Kids singing Christmas carols off-key on my front porch. Lying down while recovering from a massive food coma. These are some of the things that cross my mind when I think about timeless Christmas traditions. Fortunately, seeing people walking around town while wearing Blackface doesn’t make the list. But for many people in Holland the exact opposite is true.
When Sinterklaas comes to town in the Netherlands, hundreds of Zwarte Piet (a.k.a. Black Pete) impersonators come with him, sporting bright red lipstick, skin painted dark brown and curly afro wigs.
Weirded out yet? If so, you’re not alone. Comedy writer and history-maker Amber Ruffin talked about how strangely racist the whole thing is with Seth Meyers on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Amber explained why, despite having a Dutch husband, she won’t be spending her holiday vacation there:
Seth Meyers: And now, I know this to be true: Dutch people do not believe this is racist.
Amber Ruffin: No they do not. They think its Christmas. In fact they justify it (Zwarte Piet) by saying, ‘he’s not black he just looks like that from sliding down the chimney.’ If there was a chimney that applied brown foundation, a perfect afro, hoop earrings and lipstick I’d have found it already. I would slide down it every morning.
Like Amber, all I want for Christmas is a magical chimney that will make my afro look like Solange’s and an explanation for why Zwarte Piet is still a thing in 2014.
I totally understand that every country has traditions that are important to their national identity. But when those traditions are steeped in making a caricature out of other people, it might be time to let them go. I’m just saying.
According to Slate, the character was created during the thick of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and derived from an African character from a 19th century story called “Saint Nicholas and his Servant.” Knowing this, it blows my mind that a place that is considered to be so progressive when compared to other countries, could be embracing something as incredibly backward as Zwarte Piet.
And even though I know that the nature of folks practicing racism is to claim to never see it, I still wish Zwarte Piet’s supporters could appreciate how ridiculous it is to commemorate peace, love and joy with racism.
Photos via YouTube