The Zwarte Piet procession Saturday began with people in costume on bicycle and on foot leading the way to the Town Hall.
"Zwarte Piet" is a longstanding Dutch tradition, in which Sinterklaas is accompanied by a "slave" child, helping deliver gifts. As a child of the American South, I consider the fact that this tradition continues in 2011 is remarkable - particularly as the wandering minstrel/dressing-in-blackface practice vanished about 50 years ago in America. Recently in Mississippi, college sorority girls were placed on probation for dressing in blackface, supposedly depicting the television series "The Cosbys."
Here's the blog Tiger beatdown's account of attempts to protest Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands:
"Over the years, a small but growing group of people have been protesting this celebration of Black face costumes and ridiculing of minorities. Systematically, these protests have been met with a very strong and stubborn resistance from a majority of White Dutch who refuse to even consider the racist implications of this “tradition." Those who are against the Black Pete depictions are consistently told that there is nothing offensive in it, that the tradition is not up for debate, that they are being oversensitive and that and here comes the usual xenophobic retort, “if they don’t like it, they should go and live some place else."
"Additionally, people who speak against this are also told that they are importing North American models of “political correctness” that have no place in Dutch society. Moreover, the supporters of these Black face depictions are adamant that there is nothing, absolutely nothing racist in Black Pete’s representations and that claiming otherwise is the result of a cultural imperialism brought upon by North American influences.
"According to supporters, Dutch culture is so different from that of the US and the context so incomparable that such discussion should not even take place. Any attempt at contextualizing the role of the Dutch in slavery in the Americas and how the continuation of these racist practices owes everything to the mindset that made such trade possible is met with protestations and the statement that “only Americans see offense in Black face, we, the Dutch, are obviously different and not racist in our traditions." In sum, what they claim is that the rights of white people to don blackface are more or less sacrosanct and native Dutch children have a right to the continuation of this “tradition” undisputed."
Read the full article here.
But my educated, young, white neighbours take their children to participate in the festivities and they don't seem to think there's anything wrong with white people wearing blackface depicting "Zwarte Piet."
Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet.
Sometimes Sinterklaas rides in on a white horse, but this one chose a red convertible.
Even children are dressed in Zwarte Piet costume.
People dressed in Zwarte Piet character wave from an upper window in Town Hall.
A child wearing a Sinterklaas costume.
Children wait to greet Sinterklaas.
Smoke from a Town Hall door brings firemen to the rescue.
Apparently, the problem wasn't too serious, as no one left the stage.
"Zwarte Piet" hands out candy to children.
As you can see, the children all look happy to be participating in the festivities.
I saw only two actual black persons: a mother reading text on her phone, while her daughter shyly waited for candy.
Sinterklaas addresses the crowd, surrounded by Zwarte Piet characters.
More candy distribution.
I wasn't sure what to make of a "fat Elvis" character wearing blackface. Surely that has nothing to do with tradition??!!
A child wearing blackface rides a bicycle.
Zwarte Piet characters the next day at a local supermarket. The one wearing stilts had to stoop to avoid touching the ceiling.
What's YOUR view of the curious Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet?