Racism is not as 'black & white' as you might think...
Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piet, it’s a long and dear hold tradition, stirring up all kinds of positive memories. With more and more criticism at hand (and children asking why some Zwarte Pieten have white bellies), people often explain that he’s black because he came down through the chimney. However, looking at all the characteristics like the red lips and curly hair, it becomes obvious that Zwarte Piet originates from the image of black people.
But why is that a problem? Zwarte Piet is a joyful fellow who brings presents to children and is an all-around entertainer. Those are certainly positive attributes, but at the same time he is also known to have a simple, shallow and almost “dumb” personality. Not to forget that he is subordinate to old, wise and white Sinterklaas.
This reinforces the cultural stereotype about black people, that they are great entertainers but not really suited for more complicated jobs, where leadership and conceptual thinking is required. Yes he is a funny guy, but being this clown also means that he can’t be a wise man.
Through trying to explain how children don’t really understand the whole idea of black people, some people want to show how the concept of Zwarte Piet is completely innocent. But come on, as a kid we learn how the world functions. From our first days on this earth, we learn what it means to be a boy or a girl. Nobody tells you that as a boy you’re supposed to be in charge, not cry, and like the color blue. You understand ‘being a boy’ this way because that’s how it’s shown on TV and how people talk about it. Why should it be any different with Zwarte Piet? If you constantly see how there are these funny and dumb black clowns that help a white serious man, it surely doesn’t help to fight racism.
A different question: is it really necessary for the enjoyment of the Sinterklaas celebration to have Zwarte Pieten, who represent a stereotypical attribute of black people? The point is, funny clowns who assist Sinterklaas don’t have to be black. They could als be white, or Asian, or in case of American Santa Claus they could be elves! While we’re at it, why can’t we also have female Sinterklaas helpers?
Of course Zwarte Piet doesn’t have negative effects on everyone. But even if there are only a few people who are offended by it, and there is slight chance of reinforcing black stereotypes, why can’t the privileged people for once let go of their right. Yes you have a right to celebrate tradition. But if our tradition can be harmful to others, shouldn’t we have the honor and integrity to change it in order to create a more positive environment for everyone? It’s an issue of selfishness: I enjoy Zwarte Piet and I get positive experiences from it.
I think that while it’s necessary to think about how we can create a friendly society without discrimination, it’s not necessary to have black Zwarte Pieten. We don’t have to completely get rid of Zwarte Pieten, but race-neutral assistants of Sinterklaas, with yellow, purple, red and blue faces can be just as much fun in my opinion.