Sinterklaas: Zwarte Piet and a Horse Analogy — Yeah, I’m Really Doing That


Zwarte-pietI’ve been making the point throughout 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 reply, 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.

8 responses to “Sinterklaas: Zwarte Piet and a Horse Analogy — Yeah, I’m Really Doing That

  1. You should know me better then thinking I would not be your friend any more, friends can have loud and vivid discussions AND different opinions and still go through the same door, right?
    Anyway just a quick one, because I know you’re now like a dog with a bone about this, and you have your reasons.. I know, and part of it is funded and part I think is from looking at it from an outsiders view living in a country where there’s always been a hard struggle with racism.
    First: I’m afraid there are certain groups in the NL’s who will use the ‘Zwarte Piet argument’ to really get more ‘on the racism bus’. Over the past 20 years there’s been a scary movement arising and I have a feeling it will not end well. The Dutch have been adapting to many more people coming into their country then just (black, brown) coloured people from Suriname or Indonesia.

    There has been a constant large stream of incoming people like guest workers (gast-arbeiders, first as working visitors, then they stayed and got their families over) and then refugees from all sorts of countries all over the world, and in later years from Eastern Europe. You have to understand many people will see them as you see the Mexican people in the USA. I don’t have to go into particulars, you know all about that and I don’t want to write a whole book!
    Anyway, to stay with the horses – and again I’ll try to keep it short. Yes I’ve been a fervent horse lover all my life, and I’m passionate about natural horsemanship. But, I can only spread this awareness to other people, by showing them the right way, and even then, this is MY right way.
    For ages and ages people have been riding a horse with a bit, because that is the way it is done and riding without a bit is seen as dangerous. The bit is seen as the way to keep the horse under control. That’s that in short.

    Now if I go to a horse event, let’s say the European Championship Jumping, something like that and I go into the ring and tell them they are doing it wrong, and that I AM RIGHT, what do you think would happen?

    I can’t go there and force them to do this, there would be an outrage and I would be look upon as a crazy alternative horse idiot and removed from the premises by the police for trespassing.
    So this awareness will have to be spread gradually and people will have to adapt and maybe in quite a few years it will change. In the mean time, we can all enjoy our horses and do what we like best, have a great time.
    Now think about me going to a country like Egypt and start telling them they are treating their horses wrong. No, better not do that, it could get very scary.

    But over time changes will come, so give them time.

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    • Hi Han, I’m glad we’re still friends. Sometimes I forget that we Dutch can argue and not take it personally. It’s from living here too long…
      Anyway, I know Dutch culture is not as strong as it once was, that people feel it’s being watered down or is even under constant attack from all these outsiders moving into a tiny country that can only absorb so much before the original culture starts disappearing. I get that. But yes, it can get dangerous very quickly if we don’t discern between different issues. The racist aspects of Zwarte Piet are only about that, not about everything else. It’s not even about Sinterklaas, or about Piet. It’s only about the color of his skin and hair. Change his skin to red, green and purple and his hair to different colors, too, and that one problem is solved. As for how I see the Mexicans in the USA: my mother-in-law is Mexican. T is Hispanic. The only people who feel threatened by Hispanics are Republicans and racists. I don’t have any time for them, either. For the Republicans who worry that more Hispanics means more votes for the Democrats, and for racists, that is. Not sure whether you are drawing the parallel between me and going to the horse event or between black people criticizing Zwarte Piet and the horse event. But as for awareness having to spread gradually: it’s 20-fricking-13! How much more gradual does it have to be? As for me being an outsider: I’m just about to write more about that aspect of it. Stay tuned.

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  2. I’ll keep this short, but… Your entire argument is based on the idea that the “black Dutch community” finds Zwarte Piet racist. But do they really? Sure, a couple of them do, but there are plenty of black people on tv who are quite vocal about the fact that they think this discussion is pointless. Definitely not every black person actually thinks anything should change, and I’d be very curious what exactly the proportions would be. Perhaps it is a majority, but then again, it could also be a really small group.

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    • So what if it’s a small group? And how small would you consider too small to take seriously? And how small can the group possibly be, if the UN takes them seriously? And considering the noise the vast pro-Zwarte Piet majority is making, how many people are just keeping their heads down, reminding themselves that it’ll all be over on December 6, until next year? I’m going to write one last post on the subject right now, and I hope you read it. People who have never been in the minority can be awfully cavalier about this whole thing. Thanks for responding, though.

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    • I’m pretty sure it’s a small group, since we moved here, i’ve seen this go on for a few years now, but also the tensions between population groups going up and up, so that’s why I mentioned it. And yes I used the horses as a parabel. Of course we’re still friends! Got to stop typing now this little laptop is giving me a head ache!

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  3. Not sure why my name was not with the above reply, but it is mine
    Hanneke.

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  4. As soon as some people express concerns with something it should be abolished? I don’t like techno music so should it be abolished?

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