What does Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet really mean? Is it racist? Or archetypes representing a bright and shadow part of ourselves?
Neurologist and pediatrician Hofman wrote 'Struwelpeter', a childrens book, in 1845. It was translated into English by Mark Twain and features one chapter with Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet. How do you interpret this chapter?
The Inky Boys
As he had often done before,
The woolly-headed black-a-moor
One nice fine summer's day went out
To see the shops and walk about;
And as he found it hot, poor fellow,
He took with him his green umbrella
Then Edward, little noisy wag,
Ran out and laugh'd, and waved his flag,
And William came in jacket trim,
And brought his woollen hoop with him;
And Caspar, too, snatch'd up his toys
And joined the other naughty boys;
So one and all set up a roar,
And laughed and hooted more and more,
And kept on singing,--only think!--
"Ohl Blacky, you're as black as ink"
Now Saint Nicholas lieved close by,--
So tall he almost touched the sky;
He had a mighty inkstand too,
In which a great goose feather grew;
He call'd out in an angry tone,
"Boys, leave the black-a-moor alone!
For if he tries with all his might,
He cannot change from black to white."
But ah! they did not mind a bit
What Saint Nicholas said of it;
But went on laughing, as before,
And hooting at the black-a-moor.
Then Saint Nicholas foams with rage:
Look at him on this very page!
He seizes Caspar, seizes Ned,
Takes William by his little head;
And they may scream, and kick, and call,
But into the ink he dips them all;
Into the inkstand, one, two, three,
Till they are black, as black can be;
Turn over now and you shall see.
See, there they are, and there they run!
The black-a-moor enjoys the fun.
They have been made as black as crows,
Quite black all over, eyes and nose,
And legs, and arms, and heads, and toes.
And trowsers, pinafores, and toys,--
The silly little inky boys!
Because they set up such a roar,
And teas'd the harmless black-a-moor.
My studies focus on social media and how this new technology influences documentary film-making. Greece's recent referendum gave me the opportunity for a small experiment. How does social media help the democratic process online?
So I created a poll where people can vote on this question:
Should the EU give Greece a third bail-out?
The poll was not meant to be representative, but what I learned from the poll can be considered indicative. And at the time of writing this 55% had voted Yes to a third bail-out and 45% No.
Imagine two neighbours. Both live in the same community. One of the houses is well maintained and looks pretty. The other needs constant repair. The neighbor in the nice house keeps supporting the neighbor in the other house to fund repairs. Until eventually he says, enough is enough, you need to start taking care of your house yourself. The other neighbour’s perspective is one of entitlement. He says that it is his neighbor who keeps destroying his house, so he should pay for the repairs. Both are valid perspectives – it is how people feel right now.
What bothers me in this ongoing debate is that facts no longer matter. It does not matter anymore if the house really was destroyed by the neighbor, or if the house simply fell into disrepair. What matters is that people experience it this way. Germany is always at fault for some, no matter what it does. And for the others Greece is at fault for not bringing its affairs in order.
Passions run high. And I feel bad reading all this German bashing on the one side and blaming Greece on the other. Germany is perceived by many as dominating conspiring to keep weaker countries down. Greece on the other hand is perceived as a debtor unwilling to make changes, demanding more and more money.
It does not matter that Germany or Greece are just two voices in the Eurozone made up of 19 countries. It does not matter that EU-finance ministers discuss and work out deals as best as they know. It does not matter that the ECB is actually independent. It does not matter that the IMF is not run by Germany.
And instead of working on that problem, political gain is made by exploiting these sentiments on all sides. Facts are ignored, misinterpreted and selectively used by everyone to deceive the electorate.
And this is when it gets dangerous. If Europe, if we as Europeans, do not solve this problem of how we perceive each other first, then the likelihood of Europe fragmenting even further grows significantly. Possible scenarios could be Greece or even Germany becoming so disillusioned with the EU that they eventually leave the Euro zone. Or that northern European countries form a closer union, increasingly leaving weaker member states to themselves. This however is not in the best interest of any one. It is not the idea of Europe based on solidarity. But it is a possibility appearing on the horizon; all the warning signs are here on the social media wall for all to see.
Personally I don’t want to be German any more if German’s are perceived in this way. World war two is not my fault. I did not kill any one or rob them of their culture. And if anyone thinks I did – well, we can talk about it. Rationally.
Nor do I want to go on a holiday in Greece or live there. Though as a teenager I had a great time there. But what is happening in Greece is really putting me off. I do not agree with Tsipras, I do not accept him as a bringer of democracy to Europe. He is just another politician exploiting sentiments instead of solving the problem.
But I do want to be European. And I want to live in a federal Europe capable of examining a problem and solving it. A federal Europe with a better administration, affordable education, a single social security and health care system for all. A Europe with a stronger voice in the world, promoting values such as solidarity.
Belgian politican Guy Verhofstadt has some great ideas on this. But right now the Europe I dream of is less likely than the nightmare scenario of a fragmented continent with its citizens bickering , complaining and being resentful towards each other. That really depresses me.
Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet arrive in Dordrecht.
At the same time in Gouda festivities became more heated as Anti-Awarte Piet protesters were arrested.
Black Pete's open Sinterklaas square in Dordrecht, Nov. 14, 2014
The Pietengilde is an association of Zwarte Piets in the Netherlands.
Based on the recent ruling and the ongoing appeal against the judgment that Zarte Piet is a racist stereotype, the association is worried that Zwarte Piet will be outlawed altogether.
On their website they explain why:
If the judgement is not reversed, anyone dressed up as Zwarte piet or any organisation promiting Zwarte Piet is open for a lawsuit.
Will 2014 be the last year we see Zwarte Piet?
The hearing was crowded, outside police kept an eye on the right-wing group 'Voorpost' which brought along a couple of Zwarte Piets and a Sinterklaas.
On November 12 a ruling is expected which will influence the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas in a major way, should the council uphold the previous ruling that Zwarte Piet is a negative stereotype.
As a consequence the figure of Zwarte Piet as he is known today may even go 'underground' should the previous ruling be confirmed, said Marc Gilling of the Pietengilde in a phone call with us.
The Pietengilde participates in the appeal but also is trying hard to keep the dialogue open with groups opposing Zwarte Piet. For the Pietengilde dialogue is the only reasonable way forward to find a way how to celebrate Sinterklaas together.
Add your reaction
Our documentary '5to12' has been accepted into the Eindhoven Film Festival 2014. Visit http://eindhovensfilmfestival.nl for screening details. '5to12' completed production in 2014 and explores the sports challenges elderly athletes face. We also produced the documentary 'God, Church, Pills & Condoms', which screened at the Cinemanila Filmfestival in Manila and the International Hanoi Film Festival in Vietnam. 'God, Church, Pills & Condoms' and has now also been accepted into the Viewster Online Film Festival. For more details visit http://festival.viewster.com/.
Both films are part of the PhD research conducted by Fritz Kohle at Edinburgh University on how social media is changing the production value chain for SME documentary producers. Social media forms a major part in the development, production and distribution for both films and research findings are being applied in our next project which explores the controversial Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet.
The Dutch programme 'Het hart van Nederland' reports that the sales director of the Dutch department store HEMA has come under fire for his position on Zwarte Piet.
Zwarte Piet is increasingly making the headlines again in the Netherlands as the Dutch prepare for the arrival of Sinterklaas and his black companian Zwarte Piet. Some consider this tradition racist, though the sentiment among the Dutch is to keep Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet.
The below caricature shows three well known Dutch comic characters being sold in Hema saying that the "Netherlands is a country where asylum seekers from around the world are welcome, but Zwarte Piet has to leave". We stress that Hema did not publish this - but caricatures and statements such as this are ripe on social media, giving an indication on how many people feel about the idea that Zwarte Piet is a racist tradition.
It may be illogical and irrational - but when a large part of the population feels this way, then government cannot afford to ignore this issue. There are too many underlying factors playing into into this discussion and it is high time that mainstream politicians act proactively rather than leaving it to fear mongers such as Geert Wilders.