam has vowed to gradually reduce the presence of Black Pete and to diminish his traditional characteristics.

While race hasn’t been at the forefront of issues in the Netherlands it has increased in focus. In fact, local media reports that complaints of race discrimination in the Netherlands have doubled in the past year, in part due to the controversy over Zwarte Piet.

Surveys also show an overwhelming sense that political correctness has taken root in the Netherlands, adversely affecting not only tradition but race relations overall.

Expect more strife this Christmas from the Netherlands.

Traditionalists Vow to Fight Charges of Racism in Netherlands

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Additional reading:

  1. Christmas, Saturnalia and the birth of Jesus
  2. Focus on outward appearances
  3. The imaginational war against Christmas
  4. Sancta Claus is not God
  5. Manna from Sint Nicholas

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  • Geert Wilders draws up a law to preserve Zwarte Piet (dutchnews.nl)

    The anti-immigration PVV is drawing up legislation which would ensure Zwarte Piet, Sinterklaas’s servant, remains black and that songs remain unmodernised.

    MP and party media strategist Martin Bosma has ‘worked all weekend’ on the bill to make sure that Piet remains black at official council Sinterklaas events, PVV leader Geert Wilders told television show Vandaag de dag.

    ‘We want to protect our culture,’ Wilders said. The idea that Zwarte Piet, played by white people in blackface make-up, is a sign of racism is ‘too ridiculous for words,’ Wilders said.

  • Who profits from the production of blackface? (africasacountry.com)
    Some tried to turn blackface into brownface (only in the Netherlands) while others are still trying to convince us that Black Pete sets a fine example for black people. In any case, anti-blackface protestors have not been silent.Recently, anti-blackface campaigners have again drawn attention to the economic dimension of blackface. It is quite apparent that the Dutch state and its economy are profiting generously from their annual blackface partay. The Dutch spend more on the Sinterklaas celebration than on any other public holiday – think presents, but also lots of Sinterklaas related stuff from toys, candy, and chocolates to wrapping paper. It comes to no surprise then that campaigners are critically examining who exactly is profiting from the production of blackface.
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    using caricatures and stereotypes of black people in the design of, for instance, children’s toys is also common practice. The act of consuming blackface has now become a disposable act, unrelated to any political issue and completely emptied out of its historical context. This also, partly, explains the huge outrage (and all the tears) that anti-blackface campaigners are faced with; they are disturbing the natural order of things (blackface). As many have argued before me,
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    A collective of people, including the action group Mad Mothers NL, sent letters to the Sesame Street Workshop Corporation in the US and demanded that Black Pete be scrapped from the Dutch version of the program. Black Pete will now no longer appear on the show or be used for promotional purposes. Another example is Playmobil, who will no longer be selling plastic Black Petes. These actions are important because they demonstrate that international companies are indeed weary of supporting blackface – as they should be – and that protesting does help in some instances.
  • Who profits from the production of blackface? (ecowastribune.com)
    Dutch department store group De Bijenkorf (known for the Black Pete’s on a rope spectacle) is internationally owned, more specifically by Selfridges, a chain of high-end department stores in the UK.To that end, campaigner Eduard Mangal posted the following to the Facebook page of Selfridges:

    Mr. Anthony Graham of Wittington Investments, and Mr. Paul Kelly of Selfridges do you support racial offending actions that can hurt your business and ignore court decisions? Do you really support blackface? Talk to your management in the Netherlands and please respond!

    He also posted this to the Facebookpage of De Bijenkorf (who deleted the whole topic):

    Why does the Bijenkorf not respect the decisions of the [Dutch] court, the Board for the Protection of Human Rights and the UN working group of experts on peoples of African descent, that the blackface character “Zwarte Piet” is a racist caricature, confirming stereotypes? Why does the Bijenkorf [- your store in the Netherlands! – continue to offend people by] decorating their store with blackface characters?

    On September 26th, Selfridges responded to Eduard Mangal by basically saying that they are fine with promoting blackface because De Bijenkorf styles their Black Petes differently every year and take the “Dutch Centre for Folk Culture and Immaterial Heritage” into account.

  • Entire stock of Sinterklaas toys sold in one day (24oranges.nl)
    There’s already Sinterklaas treats in the shops, we’ve spent the summer in controversy with ‘Zwarte Piet’ and now in Ede, Gelderland, there’s a run on toys featuring the soon to be phased out black festive helper.Online webshop Lobbes.nl based in Ede has sold all its Fisher Price Sinterklaas sets in one day. We’re not talking millions of sets, but the run on the toys did not go unnoticed. ​Fisher Price has announced that it will stop producing its traditional sets following complaints related to the figure of Zwarte Piet deemed racist by the courts.
  • Black Peter banned from Albert Heijn ad campaigns (deredactie.be)
    Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn is getting rid of Black Peter (Zwarte Piet). Saint Nicholas’ (Sinterklaas) trusty –and controversial – side-kick will only be depicted on candy in-store, according to the Dutch daily ‘Algemeen Dagblad’. Black Peter is still welcome in the Belgian Albert Heijn branches.
  • Wilders Calls for Measure Supporting Tradition of Black Peter, Says It’s Children’s Party Figure……. (tundratabloids.com)

    Wilders said he was ‘so angry’ over the discussion, the law is designed to “protect our culture,” and the discussion on Zwarte Piet and racism is’ too ridiculous for words, “Wilders said. “It’s a children’s party. This has nothing to do with racism. “ I hope there is a majority, then we can at least maintain that tradition.”

5 thoughts on “Traditionalists Vow to Fight Charges of Racism in Netherlands

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