For the last couple of years back I had the maxing opportunity to study in the beautiful country of the Netherlands. Whilst I ended up not finishing my studies and coming back home after I year, I can honestly say that I loved it.
The people, the culture and the architecture it is all so amazing and I would recommend this as a wonderful country to live in. When one moves to a new country you immediately become subject to a whole new world of traditions. So for this post, I thought I would talk about a rather unique one. Sinterklass.
Sinterklaas means Sint Klaas or Saint Nicholas in English. On December 5th, Dutch families get together and exchange gifts. If the family has young children, Sinterklaas himself brings the presents to the door or through the chimney, usually in secrecy or it’s done by one or more of his helpers.
On the surface, this sounds like a wonderful tradition and nothing too different from Santa and his elves. However, this Dutch tradition is rather problematic and has recently been getting a lot of attention for the helpers in the story known as Black Pete.
Over the years Black Pete has gotten darker and darker ( they first started as Southern Europeans) and the story later developed that they were slaves. As such, it is very common for the ‘Dutchies’ to dress up in traditional clothes and paint their faces black. Many people have brushed this off saying that the dark skin is from the chimneys they climb down to, bringing in the presents. But this is not acceptable. Why? Other than the fact that ‘slaves’ are used to bring people presents it clearly is the use of Black faces and is deeply rooted in racism.
Black face occurred in the 19th century in the entertainment industry. It consisted of white actors having to play immensely offensive stock characters of black people with their faces painted black, curly wigs and drawn on huge lips.
This was done with the sole purpose of mocking features of those of black African descent and mannerisms as they were considered inferior, ugly and in many cases animalistic. This huge level of ignorance was prominent everywhere and a various number of popular musical hall/ movie characters were created like the Minstrels, Pickanianny, Jim Crow and Zip Coon. In the coming of the 20th-century characters were toned down but still, black roles were given to white actors as the thought of black people being in televised entertainment was out of the question. All of these characters have played a huge part in propagating racial stereotypes that are still very prevalent today.
In short black face has a long deep-rooted history in the mocking and oppression of black people and is very offensive and not acceptable for anyone to do under any circumstances. Halloween costumes of your favourite rapper included.
Black Pete despite being what the Dutch may call an innocent family tradition is rooted in racism, and all honestly make me feel very uncomfortable as black women to be confronted by this image splattered around everywhere from books to chocolates. It’s being up the unfortunate reality that many fellow travellers experiences and confirms the reality that some places are just not for us.
And I’m not the only one that has a problem with this, there have been several human rights court cases that have demanded the removal of the character suggesting that it infringes on the human rights of black people. Multiple anti-racist movements and protests have been occurring calling for the end of Black Pete. Even the UN has expressed its concerns about the tradition ( click here to read the article).
From speaking to the Dutch people it is very clear that the majority of people don’t see this is as a race issue or have never even begun to see it as a problem. In fact race as a whole is not nearly discussed in my opinion as much as it is in other countries like the UK or the USA. The fact of the matter is the Netherlands like a lot of other nations does have a horrid colonial past that can not just be erased, yet many Dutchmen seem to be in denial about a lot of racial issues. It may be a hard pill to swallow but it is in no way acceptable for this to be allowed.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the matter so leave comments below x