This weekend Sinterklaas and his Pieten arrived in the Netherlands again. He's like santa claus, but with his own story and traditions.
His helpers, Zwarte pieten (or black pete/black peter) are a point of huge discussion every year since I started growing older.. I think it's quite obvious why.
A lot of people say Zwarte piet is racist but I find it hard to form an opinion about the matter.
Yes, there's no doubt he was based on black people, but the story goes that the origin of Zwarte Piet is that of the Ethiopian slaveboy Piter, whom Sinterklaas bought free at a slavemarket somewhere along the Mediterranian who voluntarily stayed with him as a servant (presumably because he had nowhere else to go). Sinterklaas was orignally turkish, I believe and darker of skin himself, but over the years that too changed.
His Pieten grew in number later on and they were all free men, who helped Sinterklaas because he treated them well and they were friends. Also, Sinterklaas is often portrayed as a quite senile old man, who would be lost without his helpers.. Nobody has ever before complained about this though?
There's also the part of the story that says their faces are black of soot because they slide through the chimneys to deliver the presents. Of course that doesn't explain the curly hair and thing and I would never deny that they weren't based on moorish people back in the day.
The thing that bothers me is; Zwarte pieten are loved by everyone. In the original story they could punish you if you had been a bad child or not give you any presents, but ever since i was a child and before that that never happened anymore. They give you candy, they bring joy and cheerfulness and presents and they help our beloved Sinterklaas with his tasks and if he loses his way and things like that.
Also, over the years Zwarte piet has become more of a mythical character than a trademark slave or black person. He's more like a smurf, in that way than he is a typical POC (person of colour). Nowadays there are actual Pieten that don't have the curly afro hair. The music Piet dons hair like Elvis and is a kind of hommage to him like many other Pieten have gotten their own 'role' over the years.
Children aren't born racist and Zwarte pieten will surely not make them racist in the future. If anything, it will show them how people that look different can be friendly and amazing, or do I see this wrongly?
I read about someone who was angry because a child called him 'zwarte piet'. He said is was very racist and was very angry about the whole thing. Someone else replied with this;"What was the tone of that child's voice when they called you Zwarte Piet? I bet it was excited and cheerful, as Zwarte Piet is usually greeted. Why on earth would you get offended by that? Unless you as a black person get offended by someone calling you black, which I think is utterly ridiculous.
I grew up with Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, and I assure you I don't think I've been damaged in any way. (Hint: I don't really believe all black people are like Zwarte Piet, just like I don't really believe people actually ride horses on my roof).
Also it was obvious to me, even as a child, that they weren't real black people. I never thought actual black people were zwarte pieten. I knew they were characters in a story, to me they were mythical just like dragons and elves and dwarfs and I never thought they were real or meant to be real, everyday people.. I heard it's different in belgium, but here zwarte pieten are never portrayed as dumb or in a mocking way. Like I said, they are bringers of joy, just like Santa claus his elves. I never heard people saying they are racist to little people, while it is the samething, or am I wrong here?
I can understand why on first glance people would be outraged by this tradition of ours, but it would be wise to learn a little more about it before judging everything as if everything is purely black and white.
I've read a lot of racism and opinions during Halloween this year too and came to realise (along with many others) that the lines withing these things are often blurred..
I could talk a lot more about this, but I guess this will be the end to this post for now.
Like I said in the beginning, I find it hard to form a steady opinion about everything though? because I do not know where all the lines are or how everything fits together. I'm not saying we're completely blame free and I am trying to understand everyones point of views.. I'm just curious to learn more about other peoples opinions so if you have read this and have an opinion, please let me know :)