I am really not interested in arguing whether or not Zwarte Piet symbolizes racism. I’m entirely averse to condescending explanations that the character fell down a magical chimney (which equals a dirty white man, duh - brown skin, big lips and an Afro [mind you, the clothes remain clean]), that the whole thing is just great fun for the kids (this inexplicably rules out racial heritage) and black activists are blowing things out of proportion (Zwarte Piet is a ‘helper’, not a slave).
We have bitten our tongues more often than not as our communities often do. We don’t want to be out of line, we don’t want to be party poopers and most of all we don’t want to be like gaffe we are desperate to repair.
The collective’s most aggressive strategy is offering T-shirts with the ‘Zwarte Piet is Racisme’ logo spray-painted on them. So far it has been an engaging strategy. People have been less defensive and it was easier to communicate when letting them have their say also. The idea was never to attack the culture or tradition, but just to raise questions and ask for understanding and inclusion.
But at the ‘intocht van Sinterklaas’, it became clearer than ever that the courtesy is not so mutual. During Sinterklas’ homecoming in Dorderecht, my comrades Kno’ledge Cesare and Quinsy Gario bravely attended, opinions and all. There was no meeting called as there was no plan to stage a protest or a riot. The two spoken-word artists simply went with their words and their trademark ‘Zwarte Piet is Racisme’ shirts.
What followed was something horrendous. Contrary to what the police and media are selling, there was absolutely no riot and no flyers. Police officers simply asked Kno’ledge and Quinsy to leave. They did not appreciate why they should be expelled merely for wearing ostracized T-shirts. Even though the young men showed little resistance, violence ensued. They were arrested after some verified violence.
Really, the footage has been the sensation here. Because of various social media, there is no longer a dependence on popular media, making the truth more accessible and harder to discount. Miss Kitty aka Miss Skittles who recorded one of the videos said “I wanted to record that he was not only wrongly accused, but also abused…”. Apparently this prompted the officers to reprimand her as well, with equally unnecessary violence.
In a related incident, anti-Zwarte Piet petition organizer Denise Viera has reported that she responded to a motorcycle officer who provocatively remarked that she must “also find this sort of opinion ridiculous”. She tried emotionally to express that as a person of color; she found Zwarte Piet discriminatory and was told that “Sinterklaas also has rights”. After being joined by more officers, a female officer on horseback then made the statement: “…nowadays they don’t allow us to do anything – no Jewcookies and no Niggerkisses.” Moments later, Viera too was arrested because she refused to remain silent. There have been several other related arrests.
Of course there has been media coverage but people feel that these young people are guilty of attacking ‘Dutch culture’. We will simply ignore that most of Dutch culture stands on the shoulders of other cultures and assume that somehow there is such a thing as ‘pure Dutch’.
But the thing is that even these young activists are part of Dutch culture. Dutch to the bone, they are the writers, artists and musicians of Amsterdam. They are firmly FOR the Netherlands. They want it to heal because they care for it and want it to flourish. As far as attacking it - I know some of them well; they have as much ill will as a warm sunny day.
It’s just heartbreaking, really. No one can deny the Netherlands is a formidable country. It boasts more freedoms and luxuries than many other countries. Goodness knows it has earned a reputation as an asylum for the destitute and deprived. This bold façade could easily make up for the tremendous moral misconduct clutching onto the back of Dutch heritage. But often when tested, the rancid cracks can be seen.
As blissful as it is to imagine that the mighty Dutch kingdom is unchangeably unyielding, the truth looms in the dark and it is even more obstinate like an un-washable stain. Gone are the days when one person’s word went over another’s based on their bloodline, skin-color or geography. Yes there are blemishes, but pray the time comes when the Dutch conscious can look into the mirror. Pray it someday learns that that disgraced denial was the ugliest part all along.
Link: Zwarte Piet is Racisme