Black face and Zwarte Piet

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Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby boiii » 5th December, 2017, 8:40 am

WOHOOO It's almost 6 december


I'm Belgium and the Netherlands this is a holiday.
Sinterklaas is comming then.
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You can compare this with Christmas which we also celebrate. Sinterklaas or Saint Nicolas was born in Turkey in the year 280. Then it was ruled by the romans. He used to be a bishop and is a patron saint of children. There are many legends about him. In one he revived 3 dead schoolchildren after they had been killed. He died on the 6th of December in 342.

Now we celebrate Sinterklaas on the day of his death. The religious meaning is almost completely lost. Each year he arrives by boat from Spain where he lives. He gives the good children candy and presents.

His helpers and friends are the Zwarte pieten or black Pete's
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They have caused a controversy over the last few years.
- They have black face.
- Their origins dates back to the days of slavery.
- Their red lips and gold rings in their ears and clothes are negative stereotypes of black people.
- The link with slavery is still clear because they are helpers of an old white man.

In the Netherlands the idea of a different kind of Black Pete was introduced: Roet Piet or Dirt Pete
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It was said that Black Pete was black because of all the dirt in the chimney's he goes through to enter your home and give you presents. The debate between Roet Piet and Zwarte Piet is one that nearly everyone has an opinion about. I even had to make a writing assignment about it at school. We had to defend whatever our opinion was with good arguments.

I personally do not think that the change is necessary, but what do you think?
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Is black Pete racist?
Should he be replaced?
Which one is sexier?
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Woollyhoolly » 5th December, 2017, 9:47 am

1. We in holland actually do it december 5th
2. It is racist
3. It should be changed :)
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Anonymous Boy » 5th December, 2017, 10:07 am

Before I left the Netherlands, I never heard of anyone having an issue with this tradition. I was surprised to hear this had become a big contentious issue while I've been living in the UK. I never thought of it as racist at all, just as a quirky tradition. But I do get that it could make black people feel uncomfortable. I like the Soot Pete idea. Note that the reason why Pete is black is supposed to be that he's covered in soot from people's chimneys (at least, that's what I was told when I was little :P).

And yeah, you got the date wrong. It's clearly the 5th of December — today :D

I kid. I know it's the 6th in Belgium. It's the 5th in most of the Netherlands, including where I come from.
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby JonathanT88 » 5th December, 2017, 10:36 am

Anonymous Boy wrote:Note that the reason why Pete is black is supposed to be that he's covered in soot from people's chimneys (at least, that's what I was told when I was little :P).


Interesting- I was under the impression it was because he was a Spanish Moor, chosen to be such because of his historic role as an enslaved/tamed devil forced to assist St. Nicholas. I think this is where the tradition, whatever you think of it, can be said to have racist origins. Choosing to depict an enslaved devil who acts, somewhat, as a "bogeyman" figure for children as a Moor in an era where racial stereotyping was the norm is beyond suspect. I mean c'mon, a black guy kidnapping naughty white children and taking them back to black-guy-land screams racism, especially when this current version of the story (and the physical depiction still used today) originated in the 19th century. I'm actually not one of these people who thinks blackface is inherently racist, but when the tradition looks like this, it's hard not to call foul.

Of course, there's a great divide between the historic origins of the character and how people consider it now, and I think both things should be considered. I'm kind of conflicted really: I think traditions should be allowed to evolve beyond their roots and think the fact that most people don't look at Zwarte Piet in a racist way is testament to how far society has come on. Traditions are fun and important aspects of culture but, by definition have their roots in the past (which we cannot possibly hold to our standard of fairness and diversity). However, I am also willing to accept that these same origins might make black people uncomfortable, something which inhibits those with immigrant family backgrounds from embracing their own country and culture.

That said, I think the soot thing is a good idea. I see no reason why you guys should abide, indefinitely, by the 19th Century depiction of a character which existed far earlier than then. This is particularly the case when large parts of the population are made to feel upset and isolated by the character; whether or not you feel they are justified, it's only kind to make adaptations in order to allow everyone to embrace a culture which is just as much theirs as it is yours. The holiday season is about joy, so why not try and spread it among all?

I'm neither Dutch nor Belgian, so I'm really working on an outsider's "impression" more than anything. Sorry if I've misinterpreted anything, but that's my take on it all.
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby CRUSTY SEA MILF » 5th December, 2017, 11:55 am

From my perspective it looks like a really strange and unique holiday, but since apparently the blackface is meant to be soot, not pigment, I don't really see it as racist. Especially if the holiday itself does not revolve around slavery.
I do get why it might upset some people though, but I say keep on celebrating holidays if you feel they are part of tradition
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Anonymous Boy » 5th December, 2017, 11:58 am

JonathanT88 wrote:Interesting- I was under the impression it was because he was a Spanish Moor, chosen to be such because of his historic role as an enslaved/tamed devil forced to assist St. Nicholas.

The devil thing does not occur in the Dutch tradition at all; I never knew that existed anywhere until I met my Slovak-American husband (it's more of a Central/Eastern European thing — see Krampus).

JonathanT88 wrote:I mean c'mon, a black guy kidnapping naughty white children and taking them back to black-guy-land screams racism

Spain is black-guy-land? :runaway:

His main task, though, is helping Sinterklaas deliver all the presents. Come to think of it, I have never lost any friends or relatives to him. We were all good.
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby ItsMeJack » 5th December, 2017, 12:06 pm

I do not think it should be changed. The holiday is for children and I have never known a child who had made a connection between Zwarte Piet and black people. Even if you ask children why they are black, they say that's because they have to go through chimneys.

Maybe they made him black in the beginning with the intention that servants must be black, but now people do not think that way (exept for the people who think this is racist) because it is now a tradition.

This is a bit the same story as a poster of the Oerwoudfuif (Jungle Party) (a party in Nevele, Belgium). On the poster there is a black boy from a comic strip.
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The poster has been around for 30 years and there is no racist reason for placing a black boy on it. They put a black boy on the poster because it is called the JUNGLEparty and there are more black people living in jungles than white people. So I don't really see a reasan why any of this is racist.
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Dolly » 5th December, 2017, 12:41 pm

It's just a quirky holiday tradition; there's nothing malicious about it and it should not be changed.
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Hierax » 5th December, 2017, 12:54 pm

NOT THIS AGAIN.
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Hierax » 5th December, 2017, 12:58 pm

Shouldn't be changed because
1) it wasn't 'created' with the intention of relating to the slavery.
2) it is just a tradition and traditions are hard to change.
3) people don't like new traditions and rather stick to the old ones.
4) they are black because they go through the chimneys, which means they could also be white underneath.
5) you could also start complaining about the fact that Saint Nicolas is represented as a man and consider this sexism.
6) it's meant for children and changing the tradition for children would 'break the illusion'/'undo the magic'.

You can complain about anything this way.
Traditions are traditions and let them stay the way they are please.
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Woollyhoolly » 5th December, 2017, 2:06 pm

But the thing is, if we all agree black pete became black because he got soot on himself,
why do people oppose the idea of him covered in smudges of soot, why is literally only his skin black. His costume is pristine, as are his lips, but his skin is black af. Doesn't make sense, does it?

Why does he have to be black? There are a dozen other colours out there, why does this one need to be the colour we pick?

As to the origins of the story, black pete wasn't mentioned until 1850. Oh and what was the dutch empire known for in the 1850's? Slave trade.


Oh and the thing abt kids not connecting black pete with black people is bs. been through that first hand :shifty:

I literally don't see how one can not see black pete was originally meant as a slave kind of person.



(Note tbh i dont really care abt his skin colour, but like lowkey this does make me angry)
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby boiii » 5th December, 2017, 3:10 pm

Tje link between black pete and a black person is clear. They’re both black. Offcourse a child is gonna notice and connect it, but is it bad though?
Black pete is adored by children.

The skin colour is the only similarity though. Even if it was (still) meant to represent black people it would be such an over the top stereotype that it wouldn’t taken seriously.

Tbf, the only people who make the link between black pete and slavery are the people who oppose black pete. Nobody looks at the holiday tradition and goes: “oh, I guess that black people are inferior then.”

Black Pete is just a character.

I also wanna say that the questions:
“Is it wrong/offensive/bad?”
And
“Should it be changed?”
Are very different.
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby CRUSTY SEA MILF » 5th December, 2017, 4:21 pm

Is it wrong?
I don't think so but it's not my country and I know little of your history
Should it be changed?
I'm gonna say no
Last edited by CRUSTY SEA MILF on 5th December, 2017, 10:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Kaspar » 5th December, 2017, 4:41 pm

Woollyhoolly wrote:But the thing is, if we all agree black pete became black because he got soot on himself,
why do people oppose the idea of him covered in smudges of soot, why is literally only his skin black. His costume is pristine, as are his lips, but his skin is black af. Doesn't make sense, does it?


OMG WHAT IF HE COMES THROUGH THE CHIMNEY NAKED AND HE'S REALLY JUST A PEDO EXHIBITIONIST THAT PREYS ON INNOCENT CHILDREN
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby JonathanT88 » 5th December, 2017, 4:51 pm

Anonymous Boy wrote:Spain is black-guy-land? :runaway:

His main task, though, is helping Sinterklaas deliver all the presents. Come to think of it, I have never lost any friends or relatives to him. We were all good.


In the context of the Spanish Moors, yes.

Well of course the moment Zwarte Piet starts actually kidnapping children we're going to have much more of a problem than we do currently. I was just trying to prove the character's negative traits and how they're linked to race, even if I did get the devil bit a little bit wrong.

Sokol wrote:1) it wasn't 'created' with the intention of relating to the slavery.
2) it is just a tradition and traditions are hard to change.
3) people don't like new traditions and rather stick to the old ones.
4) they are black because they go through the chimneys, which means they could also be white underneath.
5) you could also start complaining about the fact that Saint Nicolas is represented as a man and consider this sexism.
6) it's meant for children and changing the tradition for children would 'break the illusion'/'undo the magic'.


1) Not directly to slavery, no. However, as I attempted to prove in my post the black character (a Spanish Moor) was created in an era where racial stereotyping was rampant, and given the character's traits aren't universally positive (punishing naughty children by kidnapping them in particular), I'm not sure how you can argue the character doesn't have racist roots. Like I also said, while the character may have moved past its roots and mean something different to people today, surely the fact that it makes black people uncomfortable is enough to show that its origins have significance today. Would you rather make the holiday enjoyable for everyone than discriminate certain groups within the Dutch/Belgian population?
2) Whether or not it is possible to easily change the tradition doesn't alter whether or not it should be changed, which I think is what Kamiel was asking.
3) But when the nature of the holiday makes so many people uncomfortable (even if you think their discomfort is unjustified), wouldn't you rather accommodate them even if it is a bit inconvenient? I think that's the inclusive thing to do. If we stuck slavishly to "tradition" rather than allowing, and helping, them to move on, we'd live in a very backwards world.
4) Hmmmm, I'm not from your part of the world and am clearly not as well versed in the tradition as you are, but all my reading seems to suggest he's black because he's a Spanish Moor. Similarly, if it is just "soot," why cover the face with it in such a way that it's looks like an indication of race? Why not settle the debate by removing all the ambiguity?
5) Not really comparable. People are not annoyed because the character is black, but because his blackness stems from archaic racial stereotyping. If Santa's gender were used in order to reinforce negative aspects of his character, then that would be a problem.
6) I'm a bit confused here, because you seem to be simultaneously arguing that the character's race is "insignificant," and thus the tradition shouldn't be change, but also "so important" that it cannot be changed. Seems a bit contradictory.

boiii wrote:The skin colour is the only similarity though. Even if it was (still) meant to represent black people it would be such an over the top stereotype that it wouldn’t taken seriously.

Tbf, the only people who make the link between black pete and slavery are the people who oppose black pete. Nobody looks at the holiday tradition and goes: “oh, I guess that black people are inferior then.”


Perhaps it's only not an "over the top stereotype" because times have changed and people have stopped making those links. This doesn't change the fact that the character's race has uncomfortable origins which are clearly still capable of making black people feel targeted. As I've said, surely that's enough to make you want to make a tiny adaptation in order to include everyone? If the character's race is as unimportant as you seem to suggest, why is this a problem?

boiii wrote:I also wanna say that the questions:
“Is it wrong/offensive/bad?”
And
“Should it be changed?”
Are very different.


This is very true.

Sokol wrote:NOT THIS AGAIN.


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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Togetik » 6th December, 2017, 10:13 am

If it's supposed to be soot anyway shouldn't it be depicted as.... actual soot? Instead of what amounts to a black minstrel thing?

If coca cola can invent the modern santa I don't see why a vaguely concentrated effort (that's already happening anyway) can't change netherlandic santa's blackface crew into something more visually interesting
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby KrisCross » 7th December, 2017, 9:07 am

On one hand I understand it feels uncomfortable and offensive to outsiders and yes, the origins are undoubtedly racist, but on the other, I feel a bit sad for kids these days because the debate kinda got out of hand. I still don't understand why the opposition rose so suddenly, the tradition is literally centuries old and no one bat an eye until 2-3 years ago? While I do see the issue now, I actually never even gave the fact that it could be seen as racist a thought until it became a controversy. I grew up being told and singing songs about how Black Pete is just a silly guy who jumps down chimneys, never showers and should never be kissed or your cheeks will be covered in soot.

Having him just covered in smears seems like the perfect solution to me. It fits the story, is not too much of a change and gets rid of racist connotations, but sadly even just a little change is too much for most, it seems. I think because so many people never consciously saw the link between race and Black Pete, that they're so taken aback by the implication and so adamantly against any alterations.

Then again, I always considered the Flemish champions in 'casual racism'. :rolleyes:
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Re: Black face and Zwarte Piet

Unread postby Wayde » 7th December, 2017, 11:25 pm

Woollyhoolly wrote:Why does he have to be black? There are a dozen other colours out there, why does this one need to be the colour we pick?
Do you have pink soot where you are from? Or blue? Does your firewood turn into green ash? Maybe yellow?

I kid, I kid :lol:

Personally, I didn't even know this was a holiday as we don't have it in America. I can definitely see how some people could take offense to it, but I don't think its fair to call it "blackface" if it's not specifically related to race. It's more of "black face" (notice the space). I am not really familiar enough with it to take a formal stance about whether it should be changed or not. It's one of those issues that I think changing it is unnecessary, but I don't care enough to actually oppose it. It's not meant to relate to race whatsoever, it's clearly not meant to cause offense or harm, and (unless I'm misreading) it's not like they are going around in this costume perpetuating derogatory stereotypes. I guess the bigger question is whether its worth changing long-standing tradition for the sake of people who take offense to not-actually-offensive things. Do you sugar-coat the world? I guess, in the end, the change to smears of soot seems like a good compromise.
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