Zwarte Piet (Black Pete): Dutch rendition of minstrel is colonial propaganda, not folklore

‘Zwarte Piet’ (Black Pete)  (Remko de Waal:EPA) Dec 6 2015

One of the cagiest forms of socializing & acculturating to racism & misogyny in a society is through humor. That’s Charlie Hebdo’s schtick. But satire truly is the genre of the oppressed, a way to change power relationships through ridicule. It’s a very democratic form of protest because in tyrannical societies it can get you beheaded or exiled. When satire & ridicule are used against the oppressed by the power elite, it becomes something quite different with a contemptible dynamic of teaching inferiority & social hatred.

That’s what minstrel shows were all about in the 19th century US, even after the Civil War. White people in blackface lampooned Black people as lazy, clownish, stupid, & superstitious. The laughter was all at the expense of Blacks, promoting violence against them, & most of all teaching whites & Blacks a sense of Black social inferiority & white supremacy.

In the Netherlands, at the same time period, the blackface character of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), who looks like a lawn jockey, was introduced as a buffoonish, slavish companion to Saint Nicholas when he delivered sweets to children. Those who defend this repugnant practice claim it’s a longstanding tradition from folklore. In fact it originated around the time of the “scramble for Africa”–the invasion, occupation, colonization, & annexation of African territories by European countries. It’s propaganda for colonialism, not folklore.

Dressing up as the oppressed has a long inglorious tradition in the US–not just the blackface crap but ‘playing Indian’ which prevails in US culture till today. Turning racism into a joke is part of promoting the ideology of social inferiority & should have no part in children’s games–unless you’re trying to teach kids social hatred.

There has been growing opposition by anti-racist activists in the Netherlands to end this practice & drop Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) from the Saint Nicholas festivities. Even a UN agency chimed in demanding it end as a racist practice. But it’s role as socializer to racism is seen by the power elite as invaluable because without it they would have to express the full brunt of social malignancy & that would show their hand.

Photo is of people dressing as ‘Zwarte Piet’ (Black Pete) to celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas. There are knuckleheads everywhere willing to play a role for social inequality–not realizing that in a strategy of divide & conquer, the last laugh will be on them.

(Photo by Remko de Waal/EPA)