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For anyone traveling to The Netherlands during the busy holiday season, they cannot miss their spin on celebrating Christmas. It is at this time that the festival of Sinterklaas begins, accompanied by Santa himself with an army of servants known as Zwarte Pieten (‘Black Petes). Throughout the streets of the country (and neighboring Belgium as well), you are bound to see residents – predominantly white natives – dressed up in black face, including Afro wigs.

 

Imagine my own shock the very first time I stepped foot into this atmosphere. As a black American, I was immediately appalled and expressed my displeasure to the natives. I was silenced across the board with replies that it was “cultural”, a “part of our history”, and “not racist”. Still not satisfied, I wrote several magazines there with my views, and, as forecast by those I told about my actions, no response was granted.

 

Frustrated, I decided to get one native against Zwarte Piete (which is the minority according to polls), Tim van der Lubbe, to relay his perspective on this celebration, and how it is impacting the country’s non-white residents.

 

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Describe for those not living inside your country exactly what Black Pete is and what he does?

Black Pete is the Dutch version of Black Face. On the 5th of December, the Dutch have a children’s party; they get presents that day. The main character of the party is Sinterklaas, originally he was a saint that liked children a lot (like most Catholics) and Sinterklaas, his helper, is Black Pete. He has black curly hair, golden earrings, really big red lips. Pete acts dumb and stupid, he causes trouble. Then, Sinterklaas steps in and finds a solution. He does dancing and he makes music. Supposedly his face is black from climbing trough the chimney, but weirdly enough he also has all other stereotypical features of African people.
 

Do you consider Black Pete a controversial figure? Does it have racist overtones?

Yes it does; it’s customary for Dutch people to deny having racist feelings, and being racist at the same time. It teaches children that black people are stupid, lower in hierarchy than white male, but good in dancing. If not racist means that the skin color doesn’t matter, a party in which the roles are defined by skin-color, must be racist.
 

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How is this character affecting racial harmony in communities there?

There is not so much racial harmony, as the communities are split up anyway. Like in Amsterdam, the white people live in or close to the centre, Moroccans in the West, Surinam people in South-East. The protests are largely organized by the Surinamese people.

 

 

What solutions would you prefer?

Any solution might give the impression that we solved the problem of racism in Dutch society. For that reason I think we should only demand the party to be abolished.

 

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How does this character positively characterize black people?

It doesn’t, because anything you could call positive, is patronizing in the same time.
 

Triston
Triston is an American jetset performance artist, writer, event organizer, and activist based in Europe. As a freelance journalist, he has covered both the underground and mainstream aspects of the arts, culture, music, entertainment, travel, fashion and Fashion Week in several cities, including New York, London, Berlin, Istanbul, Sydney, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Tokyo to name a few. He has been published in The Huffington Post, Trespass (London), Adaras Magazine (Miami) as well as featured in publications such as the New York Times, Vogue Italia, Turkish Huriyet and other on-line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally. He recently released his memoir on life in Europe, 'Heaux Confessionals'. As a solo performer and with his band $kandal Du$t, he has toured in some of the world's most renowned clubs, simultaneously maintaining an underground renaissance, blurring the lines of all that is traditional and leaving his indelible, and ultimately unforgettable impression. There is no divide.

Brace yourself.


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