Nothing says “Merry Christmas” quite like racism!
A popular Facebook page is determined to uphold the longstanding Dutch tradition of wearing blackface for Christmas celebrations. Zwarte Piet, or “Black Pete,” is Santa’s helper in Dutch folklore, and while the character began in the 1700s as a demonic servant, nowadays he’s pretty much just Santa’s bud. Santa’s… black bud. Who’s only ever been portrayed by white people.
Holiday celebrations in the Netherlands have featured white people in blackface and afro wigs for decades, but many fans of Black Pete are insistent that the tradition isn’t harmful. Errr.
In 2009, Victoria’s Secret model Doutzen Kroes was ridiculed for stating that Zwarte Piet makes her feel ashamed of being Dutch. “I just think… these Black Petes… it’s outdated, isn’t it? Try explaining it to a black person from Jamaica,” reads a translation of her TV interview.
Verene Shepherd, a chairwoman for a U.N. Human Rights Commission, spoke about the tradition on a Dutch TV show this Tuesday: “The working group does not understand why it is that people in the Netherlands cannot see that this is a throwback to slavery,” said Shepherd. “In the 21st century, this practice should stop.”
But most members of the Facebook petition believe the tradition is too old to be contributing to modern-day racism, and that the criticism is making a big deal out of nothing. One member writes, “Message for the U.N.: Isn’t there a war somewhere, starvation or genocide going on that you could better be concerned about?”
It’s understandable that a country made up almost entirely European decedents would be reluctant to 86 a tradition that, to their knowledge, does not negatively affect its own citizens. But the entire history of blackface is comprised of mocking, belittling, and dehumanizing black people. Racism is alive and thriving today, and blackface can still cause considerable distress to real people.
It’s really, really easy to not do blackface. Lots of us don’t do blackface every day of our lives.