Today, I want to talk about racism in the Netherlands. More specifically: why black pete is racist. I will address a discussion that has been going on for ages in the Netherlands. I have voiced my opinion before, but only on Facebook about this matter, but never really on my blog. Today, however, I want to take my time and dive into this issue. The topic is way more complex and yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, there is a distinction between being blatantly racist, ignorant and voicing a well-thought opinion. Anyway, let’s get into a healthy discussion!
Note: this article may attack your white privilege and this may automatically produce white tears.
Sinterklaas & black pete
In the Netherlands, we celebrate a holiday called Sinterklaas. It is basically a white man that gives presents around 5 december. However, this white white-bearded man has servants, that are black.. In history, these helpers were actually enslaved men or boys and this image has never changed. (Even though there is no more slavery etc.) Also, black pete was depicted as a boogeyman and is known to punish naughty children. This feeds into the negative stereotype of black people of that time. On one hand, people keep saying that black pete is black due to coming out of all these chimneys (insert major side-eye). Which would be understandable, if the image of black pete would be changed to match white people coming out of chimneys. Instead of mocking the image of black people with black face 🤷🏾♀️.
Dutch history w/ slaves
The Netherlands has a history deep-rooted in slavery and colonisation. The Dutch have sailed the world to buy spices in return for slaves and guns. Decades later, their food is still bland and they still haven’t let go of white supremacy. Yes, they got rid of the slaves, but not of black pete.
Before 1863, when the Netherlands abolished slavery, the country was deeply involved in the transatlantic slave trade. They gained financial success by selling enslaved people to the US or sending them to work in Dutch colonies. Some nobles even gifted each other with enslaved black children, who are shown in paintings wearing colorful, Moorish clothing similar to Black Pete’s.
Why black pete is racist
What white people need to understand about racism is that every person of color experiences it differently. So, one black person who does not find black face offensive does not negate my or someone else’s feeling towards it. People of color in the Netherlands do NOT have to accept black pete because it is a part of Dutch culture. Slavery and colonisation used to be part of it and is not anymore.
I think black pete is racist. It has nothing to do with “us” trying to steal “their” joy. However, it lets you know where “they” stand when it comes to “our” humanity and feelings. And I say this because I have been approached by people comparing me to black pete. It is really cringy and disgusting when I think about it. I’m pretty much unbothered, but imagine to have to watch the way you wear your hair or makeup in fear of being associated with black pete? Aint. Nobody. Got. Time. For. That. Some white people in the Netherlands think that non-whites owe them their holiday because they ‘let’ us live here. However, they do not think twice about calling non-white athletes Dutch as soon as they win a gold medal. Like, you cannot have a cake and eat it too.
racists need to understand
All in all, the discussion is more complex than I make it seem. Again, you are entitled to your WRONG oponion, but you cannot decide what I and other people of color deem racist or not. That feeling is based on our experiences and how we perceive things. People have a right to voice how they feel and you have no right to dismiss other peoples feelings. Just because white people are too blinded by their privilege to see how systematic racism has affected others, does not mean it doesn’t exist. Also, just because you don’t mean to be racist, does not mean you cannot be racist. I think that is the dumbest excuse ever. White people often think they can get away with racism and bigotry just because they didn’t mean anything by it.
This was a superlong post, sorry, NOT SORRY. If you are interested in seeing for example the reactions of Brits to black pete, check that out here. You can check out Zondag met Lubach on black pete (with subtitles!) here too. Last but not least, check out Chescaleigh on MTV’s Decoded on black pete here. Remember, you should always know when to speak up. Don’t be afraid to say, “hey, I haven’t experienced this, so I can’t say anything about it.” And to those who write racist comments on social media: you might lose your job :).