For the record, once again: I do not have the power and never had the intent to advocate for the abolishment of Sinterklaas. In many cultures (including in my own by the way), Santa Claus is an important and beloved figure and its tradition should be respected. And in most countries, he does indeed have assistants and many times they are dark figures. The roots and history of this is complex and varies according to countries and there are experts who have been doing thorough research on this and know much better than I do. But let us be honest. The argument that Zwarte Piet is actually a white man who went through a chimney and became smokey, and therefore has nothing to do with African and Black people cannot really stand once we look at his afro wig, thick red lips and costume that resembles slavery times. We must realize that people of African descent can easily have a(n otherwise legitimate) reason to feel connected and related to Black Pete and must be given the opportunity to react and share their thoughts and feelings on that. Of course, reactions will be mixed and it is alright. I got messages from non-Black Dutch people who feel ashamed because of Black Pete and would like to see it abolished but also letters by Black people who have seen nothing wrong with it and felt that Black Pete makes Black people lovable. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that everyone can say what they feel and then there must be a way to find a compromise if needed to bring harmony and peace back to communities (removing the afro wig and red lipstick and change his clothes for example so that he really looks like a white man who went through a chimney…?).
But I must say that I am concerned and saddened about the nature of the debate at least according to what I see on my own Facebook page. Those who feel offended and hurt because of Black Pete rather write me private messages in confidence which gives me the impression that they have a fear to speak up publicly. On the contrary, many of those who feel that there is nothing wrong with Black Pete, often communicate it through rather aggressive messages for the whole public and ridicule those who were brave enough to raise their voice against Black Pete openly. I also got cynical and rude comments on my other posts dealing with completely different subjects. My worry is that such an atmosphere will not enable an honest and open discussion. Black people and those non-Black Dutch who feel that something is wrong must be encouraged to speak up without fear and must be heard on an equal basis. It is the responsibility of the government and all its citizens to make it happen. From my side, I will keep on providing a space for discussion here on Facebook and I do wish for us that we will all come to a solution that will bring people and communities closer instead of dividing them. We must recognize, that what we need is unity in diversity and how we deal with such things will determine not only our common future but most importantly the way our children will grow up, think about and handle such complex social realities.
Rita Izsák, UN Independent Expert on minority issues
Rita Izsák, one of the UN experts involved in the panel that sent a the letter to the Dutch government addressing the racist nature of the character of Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) had this to say on her Facebook page.
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