Bad Rep Pete and the Prejudices

Just my luck, I enjoy a celebration and it gets a bad rep.

Every year the Sinterklaas celebration encounters problems because of the ‘zwarte piet’ tradition. I’ve always felt affronted at this. For Dutch people, the black faced helpers of Sinterklaas have no connection to the black community or slavery. It is a celebration for children that has the whole country playing along to make it the most fun for everyone.

This year, during the (televised) official celebration there was an incident. Protesters against ‘zwarte piet’ were arrested with what looks like excessive force.

This opened up a whole can of worms. About whether the tradition should be abolished and about the freedom of speech in Holland.

This pushed a couple of my buttons. It’s kind of hard to see the kids that used to taunt and exclude me for being white crying blue murder at this (imo) innocent tradition. Especially since freedom of speech is something they have yet to invent in places like Curacao, Aruba and Suriname where most of these people originally hail from.

Now I personally am very allergic to people yelling ‘racism’ at every turn, especially those that insist on making race an issue in the first place. I have always encountered much more racism and emphasis on race among colored people than anywhere else.

But it is complicated. A meaningful discussion with an erstwhile ‘bully’ opened my eyes to the possibility that the tradition is a bit iffy. The costumes, the mock accents, the afro’s, the connotation of servitude.. I can see how it could be hurtful, especially as a nationwide celebration.

I must say, even being able to have the discussion with the guy without being accused and treated to the classic ‘You don’t know what it’s like because you are not black’ did me a world of good. It also confused the hell out of me, because it lessened my convictions.

In the end, a friend of mine gave me the beginning of an answer. We have to accept that there is racism, ageism, sexism and all kinds of prejudices are everywhere. People look at appearances because that is the first thing we have to go on. It’s natural. The more important question is: how do we cope with this fact?

An answer could be: by not taking it too seriously, making the difference less relevant.

This doesn’t really settle the matter, but I think this is the direction in which we should look for it.

Oh well, I’ll give you a call when I’ve reached enlightenment.

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