Target: Jessica Silversmith, director of the regional Anti-Discrimination Bureau for Amsterdam
Goal: Urge the Netherlands to end their racist holiday tradition of portraying Santa’s helpers in blackface.
Every nation faces discord over the evolution of cultural rituals. The debate often takes root when one side attempts to eradicate racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, while the other side argues that to alter tradition is to destroy the cultural heritage of a nation. The current debate in the Netherlands concerns the holiday tradition of featuring Santa’s helpers in blackface, afro wigs, and full red lips. This offensive tradition is deeply rooted in Dutch culture and has led to citizen arrests and death threats to those who oppose and seek to end this racist tradition. Sign this petition and urge the Netherlands to eradicate this racist practice and evolve their cultural rituals to be more inclusive and less narrow minded.
The holiday tradition of St. Nicholas, “Sinterklaas” in Dutch, features “Black Pete,” or Zwarte Piet, as the white St. Nick’s African servant. Black Pete was first featured in a book from the 1850s, but has been maintained as part of the holiday ritual since then. Proponents for change argue that since “Sinterklaas” did not always have Black Pete, it can be assumed that the holiday tradition will be able to survive again without the racist character.
The argument that to alter a nation’s rituals and traditions is to destroy its cultural heritage is both false and ridiculous. By amending practices so as to be more inclusive of all people and less offensive and narrow minded, history is not being destroyed. The tradition of Black Pete will always exist, to some a nostalgic memory of past holiday celebrations, and for others a harrowing and embarrassing reminder that one’s nation has not always been a pillar of equality and understanding. Amendments to constitutions that have outlawed slavery, granted women the right to vote, and promised marriage equality for all were not changes that diminished a nation’s cultural heritage. On the contrary, these changes marked a brighter future for citizens and serve as a reminder of the ills of a darker past that we must teach our children to avoid rather than to emulate.
As intrinsic to the holiday celebration of Sinterklaas as Black Pete may be, that is not a good reason to continue to embrace racism and teach children that racism will be tolerated as long as it is in good fun. Those who argue to keep racist depictions and practices as part of a nation’s cultural heritage should be aware that they are not heroic martyrs fighting to preserve the evocative good of days gone by, but rather promoting the prejudicial and discriminatory practices that society continues to fight against and evolve from. Sign this petition and urge the Netherlands to forgo this racist holiday tradition and promote rituals which seek to brighten our future rather than continue to mar it with intolerance.
Dear Jessica Silversmith, director of the regional Anti-Discrimination Bureau for Amsterdam,
Thank you for fighting against the racist holiday tradition of Black Pete. This offensive caricature is not intrinsic to the holiday nor is it intrinsic to the cultural heritage of the Netherlands. In fact, the only appropriate use of portraying this character would be in teaching future children how far the nation has come since the time in history when racism was intertwined with holiday cheer.
Please continue to fight to change this holiday tradition and know that we support your efforts to eradicate the current depiction of Black Pete from Sinterklaas. The story of St. Nicholas is about promoting love and selfless giving and this theme will be able to survive without the racist undertones of Black Pete.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: hans s via flickr