Sinterklaas: Breaking Down Some Arguments, Again


blog.seniorennet.beIts that time of year again in the Netherlands: Sinterklaas is coming. From what I gather over here in Texas, for now, the people who want to keep Zwarte Piet black have won.

There’s no point to me saying everything I already said at length last year, but for those of you who missed it then, here’s one of the posts I wrote about the issue below. Or, if you want, you can start at the beginning. And if you’re one of those who say I have no right to say anything because I’m an outsider, I have dedicated my last post in the series especially to you.

So here goes:

————————————————————————————————–

Okay, this is part four in what has become a series. I’ve already addressed the first couple of arguments in my previous posts, but let me mention them again just to be thorough.

Argument: Zwarte Piet has nothing to do with slavery. Zwarte Piet is a fairytale figure–not based in any history.

My response: It’s irrelevant where the idea comes from. The point is that Zwarte Piet is racist now.

image: mamamaai.blogspot.com

image: mamamaai.blogspot.com

Argument: Zwarte Piet isn’t racist. Zwarte Piet is a friendly part of a friendly holiday. Zwarte Piet is a friend to children. They love him.

My response: It’s irrelevant what your intentions are with Zwarte Piet. The point is that black people find him offensive. I can’t stress this enough: White people don’t get to decide what black people can or can’t experience as racist.

Argument: Who do the United Nations think they are, interfering with our Dutch traditions? And they don’t even get the facts straight (see this post by Dean Richards).

My response: Whether or not the UN understands the facts and history of Sinterklaas is irrelevant.

image: nedermeme.nl

image: nedermeme.nl
“Zeurpiet” can be translated as “Whining Piet”.

It’s the responsibility of a national government to ensure that minorities’ rights are not trampled. If a minority brings to the national government’s attention that they feel discriminated against, and the national government doesn’t do anything, then the United Nations is alerted.

If you don’t want the UN to comment on the situation, then you’d better make sure you deal with the issue satisfactorily. The fact that the UN had to get involved should be a wake-up call. Shame on the Dutch government for not taking the concerns of its minorities seriously.

image: cnn.com

image: cnn.com

Argument: There is a civil war going on in Syria; we are in a recession; Indonesia is killing West-Papuans (see this artikel by Gerrit de Heus). So don’t we/the United Nations have anything better to do than worry about something as innocent as Zwarte Piet?

My response: Tell it to black people in the Netherlands that it’s innocent. Tell it to the guy whose coworkers and even his boss refer to him as Zwarte Piet for two months out of the year.

Also, the United Nations is quite capable of looking into more than one issue at a time.

And sure, there are always worse things to worry about. But that’s a great excuse for never doing anything about anything. It’s also a diversion tactic. The average Dutch person can’t do anything about the civil war in Syria or the recession or the fact that Indonesia murders West-Papuans, but they can do something about the racist nature of Zwarte Piet. So the argument that there are worse things to worry about is the argument of the lazy and the indifferent.

image: rtvstadskanaal.nl

image: rtvstadskanaal.nl

Argument: I know plenty of black people who love Sinterklaas and everything about it, including Zwarte Piet.

My response: That’s irrelevant. Apparently there are enough black people who do find it offensive, and that’s what matters.

And anyway, you don’t know the motivations of those black people who “love” Zwarte Piet. Maybe they really do (see this post by Van Daal en z0). I don’t presume to know what other people think. Having said that, and since black people have always been such a minority in the Netherlands, and considering the reaction of the majority the moment anyone dares to criticize Zwarte Piet, you’ve got to wonder how many black people don’t just say they love it and go along with it, even participate with gusto, because they are used to having to work extra hard to fit in, and to show they are “a good sport” about things.

image: scientias.nl

image: scientias.nl

Argument: The vast majority of Dutch people want to keep Zwarte Piet; just look at the Piet Moet Blijven Facebook page. Its got so many likes already!

My response: The only thing more inane than having polls like that is the fact that people are getting all excited and pleasantly surprised when they’ve gotten the first million likes. Of course you’re going to get a lot of likes–you’re the majority!

However, democracy isn’t about majority rule; it’s about defending the rights of minorities. Having a vote about Zwarte Piet is like representatives in a majority Republican state in the USA wanting to decide whether gay couples can marry by taking a vote. That’s nothing less than bullying, which is why we have national governments. And if they don’t do their jobs, then you take it to the UN.

Argument: The UN (or what’s really meant: those damn divisive blacks who brought this issue to the UN) have created racism where there was none (again, see Dean Richards and Gerrit de Heus).

My response: BULLSHIT! People who aren’t racist don’t suddenly become racist because the UN gives them a rap on the knuckles about a children’s holiday.

image: ad.nl

image: ad.nl

First of all,  Zwarte Piet has always been racist (see my second post in this series). Second, the mass hysteria that has taken over the country shows exactly to what extent white Dutch people consider black people as  equal Dutch citizens: not at all.

“How dare they attack our traditions!” There was always racism and this just brings it to the forefront.

Argument: It’s not racist; it’s tradition.

image: divinevarod.com

image: divinevarod.com

My response: So anything that’s tradition isn’t racist? Get real.

And tradition? Don’t give me that. The Sinterklaas tradition was never set in stone.

When I went to school in the sixties, kids exchanged surprises–that’s all, but now classrooms have cardboard fireplaces and kids put out their shoes and get candy. Or if that’s not considered hygenic, teachers can always buy pre-cut paper shoes that the kids can color first. That’s relatively new. They didn’t do that when I left 2o years ago. Apparently some bars even have a schoentje zetten event. That’s also new. And there are Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet dolls now. Again: new. It has nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with consumerism. They’re all just more ways to make money off the holiday.

If you can add things to the Sinterklaas “tradition” every few years in the name of making a few more bucks, you can bloody well take offensive aspects out. And no, that’s not going to change the whole face of Sinterklaas (see my last post).

There, that should cover it. If not, let me know.

The next post: let’s try an analogy.

10 responses to “Sinterklaas: Breaking Down Some Arguments, Again

  1. The hypocrites of the UN should butt out. They have a habit of picking and choosing issues that are easy to tackle, but human rights violations and discrimination committed by their host Country are never addressed, instead they focus on Zwarte Piet rather than the statistically proven disparity between black and white, rich and poor, prisoners in the US. On the issue of slavery; no one mentions the fact that the name Moriaantje, the little moor, el morito, comes from a time that Africans took slaves from Europe. The history books also fail to mention that most African slaves were purchased from other Africans. I don’t see anyone complaining about African traditions where Africans walk around in white face makeup, racist,…no, tradition!

    On a whole, I think you write excellent articles, I don’t even disagree with you on the Zwarte Piet issue on principle, but to call the Dutch Gov’t on the fact that they don’t do enough goes just a little too far. Remember that discrimination is maintained by the US Gov’t, just look at your DL, it asks for race even if a picture says enough. I had to ask what that “WM” stood for when I got mine in 1980 or 1981, other Countries where I’ve lived don’t do this.

    Are the Dutch supposed to give up their entire National identity just to please the world? I was denied a cab ride home from the Airport because the Muslim driver refused to transport a bottle of Wine in “his” car. In finding a non Muslim driver I could be seen as prejudiced. Where does it stop?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Onno,

      You hit the nail on the head when you said the UN focuses on issues that are easy to tackle. That’s what makes the whole Zwarte Piet issue so ridiculous to me. It’s the easiest thing in the world to fix. Sure, there is blatant racism and inequality on all levels of society in America. And okay, the UN is hypocritical. But that’s not what this post is about.

      In other words: don’t change the subject. Of course anyone can always find worse examples of any issue, but that’s no reason not to tackle the issue at hand. Getting rid of racism and inequality in the US requires an overhaul of the education system, an overhaul of the social structure and getting rid of corruption, just to name a few obstacles. But this post is about the Netherlands, and about the fact that black people in the Netherlands feel offended by Zwarte Piet. The only thing anyone has to do to fix that is grab a different color schmink.

      That’s it.

      It won’t change Sinterklaas completely, let alone will it mean that you give up your entire national identity. Just move your hand a little to the left or right when it wants to grab the black schmink and make it grab the red or blue or green instead.

      What’s really going on, I think, is what you address at the end. The Muslim who won’t give you a ride when you’re carrying a bottle of wine. But you all have to calm down a little and see that that’s a different issue. Zwarte Piet is not about the subtleties of a religion that you feel someone is imposing on you. It’s not about the finer points of religious freedom versus separating your religion from your job. Zwarte Piet is about portraying an entire ethnicity within your society in a way that offends them in a most unsubtle way. To have this knee-jerk reaction to that because of irritations about having to deal with all these other cultural differences is understandable as a first reaction, but to persist is to be purposely racist. If before you all had the excuse that you never made the connection between the fictional Zwarte Piet and actual black people (like I myself didn’t), you can no longer say that; blacks have been quite clear about why it hurts them. So by holding on to the color of Piet’s face so obstinately and by hiding behind your little kids (who would adapt in a New York minute), you all are making things so much worse than they have to be. The world is watching and you all are making such fools of yourselves. Time to grow up!

      Like

  2. Funny that the same people that call us “Makamba” and “Bakra” year round now have an issue with a Kids tradition once per year. In their own Countries they gladly participate in Sinterklaas, but in the Netherlands they complain. See, I speak their languages, I know what they say behind Your back, or mine, and they never suspect I fully understand. Time to grow up indeed, life isn’t fair, it’s a 2 way street, not to be regulated for one way traffic. The “World” is foolishly asking for a double standard.

    This is the basis for my disagreement, MVG.

    Like

  3. Hello Resident Alien, here is a link about the very Racist, Quincy Gario, that put the Zwarte Piet issue on the map: http://www.geenstijl.nl/mt/archieven/2014/08/giel_beelen_fileert_quinsy_gar.html
    He wrote: White lives matter more than brown ones. His opinion on MH17.

    Now he just wants to bail on the ZP issue, it no longer matters to him. Just thought you might want to know. Like I said, I know what they say behind our backs. MVG, Onno.

    P.S. I will not be offended if you don’t publish my comments, this is not personal for me and not meant that way towards you. Just tired of the hypocrisy.

    Like

    • Hi Onno,

      Well, I went to the link. Not exactly a classy site. They make the connection between Quincy’s last name and the medical term for some kind of pus. Very funny, if you’re seven. And it was brimming with glee about the fact that this Giel snotneus told Gario to shut up from now on.

      I don’t know anything about Quincy Gario other than that he was the first to openly wear the “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” t-shirt, and considering that he must have known, at least to a degree, the amount of sewage he was going to get dumped all over him, that was pretty damn brave. I didn’t get from the interview that he is “very racist” and I got the impression, from the little Gario got the chance to say about it, that the offensive remark was made about something else entirely and that it was quite possibly taken out of context. I also didn’t get that Gario is no longer interested in the matter of Zwarte Piet, but rather that he feels that he has said and done everything he could, and that it was now up to the mayor of Amsterdam to do the right thing.

      If your intent had been to illustrate how the Netherlands is still in the Stone Age when it comes to racial sensitivity, you couldn’t have done any better than give me this link. I was appalled at the patronizing way this Giel Beelen addressed Gario, literally like he was talking to a young boy, asking him if there wasn’t something he needed to apologize for, making him guess what he was referring to. And deciding that Gario has forfeited his right to say anything about racism because he didn’t meet the mayor. The white-man arrogance of this guy, thinking that he can make up the rules as he goes along, in such a way that the black man can’t help but be caught not following them. And telling Gario at the end to keep his mouth shut from now on. I was impressed with how calm Gario remained, because I was getting pretty furious, but he has no doubt had to develop a very thick skin.

      Again, Onno, this post is not about the UN, not about all the things that America gets wrong, not about what people in Africa do, not about what people in Africa did four centuries ago, not about what you heard some black people call white people–and Jesus Christ, can you blame them?–and not about what someone said about a plane crash months ago. This post is about the fact that Zwarte Piet is racist and that it can be easily remedied by choosing a different color schmink.

      So again, grow up.

      Like

  4. http://ooginoog.incontxt.nl/seizoenen/seizoen-9-2014/afleveringen/27-11-2014 Maybe you’d like to call Sven Kockelmann a “snot nose” also, Giel had nothing to do with people’s comments, which like you mentioned weren’t classy. Quinsy knew exactly what Giel was referring to, he removed the tweet within 10 minutes, realizing his mistake in exposing himself as a racist, too bad for him that people know how to make a screen shot, he got caught with his pants down. Netherlands in the stone age? Ever hear of Ferguson? Liberty City? Rodney King? Come on now!

    Like

  5. We had an discussion about this issue a few years ago, I think. I made a point about Thanksgiving and how the Native Americans perceive their role in it! You would look into this! In my opinion if you say the Zwarte Piet is unacceptable, why not the native American portrayed in Thanksgiving.

    Like

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