From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Zwarte Piets: Free Santa's slaves

(Photo by Tenorio81)
Images of Santa’s helpers have often been presented in a happy-go-lucky fashion.  One can even imagine that elves receive paychecks and Christmas bonuses.

Not so Zwarte Piet…

When Zwarte Piet (aka “Black Pete”) first burst upon the Dutch scene in 1850 (as part of a children’s book called St. Nicholas and his Servant), “the Dutch Empire was not only
deeply involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but dependent on forced labor in plantation colonies in Suriname and Indonesia.”

The image of Zwarte Piet is still modeled after these slaves.  A modern-day Zwarte Piet generally sports a “painted black face and exaggerated red lips,” which to many “instantly evoke racial stereotypes.”

According to Caitlin Hu of Quartz, the Dutch government has claimed that there have been few complaints until this decade.  Hu nevertheless reports that by 2013, “Zwarte Piet had become the subject of multiple civil suits and the threat of an investigation by the United Nations.”

Dutch “people of color” have been offended by Zwarte Piet for long before that.  Social historian Zihni Ozdil points out that the tide is finally turning within the general population.  He stated: It’s become kind of a hip thing to be against Zwarte Piet.


Copyright December 13, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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