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My point of view

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"Zwarte Piet", or Black Pete, is what you make of it. Let's all stop binding a negative image to the colour black! Black Pete is a PROUD profession. Disguised in black to be able to move quickly and unseen through the night to give the children their presents. His colour is not that of soot from chimneys. He's not dirty! And calling someone Black Pete who isn't Black Pete? "Don't be silly, that remark is a bit foolish, don't you think?"
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I haven't used English resources, but I found a few on the subject to share below.The pictures are 30 years old taken in 1983 with me and my sister as Petes.


Saint Nicholas and Black Pete

Not everywhere the celebrations around Saint Nicholas are the same as the tradition in the Netherlands including Pete the way we know him within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Belgium.

Please don't make the mistake of comparing Christmas elsewhere with Saint Nicholas in the Netherlands. Although they may share a background now, the tradition is very different and to me personally Santa just doesn't do it and should not even be attached to Christmas in the first place as he has nothing to do with the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. But that's personal and who am I to tell anyone what - or what not - to do, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone. Now I know you're thinking "but that's exactly what you are doing with Black Pete!" Hold on!

Black Pete may step on some toes now, but this is definitely not the intention and not necessary as long as we handle the matter correctly. I think we are already on the right track in the Netherlands and we should continue on this track. Black Pete is no longer a bogeyman, he's not foolish, has no specific kind of lips. Abolition is no solution, but will most likely make matters worse, matters that should be picked up in raising and educating children along the way.


Fact is there are adults now who have grown up with a negative image of Black Pete and there are still children growing up creating a negative (self-?)image because of others handling skin colour differences.


Fact is that the way Pete is portrayed has changed a lot the last 20 years: from stupid and subjective to very clever and the trusted help and support to the old Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as we call him. Also the 'Black' in the name is not that up front anymore with names like Head Pete, Cool Pete and Packaging Pete. Instead of being Sinterklaas' servant, 'being Pete' has almost become a profession itself. But yes, Pete is still black.


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Why are we so hooked? I think we feel things are being taken from our culture, but I think it is not exactly Black Pete we're hooked to, but it is more the way of the attack and the thought of abolishing our happy celebration and holiday all together, or losing Black Pete completely due to matters which have been drawn completely out of context and with no reason for the better. Also naming Black Pete racist is like calling the ones loving him racists, that's kindof odd, don't you think? An extreme attack has raised an extreme defensive in which total chaos now seems to rule.

Erik van Muiswinkel, Dutch comedian and Head Pete for years now, described it very nice: "I thought it always quite beautiful that this kind of ... tradition ... in the Netherlands really was possible." He also describes a more personal event with his South-African exchange daughter (like exchange student, but then within a family) who had a Black Pete joke called at her, by an adult at that! It may have been meant as an innocent joke, but, but let's be clear about this, isn't that innocent.


The question "Why is Black Pete black?" is in my eyes very important and next to that "Why is Black Pete Black Pete?" The second may sound weird, but the answers to both these questions are vital when children start thinking about - and asking them. In raising kids these answers should be thought about so that when that moment comes that children start asking or making remarks that are just not correct, adults can act on this immediately the right way!

Were we to answer the question simply by "it's soot from the chimney", we are really saying "he's dirty." And racist meaning or not, children will simply take this to a dark colour skinned friend asking "if they are dirty too."
For our Petes, coloured equal soot-black, not clearly filthy, this answer may just not be the best possible option and could better be answered more honestly that they or their ancestors come from or have roots in other countries. Or even more honest and best to my opinion, that they are painted black for their profession!


Black Pete is a hero for our young kids! But they grow up, start asking questions or do connect Black Pete to are darker coloured neighbours. And when they do, it should be made clear that calling Black Pete to everyone with a dark skin is like calling a butcher a baker, or someone from Belgium a Dutch person, or an elder bearded man Sinterklaas, or a spectacled man Clark Kent, and so I can go on. It's just a silly, foolish remark. And if kids try to prevent anything, it'd be coming off foolish. "Don't be silly you, that remark is a bit foolish, don't you think?" Explain!


Image and meaning

Black Pete is not racist, but it can be used that way if you do not handle it correct. Like the word nigger. The word is not racist, but it has been used in a racist context way too many times, so the connection is made. Another example is the Swastika, originally a holy symbol from the Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, but because the Nazi's used it, it now calls on a feeling of hate.

Please don't give a meaning like this to Black Pete!


Slavery? Yes, those are ugly pages from our history, but Black Pete is no slave and is not submitted into slavery. He is not whipped. He is the merry friend of every child, Sinterklaas his trusted support on which he relies. Maybe his original thought sprung from the idea of a servent, I don't know the thoughts of Jan Schenkman. NOW Black Pete is NO slave at all. He's free, merry and doesn't even need to be black of skin, but he's a hero to our children. Why then black? A natural disguise, read on...


The abolition of Black Pete would sooner have a reversed effect, as the discussion alone now already seems to have. Put Head Pete on a horse, next to Saint Nicholas, tell the kids at the right time and age of the meaning of Saint Nicholas. Make Black Pete into a honorary profession. Kids already look up to this personality. Call the paint for what it is: a disguise. Everyone can wear the colour in the profession of Pete and the reason? They spread their presents amongst the kids in the night, so they can blend in and go by unseen, doing the job as quick as possible!

Why is Saint Nicholas not painted then? As wealthy and saintly initiator, Sinterklaas, visits the children personally. Every year other kids get visited and maybe this year he will visit you! Have you been a good kid?

We need Black Pete's disguise to make known people unrecognizable for children. Let's not start re-inventing Santa's elves and paint them green, let's keep it a bit more real. Kids grow up too fast already. Let's give a positive turn to the black colour. Black Pete is off to a very good start!



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