I’ve been making the point throughout this series on Zwarte Piet that racism is in the eye of the person on the receiving end. Racism is what a person of a different race experiences as racist. White people don’t get to determine whether or not black people can be offended by Zwarte Piet.
So one more time, repeat after me:
White people don’t get to decide what black people can or cannot experience as racist. The very idea is itself mind-bogglingly arrogant.
Now, last night a friend of mine (at least I hope we’re still friends, despite everything) wrote a reply to my last post. The gist of it was that she grew up with Zwarte Piet, she loves Zwarte Piet–she just can’t help it, and she doesn’t think that’s racist.
I thought of a different way to explain why I’m shocked that it’s taking so long for the white Dutch population to come around to the idea that the racist aspects of Zwarte Piet should be changed.
My friend is an avid horseback rider and a great advocate for horse welfare. So I used the following analogy in my reply to her comment, and I thought I’d copy it and give it it’s own post. Now let me emphasize that I in no way mean to compare black people to horses or to any other animal. I just used this analogy because I hoped it would help my friend see the whole issue from my perspective.
So here it is:
Let’s say you’re in a stables and you observe a man holding a horse that’s obviously in great pain. The animal is foaming at the mouth, chomping at the bit and jerking its head up and down.
So you point out to the man that the horse is in pain because of the bit he’s using, and that a simple adaptation would end the pain. All he has to do is remove one pin. (I know nothing about horses or bits, but let’s just say that technically this is possible.)
The man is shocked. He says he never intended to hurt the horse. Maybe that’s true. Maybe he didn’t even know the horse was hurting. Maybe he always thought that the foaming and chomping and jerking were signs of sheer joy. Why not give him the benefit of the doubt.
But now he knows that the bit is indeed causing the horse extreme pain. Instead of saying, “Well jeez, thanks for pointing that out, I’ll remove that pin right away, because I would never intentionally hurt my horse,” he insists it’s not abuse because he’s not an abuser; it’s just that he has always used this bit; it looks great and he just really enjoys it–he can’t help it. So he’s not going to remove the pin.
He doesn’t think the bit’s abusive but the horse is clearly in pain.Would you care that the man says he thinks it’s not abusive, or would you focus on the fact that the horse is in pain?
And if it’s been pointed out to the man that the horse is in pain as a result of the bit he’s using–something he could easily change–and he insists on continuing the practice, what does that make him?
I have to believe that we can do better than that horse owner.
The black Dutch community has pointed out that Zwarte Piet reduces an entire ethnicity to black skin, red lips and frizzy hair and that it’s offensive to them. The white Dutch community now knows that. So Dutch people, if you’re serious about not being racist, then just change Zwarte Piet.
Or don’t change it, but then admit that you just don’t give a rat’s ass about the feelings of the black Dutch community. In which case you’ve gone from maybe being unknowingly racist to being actively and knowingly racist. There’s no way around that.
And in my last post in this series I address the comment that I’m an outsider and that it’s therefore pretty much none of my business.