This blog is the fifth and final post in my Black Pete Pentalogy.
My plan was to have my Black Pete conclusion-blog done on the fifth of December, which is the final day of the Sinterklaas celebration in the Netherlands. I failed to meet the deadline, but have had this blog on my mind pretty much every day.
A quick review:
- Black Pete & Childhood celebrations, about my own personal memories and Dutch Sinterklaas traditions
- Black Pete & the Frisians, about the 2017 highway blockade and my own personal resentments
- Black Pete & Politics, about the political response to the debate, if “apathy” is a response
- Black Pete & Opponents, about the people who want to kick out Black Pete but are probably its only real friends.
The four blog posts I have written over the last few weeks have really helped me untangle some of my personal frustrations. At the same time it help me to (re)connect with thoughts and ideas I had distanced myself from.
Conclusion 1: There aren’t just two sides to this matter
At a first glance it seems there are only two sides in the Black Pete debate: people in favor and people opposed. However, I have come to realize that the motivations of both sides vary greatly and understanding these motivations is crucial.
Let me share some of the different angles with you:
People in favor – thoughts and motives
- “I love Black Pete because I have fond memories of him. It hurts me that people call him a bad element in our celebration. I don’t understand why we can’t just go back to the way it was when we all still loved Black Pete and everybody had fun.”
- “I love Black Pete because he is part of my culture. It angers me to see my culture being criticized, (in my own country nonetheless)! I want to protect Dutch traditions. People that don’t like what they see, can move on to somewhere where traditions are more of their liking.”
- “I love Black Pete because it is dark element in an ancient celebration, dating back to Wodan & Odin. Sinterklaas without Black Pete is yin with no yang. To change Black Pete or remove him completely destroys the balance”
- “Every Dutch child loves Black Pete. They look forward to his arrival, sometimes even more than Sinterklaas’. The concept of racism is an adult invention. Removing Pete from the celebration taints the celebration with a hateful sentiment that was never there to begin with.”
Opponents – thoughts and motives
- “Black Pete must be removed from the Sinterklaas celebration because his appearance is disrespectful towards present day black people and descendants of slaves.”
- “Black Pete must be removed from the Sinterklaas celebration because it is beneath ourselves. We were ignorant in the past and did not realize there was racism at play. Now we do. Holding on to the tradition is unacceptable.”
- “Black Pete must change. We have been telling our children that he is black with soot, so there is no reason for him to go full blackface. A couple of black smudges on the face should do it. (Aren’t chimneys much cleaner now then they were in the past anyway?)”
- “Black Pete can change. Children’s imaginations are open for wonder. We can introduce a Rainbow Pete and a yellow, green and blue Pete to demonstrate this and push the diversity factor further.”
Starting with the girl in the mirror
As I illustrated with the examples above Black Pete supporters (which not so long ago, was pretty much everyone around me) are not all the same. As a longtime opponent of Black Pete I may, at times, have been quick to label someone as “racist” or “hateful”.
I realize now that some Black Pete supporters are merely melancholic souls. Others are nervous conservatives that don’t really want to deal with change, in any way, shape or form. Me calling them out as racist only made them put up their guard and counterattack, bringing us no where closer to a common ground.
Also, apart from Black Pete supporters and Black Pete opponents, there is a growing group of people that is just fed up with the discussion and doesn’t really care how we resolve the issue, as long as we can just carry on.
Conclusion 2: Admitting you’re wrong is hard.
You know the kind of fight that is way too loud, over-dramatic and full of inaccurate accusations? The type of argument that comes with a lot of finger pointing and sentences that begin with, “Yes, but you ALWAYS…” or end with “Well, that’s just typical!”.
It’s a fight that’s probably not really about what we are saying it is about. It’s a fight we’re having because we actually care a lot about one another but have forgotten how to show it (and our pride is making it hard to admit it). It’s a fight with no listeners. It is a fight with no winners.
We are now in that awkward phase, right after an argument, when neither side is ready yet to extend a hand to the other, nor is anybody willing to admit that all they really want is a hug.
That silence can go both ways. It can turn into passive aggressive silence, which is actually just a continuation of the conflict, but with no sound. The “silent treatment” keeps wounds open and painful and often leads back to the point where we started: the yelling and the closed hearts.
The second option is that, during that sudden and uncomfortable silence, the words of the other suddenly start sinking in. Words that you had been blocking with your own stream of words start connecting with your own ideas and concepts.
It takes courage to admit you were wrong and even more to admit someone else was right. Sometimes an apology is necessary, which is next level stuff!
So I guess what I’m saying, is that the screaming and the yelling, the threats and the arrests, may have looked bad (and they really were), but there is something in the air that makes me feel optimistic.
Speaking for myself, I must admit I may have been a bit too harsh on my compatriots over the last few years.
I’ve been asking (demanding?) friends to accept a whole new set of truths, to change a tradition that has been passed down for generations and then also apologize for it. I’d rather they got to it yesterday, rather than today, giving them very little room to make it right.
So if some Dutchies start celebrating “new style” Sinterklaas but find it hard to do this without being sarcastic about it, that’s fine. If they say they only do it because PC immigrant-huggers made them do it, I’ll happily take the blame (and give them a free hug in the process).
And I guess this brings me to the third and final conclusion:
Conclusion 3: Black Pete is bad karma
My first Black Pete related blog was in 2013. For years it felt like I was one of the only ones speaking out against this tradition. What bothered me the most was (is?) the denial.
However, defending Black Pete is becoming harder. Social media is letting the world peak through the windows as we celebrate. We are being exposed for what we really are.
We are not quite ready to actually say Black Pete is a racist phenomenon, but we are somewhere close to “no longer denying it is not free of racism”, which is progress!
Black Pete is becoming a burden. A smudge on the global image we have created of ourselves.
Yes, Black Pets is bad karma and we will rid ourselves of it.
In the meantime, please be patient with us (but don’t let us off the hook either).