Friday, November 8, 2013

Amsterdam city council acknowledge Black Pete racism

Tradition holds that the last couple of months of the year be spent debating the Low Countries' blackface antics. I am, of course, talking about Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete"), who has been a staple of the Sinterklaas celebration of December 5-6 since he was invented by a school teacher in Amsterdam in 1845.

This year, the mayor of Amsterdam - where each year, Sinterklaas and his black-skinned (sorry, blackface) servants make their grand entrance on a steamboat disturbingly reminiscent of a refugee ship heading for Lampedusa - met with some of the Zwarte Piet opponents. They wanted the entire spectacle to be cancelled, which of course didn't happen.

Instead it was decided that the Pieten will from now on wear lipstick of different colours, rather than just red, and "a variety of black hair" rather than the traditional black curls. It has also previously been decided that the cosplayers will not be allowed to wear gold earrings.

Of course, by changing the character's appearance, the city council recognizes the overt racism in the original representation of the Zwarte Piet character.


  1. With the risk of being bashed for political correctness... I agree: get away with that Zwarte Piet. And throw St Nicholas himself in the garbage bin too, or better in the dump where it will eventually be forgotten. Also, fairytales likes Cinderella, Redcape and the Wolf, ... and all that Disney crap: throw it away and make sure it never sees the surface again!

    Seriously, as a child I watched some of this crap, but I was just a 5 or 6 years old when I already told my parents to not bother me with that nonsense anymore. Why do we need to tell made up stories that are totally unrealistic to children? Talking animals, the good that Always conquers the bad, standard role patterns (there is still no story involving a gay couple for example) ... It all seems innocent but we do read them stories that are totally unrealistic, and in some cases less harmless than we think. From early age on children hear stories in which, Always, we talk about traditional roles, traditional family patterns, ... Is that the way we want to see the next generation grow up as openminded individuals??

    I am 100% serious in this post: ban all those children stories that involve anything unrealistic (such as talking animals) and ban all TV shows or films that contain the same content. Instead, let's read our children nice stories that however are not unrealistic. I am not saying we should confrontate children from early age with the gloomy reality out there, but the other extreme of creating some fantasy world is also not a good solution in my opinion. There are children's stories that are actually not including any unrealistic stuff ; maybe we should promote those and ditch all the ones that rely on inexisting occurings or rely on classic role patterns and gender norms.

    1. Who can tell what really happens inside the mind of a child whose illusions are finally shattered like so many water balloons? Someone needs to figure this out.

    2. I don't think we should approach young children the way we do with grown ups or older children. Let a child have its innocence, and its imagination. So I don't see we should ditch fairytales. However, I do think we should tell less unrealistic things (talking animals, people that can fly, creatures that do not exist) and use more stories with realistic characters such as regular human beings. You don't need to use inexisting creatures or impossible skills to entertain a child, there are enough very creative children stories which do not feature anything totally unrealistic.

      My point is: we don't need unicorns, elfs, gremlins, talking animals or smurfs to create entertaining stories for young children. There are good stories to read to a child which just features normal human beings. We should use those more and move away from the "magical world".