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Old 12-16-2011, 10:01 AM   #16
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True, the fact of black people particitpating in an activity that could easily be deemed offensive to them alone is not reason enough to deny a possible racism involved, and I'm sure there's also people in the Netherlands taking another approach. I think the great difference here is, in the Netherlands it is a very uncontroversial thing, whereas Americans tend to take much greater offense. But before saying things like "How could Holland explain itself", one should ask oneself, "Is our view the only valid on this topic, or should we maybe take different cultures and cultural contexts into consideration."
But I also have to admit, when I first saw the images of the Zwarte Piet, I also felt a bit awkward about them. However, I quickly realized in the Netherlands it's not seen this way, neither by white nor by black people, so why make it an issue coming from outside?
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Old 12-16-2011, 10:06 AM   #17
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But before saying things like "How could Holland explain itself", one should ask themselve, "Is our view the only valid on this topic, or should we maybe take different cultures and cultural contexts into consideration."
I agree.
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Old 12-16-2011, 10:06 AM   #18
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So that's why I have a hard time when people blanketly say "it's not racist".
Of course, people can take offence from it and consider it racist. Nevertheless, in its modern context it isn't meant to be racist. No one will deny that it has colonial origins and that the Zwarte Pieten originally indeed were black African slaves. In it's modern reinterpretation, however, they're just Sinterklaas' friendly helpers whose skin has turned black with soot.

Aside from that, they're not treated as slaves. Sinterklaas doesn't command his Pieten holding a whip in his hand, on the contrary, he kindly asks them to help him with things. There's nothing in the whole ritual that would lead the attending children to believe that black people are inferior to white people.

What if we would replace the Zwarte Pieten with white helpers? That would stir up racism allegations itself, because it suggests that black people aren't good enough to help Sinterklaas.
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Old 12-16-2011, 10:15 AM   #19
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Nevertheless, in its modern context it isn't meant to be racist.
Do you believe there has to be intent in order to be racist?

I think this is a question is constantly being raised when talking about race in the modern day context. Some believe racism only exists when there are white hoods involved, and others find racism on every corner.

But I think you have to be careful with "it's not meant to be racist", because how different is that to "I'm not racist, but..."?

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What if we would replace the Zwarte Pieten with white helpers? That would stir up racism allegations itself, because it suggests that black people aren't good enough to help Sinterklaas.
I am not bothered so much that the helpers are black(I know some are), but my issue is much more in how they are visually portrayed.

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There's nothing in the whole ritual that would lead the attending children to believe that black people are inferior to white people
If you were looking at images and one was suppose to represent you and the other was to represent someone of another race, and the one that was to represent the other race actually looked very similar to them portraying them as normal, but the image of you was always a caricature that looked nothing like you, you wouldn't believe that they thought you were inferior somehow? Intentionally or not, I think it would start to bother you.
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Old 12-16-2011, 10:52 AM   #20
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No one will deny that it has colonial origins and that the Zwarte Pieten originally indeed were black African slaves. In it's modern reinterpretation, however, they're just Sinterklaas' friendly helpers whose skin has turned black with soot.
Revisionist history at its finest.

I still stand with my point though. It's not a year round thing, golliwogs in general are no longer malicious. It's in bad taste, but I don't see why we should get up in arms about it. If the black community in the Netherlands condemned it, then I could see us making it an issue a valid point. They don't. So far, the only articles I've ever read over the years have come from an outraged white American.

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Old 12-16-2011, 12:45 PM   #21
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Do you believe there has to be intent in order to be racist?
In Dutch society, certainly in Dutch law, I think that is the case. Perceived discrimination and intended discrimination are two very different things in the Netherlands. This is reflected in Dutch hate speech law, which specifically defines the offence of insulting a group as "(...) intentionally expresses himself insultingly (...)". [Whole text here]
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But I think you have to be careful with "it's not meant to be racist", because how different is that to "I'm not racist, but..."?
It's very different. The latter often leads in a remark that actually *is* racist. Such as: "I'm not racist, but I really hate all those black people moving into my neighbourhood". I think that's quite different to what we're talking about here.
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Revisionist history at its finest.
No, on the contrary. The history isn't revised, and most Dutch people are aware that historically Zwarte Pieten in fact were black African slaves. It's not colonial history we're revising, it's the children's celebration we're defining. If you had the choice to either abolish a major national tradition because of the racist origin of some of its elements, or keep the tradition but redefine a few things so as to remove the racist connotation, what would you do?

It's substituting tofurkey for turkey versus abolishing Thanksgiving altogether.
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Old 12-16-2011, 12:59 PM   #22
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In Dutch society, certainly in Dutch law, I think that is the case. Perceived discrimination and intended discrimination are two very different things in the Netherlands. This is reflected in Dutch hate speech law, which specifically defines the offence of insulting a group as
I'm not talking about law though. You can't govern thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes.

I think there's A LOT of racism in this world that exists without intent.
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Old 12-16-2011, 01:05 PM   #23
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I'm 100% Dutch descent (born in the US in a very very Dutch community) and while we all know Sinterklaas this is really the first I've read/heard about Zwarte Piet, but our holiday and other tales are sort of a conglomeration of American and Dutch. I guess my parents left out that part. I'll ask around about this... all my family and most of my friends are Dutch but various generations removed from Holland (some moved here, some have parents that moved here, grandparents that moved here...). Unlike our yankee Dutch community - where religious, political, and social customs and traditions, even language has changed little over decades - I've always felt the motherland to be much more progressive and liberal.
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Old 12-16-2011, 03:10 PM   #24
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In Belgium, we also celebrate "Sinterklaas" and I've never, ever seen this as racism. It's tradition. It really isn't a big deal here.
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Old 12-16-2011, 04:35 PM   #25
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they are black because it's an easy way to 'trick' a wee kid into thinking it's not his uncle he's looking at but Sinterklaas' helper
it's not to celebrate our colonial past, unless I missed that memo

black families here celebrate Sinterklaas, with Zwarte Pieten and all
I don't think anyone even thinks of Zwarte Piet as 'a black person'
Zwarte Piet = Zwarte Piet, simple enough
just like Santa's elves aren't short people with a knack for making toys
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Old 12-16-2011, 04:53 PM   #26
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I'm 100% Dutch descent (born in the US in a very very Dutch community) and while we all know Sinterklaas this is really the first I've read/heard about Zwarte Piet, but our holiday and other tales are sort of a conglomeration of American and Dutch. I guess my parents left out that part.
since Zwarte Pieten outnumber Sinterklaas about 10,000 : 1 that's slightly weird
esp since I don't think I ever have seen Sinterklaas without being surrounded by Zwarte Pieten!
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Old 12-16-2011, 05:49 PM   #27
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In the US you couldn't have a holiday celebration involving white people dressing up in blackface without evoking public outrage; my guess is that's why Dutch-Americans "lost" that particular tradition. I have seen Christmas pageants before where one of the "Three Wise Men" was a white person wearing some sort of dark facial makeup, but never in blackface style, which is clearly the iconographic tradition the present "Zwarte Piet" look comes out of (hence the exaggerated lips).
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Old 12-16-2011, 06:58 PM   #28
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No, on the contrary. The history isn't revised, and most Dutch people are aware that historically Zwarte Pieten in fact were black African slaves..
Were they? Though this is part of folklore and with time less and less is known of the origin, I had never heard the African slave explanation. There is a legend regarding Saint Nicholas who, as the bishop of Myra (Turkey), freed an Ethopian slave who in gratitude became his helper.

The other explanation is that, nowaday, the story for the kids is that Sinterklaas is coming over from Madrid by steamboat (which is impossible as Madrid doesn't have a river fit for big boats). Historically though there are no ties between Saint Nicholas and Madrid as far as I know, though there are several locations in the center of Madrid which refer to Saint Nicholas. For the Madrid story the explanation for the Zwarte Pieten is that they are his Moorish helpers, which is also suggested by their dress style. And in the Middle Ages the Moors did occupy Spain. So the Zwarte Pieten (or rather, Piet, as originally there was only one servant/assistant) were not historically slaves, but part of the ruling class in Spain.
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Old 12-16-2011, 07:19 PM   #29
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In the US you couldn't have a holiday celebration involving white people dressing up in blackface without evoking public outrage; my guess is that's why Dutch-Americans "lost" that particular tradition.
Must be, like I said I honestly don't know if I've ever heard of it before. Sinterklaas yes definitely, he is still iconic and celebrated, but the Zwarte Pieten must have been left out.
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Old 12-17-2011, 08:36 PM   #30
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just like Santa's elves aren't short people with a knack for making toys
This is actually an interesting point. Where is all the little people outrage?
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