Black Pete Vs the World

As the times get more mature, all the old icons of the racist and imperialist past begin to get demolished by a public opinion more and more aware of their History and Rights.

This is the case of icon Zwarte Piet in Dutch-speaking countries in Europe (the Netherlands and Belgium), who is, as reported by Wikipedia:

Zwarte Piet (pronounced [ˈzʋɑrtə ˈpit]; English: Black Pete or Black Peter, Luxembourgish: Schwaarze Péiter) is the companion of Saint Nicholas (Dutch: Sinterklaas, Luxembourgish: Kleeschen) in the folklore of the Low Countries. The character first appeared in his current form in an 1850 book by Jan Schenkman, and is commonly depicted as a black Moor. Traditionally, Zwarte Piet is said to be black because he is a Moor from Spain. Those portraying Zwarte Piet typically put on blackface make-up and colorful Renaissance attire, in addition to curly wigs, red lipstick, and earrings. In recent years, the character has become the subject of controversy, especially in the Netherlands.

At the end of 2012 I was living in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and I quite vividly remember outrages and protests mainly by the Black community (but not only, to tell you the truth) against the annual outcome of Sinterklaas and his companion Zwarte Piet arriving in the cities between December 4th and 5th.

Below one of the many artists who gained popularity impersonating a modern Piet (here in a Gangnam Style video on YouTube):

Interestingly enough, at the same period in the whole Europe, a campaign against the image and meaning of the Zwarte Piet arose (check this article from Huffington Post) where in the Netherlands and Flanders older generations, mainly White, claimed that it always been like that, part of their tradition, so who were they to deny their own tradition, while younger generation, mainly non-White or recently immigrated, claimed that it was time to abolish this ritual in which the Black is seen as the servant of the White, and a bad one by the way (because if you’ve been a bad child during the year, the legend says that Black Pete will kidnap you in his sack and take you back to Spain).

Rebel voices in the country who label Black Pete as racist have been dismissed by the argument that Zwarte Pieten are black because they have soot on their faces from going down chimneys delivering presents, as reported AP.

Where does the truth lies? Is it time to cancel this so-called tradition, or it’s time to deal with the fact that traditions never meant to be people-friendly and simply are the mirror of the time and society they’ve been generated in? 


About Gabriele Frontini

I share my time between Italy, Belgium and UK. [ music critic since 1999, gamer, historian, pet lover ]
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