I recently wrote a series of posts about Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), a character in the Dutch Saint Nicholas celebration. Black Peter is Sinterklaas’s helper; he’s a white person in blackface, with red lips, a black frizzy wig, dressed in an old-fashioned clown outfit.
Many black people in the Netherlands find it offensive that their ethnicity is reduced to black (literally black) skin, big red lips and frizzy hair. There is a debate going on about whether or not Black Peter being Sinterklaas’s helper dates back to slavery. There are also plenty of black people in the Netherlands who say it doesn’t bother them in the least, who even join in the fun with gusto.
Nevertheless, Black Peter made international news when people who felt that the Dutch government hadn’t taken their complaints of racism seriously went to the United Nations.
Predictably, when I wrote my posts, many Dutch people reacted defensively, and one reader mentioned in a comment to this post that the American Santa has elves, and what do little people think of that?
I responded: “As for Santa Claus and his elves: elves really and truly are fairytale figures. Santa doesn’t ever (not that I’ve ever seen or heard of in the 20 years that I’ve lived in the USA) have little people dressed up as elves. That would indeed be offensive. So it isn’t done.”
Well, I was just watching CNN, and during the commercial break I saw Santa with some elves played by little people in an HEB commercial. (HEB is the main supermarket in Texas.)
Now I wonder if I really hadn’t ever seen little people playing Santa’s elves, or if I simply hadn’t been paying attention before. Because it’s quite a coincidence that I saw this commercial so shortly after writing that oh so decisive response.
So I have a question for you little people out there: are you offended at being associated with elves around this time of year? Do you feel stereotyped, in a munchkin kind of way? Or does it not bother you at all? Do you have fun with it or does it spoil December? I’d love to hear your take(s) on it.