Sinterklass (also known as Sint Nicolaas or St. Nicholas) season is upon us in Holland and everywhere you go from now until December 5 you will see legions of people dressed as Sinterklaas’ black-faced helper Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). I am not amused.
Try as you might, Dutch people, to convince me and others who are equally horrified by this spectacle that it is all innocent fun, Zwarte Piet pertetuates racial stereotypes and is thus offensive. Let’s compare Zwarte Piet with the depictions of the American caricatures Sambo/Coon and the blackface minstrelsy in America from the mid 19th through 20th century to find whether or not Zwarte Piet is as innocent as the Dutch would have folks believe.
ZWARTE PIET was liberated by St. Nicholas. Piet then decides to serve St. Nicholas as a free servant.
SAMBO was used to defend slavery. Supporters of slavery and segregation argued that slavery could not be to horrible if blacks were not only content, but often happy, servants.
ZWARTE PIET was historically represented the devil, a joker, someone who was submissive, frightening and disobedient.
SAMBO/COON was portrayed as mischievous and childlike.
ZWARTE PIET in modern times speak improper Dutch with a Surinamese accent.
SAMBO/COON spoke slowly, using pidgin or improper English.
ZWARTE PIET are usually white people who use shoe polish or grease paint to darken their skin, red lipstick to exaggerate their lips and wear woolly wigs.
SAMBO/COON minstrel actors were often white people who used shoe polish or grease paint to darken their skin and exaggerated their lips with red or white lipstick.
ZWARTE PIET is usually seen dancing or jumping around, throwing candy or peppernoten (gingerbread cookies) to those in his wake.
SAMBO/COON seen as joyous and inherently musical. Often depicted dancing or frolicking.
Stop deluding yourselves Holland. Do you really see any diffence between the picture of the Zwarte Piet (circa early 21st century) and the picture of the blackface minstrel (circa early 20th century). If it looks like a duck (or in this case a coon), it is. I know you pride yourselves on your tolerence, but this is something that in the 21st century, should not be tolerated. I understand that Zwarte Piet is part of your tradition, but so are wooden shoes. And just like the shoes, Piet is outdated, not functional and is best left on the side of the road to enlightenment.
* Originally published on MsWoodenShoes.com