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Netherlands tries to rescue Christmas character from accusations of racism but fails to satisfy critics, says Siji Jabbar.
For years black people in the Netherlands, and many white people too, have protested against the practice of blacking up in December to play the troublesome character known as Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) – Santa’s helper.
Last year the complaints and protests went all the way to the UN – which might explain why officials decided it was time for change, despite the prime minster’s attempt to brush off the character as harmless:
So this week the Dutch Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage introduced a new and – in their opinion – inoffensive Black Pete, following interviews with 30 people and more than 9,000 emails.
Still black, with slightly less prominent lips and red lipstick. But, hey, no earrings or curly hair! You can watch the introduction here (it’s in Dutch, but the images tell you all you need to know).
Oh dear, they just don’t get it do they?
Anousha Nzume, a television presenter whose father is from Cameroon, was a guest on the show. “Why [are the Dutch] so desperate to hold on to that colour,” she asked?
You can’t reach a compromise of racism
One of the points anti-Black Pete campaigners keep making is that many Dutch people don’t understand why blackface is offensive. They don’t seem to be aware of the country’s historical involvement in the slave trade.
Because of this, the more people protest about blackface the more the majority of the population digs its heels in. They believe the protesters want to rob them of their tradition, without understanding the symbolism of this “tradition”. (Last year, two million people signed a petition calling for Black Pete to remain.)
Artist Quinsy Gario, one of the most prominent voices in the anti-Pete campaign, declared the new look character “a complete failure”, and expressed doubts that this version would change anything: “You can’t have a discussion and reach a compromise on racism,” he told one TV news station. “That is one of the problems. The racism behind the figure as he is now is still not being recognised.”
– The Guardian