photo: Marthijn Uittenbogaard
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My cup of tea about Blackface

© 24 January 2018 Marthijn Uittenbogaard

Every year, at 5 December, we celebrate Sinterklaas in our country The Netherlands. This is an old tradition and Sinterklaas is comparable with Santa Clause. But it's not totally the same, because we have also Santa Clause and we call him: Kerstman (meaning: Christmas man). The Sinterklaas tradition goes back hundreds of years. Even before Christianity. With the rise of Christianity in Europe the Church wanted to get rid of the old gods and traditions. But some traditions were not easy to get rid off. So what did they do: they transformed the old traditions and gave it a Christian meaning. Saint Nicholas was born. Well, this person was dead for many years and he died on 5 December (they are almost sure about this, his birth-date is unknown) and they intertwined the old tradition with this Christian saint. So that the old tradition could go on, only some aspects were changed. You must note that the Sinterklaas tradition was slightly different in other places in Europe and that this tradition slightly changed over the years. See also this article: From Santa to Shaman - The Indestructible Memory Of An Ancient Paedophile, by M. de Jong [1].

Santa Clause has Reindeers, the Dutch and Belgium (our cultures are intertwined) Sinterklaas has Zwarte Pieten. Zwarte Piet is usually translated as Blackface. I will use Black Pete as translation here. The Black Pete's are the helpers of Sinterklaas. They help him to get the presents for the kids through the chimneys. And they used to give bad kids a spanking and put them in a gunny sack and transported them by boat to Spain. Well, that was to scare the kids so they would be obedient to their parents. In reality no kid was ever transported to Spain and the Black Pete's and Sinterklazen were uncles or other people dressed up. The aspect of beating kids did already change. The birch rod has disappeared. When I was young, Black Pete's still had such a birch rod (they never used it though). Nowadays the Black Pete's don't have this. They still have the gunny sack, but it's full of sweets to give to the kids.

2Onderzoekt
Screenshot from television programme, 13 November 2013

Today there is an enormous debate about Black Pete: people say it's racism. A white person (both male and female) puts black paint on his or her face. And Black Pete is a slave as they say. The problem with this statement is as follows: Black Pete, like Sinterklaas, also changed over time. There are many aspects of old religions, cultures et cetera in this whole celebration. No one even knows the exact origin of the Sinterklaas tradition. Many different versions circulate. Black Pete however came much later in this story. But even about him are multiple interpretations and stories. Is it racism? I think you can say there are some aspects of racism in it. And it's a fact that many brown people hate Black Pete and call it racism. The name Piet (Pete), which is a very common name here, is also used negatively in our language. In a card game called Zwarte Pieten the Black Pete is the bad guy. And someone who participates in a project but who is useless is called: Piet Snot. Et cetera. I myself had always a positive image of Black Pete. Sinterklaas was dangerous: he could call you in front of him at school and you had to sing a song for him. The Black Pete's were always making jokes and they were gymnastic too. They could walk on roofs. They gave a brown or black person a positive image in my opinion. I always knew Sinterklaas and Black Pete were people dressed up. I have two older brothers and they told me he was fake. I never believed as far as I can remember that they were real. That aspect of lying to kids, is the aspect I don't like about the Sinterklaas tradition.

Is someone dressing up as Black Pete a racist? No. But if he or she knows that many people are offended by it, then what? Well, that's the problem. There are people that don't want to offend, so they stopped dressing up as Black Pete. But others say: leave our traditions alone, and I'm not a racist. They say, the racist callers are the problem here: leave this child party alone. This is one of the most debated topics in The Netherlands for years, including a lot of emotion. And right wing party's, where also many racist people feel at home, defend Black Pete very strongly. Even our Prime minister defends Black Pete knowing it generates votes.

In the Netherlands we have a new political party called BIJ1 (meaning: together). This party did not get a seat in parliament during the national elections. But locally in Amsterdam they did very well. And in the coming local elections they are competing in Amsterdam. They can get one or two seats in Amsterdam if we believe the polls. This party, lead by a brown woman called Sylvana Simons, wants to abolish Black Pete totally. They want it to make it a crime.

I think this is not a good idea. Dictatorships want to make many things a crime. I believe strongly in the freedom of speech. And the problem with offending people is always: some people are easily offended. People were offended by two dancing males in a bar, they were offended by girls wearing sexy clothes and you name it. Even while I feel more respect for the anti-Black Pete camp - the other camp usually is represented in debates by fools - I don't go as far as them.

In The Netherlands swastika's are forbidden. In the USA they are not. People wearing swastika's are bastards. But I prefer the US situation, where freedom of speech and expression is a right above being strongly offended by someone or something.

On the BIJ1 election list by the way, are two names who in the past said positive things about pedophilia. One is Gloria Wekker, she talked positivily about mati's: aunts in Suriname that introduced young girls into sexuality. That is (or was) a tradition in Suriname. The other one is Marjan Sax. She was one of the two authors of 'Op een oude fiets moet je het leren' (you have to learn it on an old bicycle). This book (from 1992) was about female pedophilia. Women usually avoid this word but they also can get in love with young girls. And young girls with women.

Back to Black Pete. In 2012 I was interviewed by Dutch author Arnon Grunberg [2]. When I am going to be interviewed I always think: what should I wear? My partner just ordered some shirts with written on it: 'Zwarte Piet is racisme' (Black Pete is racism). He said: why not wear this. And I did. Grunberg asked me about this shirt. The interview was about pedophilia but the text was on my shirt so he asked a question about it. I responded that I'm not in favor of a law that prohibits Black Pete but that I wanted to stimulate this discussion. Later that same year, I was interviewed for a television programme [3] and I thought again: what to wear. Well, the Grunberg interview was not on television but only in front of an audience, so I thought let's wear this shirt again. Not many people saw it the first time and the discussion about Black Pete was almost nonexistent in the mass media. But when they broad-casted the television interview almost a year later in 2013 the discussion was very prominent in the mass media and till today has not left it.

Notes
[1] From Santa to Shaman - The indestructible memory of an ancient paedophile - M. de Jong - OK Magazine, no. 88 - December 2003 www.brongersma.info/From_Santa_to_Shaman_-_The_indestructible_memory_of_an_ancient_paedophile [2] #DeBalie: Arnon Grunberg over pedofilie - Published on Youtube: 3 December 2012 www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHITCR_f1O0 [3] 3Onderzoekt - Waar moet een pedofiel wonen? (promo) - Promo published on Youtube: 11 November 2013 www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVPQNg0Mu-I

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"Wees eerlijk en laat zien wie je bent."
"Kinderen moeten veel meer zeggenschap krijgen."
"Alle zedenwetten moeten weg."
"Pedohaat heeft niets met seks te maken."
"We gaan verkeerd met seksualiteit om."
"Hoe zinniger wat je zegt, hoe bozer men wordt."
"Zonder pedofilie zou de wereld veel armer zijn."