Saint Nicolas festival has come again with his army of black faced Pete’s and a local city government made sure that freedom of speech was limited. Those people who wanted to protest against black face were told to ask for a permit and protest on a city council approved location. Naturally anti-racists refused since freedom of speech is a constitutional right in the Netherlands. But the children festival of Saint Nicolas must not be interrupted, so the police started to militarize the city of Maassluis!
”Sinterklaas” is an white old man, riding his white horse. He is a fictional character created for a children’s festival. Around 5 December, Saint Nicolas is delivering presents to good children, while bad kids are getting the ”birching”. Until 1850, the old white man was working alone in the story of Saint Nicolas. Then a Dutch schoolteacher decided to give him servants. Since black people were seen as servants to white people in 1850, the character of ”Zwarte Piet” (Black Pete) was born. Over time the character was portrayed as all blacks were. With thick black skin, big red lips, black curled hair and golden earrings!
The original behavior of Black Pete was clumsy and stupid. This made children laugh and it served as entertainment. Black people were told that Pete was not racist, his black skin is a result of his work, delivering presents through the chimney. This excuse is bullshit since it does not explain the big red lips, the black curly hair, the golden earrings nor his clumsy behavior. Still the majority of Dutch hold dogmatically to this nonsense idea of Pete getting his think black skin because of the chimney!
Like white Americans in the south of the USA with their Confederate battle flag, the majority of white Dutch refuse to accept that ”their” Black Pete is racist. They even go so far in claiming that children don’t see racism in the character. This is another lie since many children of colored parents are bullied at schools and called ”Black Pete”. Adults have also faced this racism. In fact the man who started the initial anti-Black Pete protest in 2011, only began when his (black) mother was called the ”Black Pete” of the company, by her white co-workers!
But the white majority refuses to hear these stories. They claim that the anti-racist black activists are ”complain pete’s” and hail police brutality. Back in 2011, many whites applaud it when the Dutch police used brutal force in dealing with two black Dutch men, who did nothing but standing next to the Saint Nicolas route, with a t-shirt reading: BLACK PETE IS RACIST. They were told to leave by angry white people and police officers. When the men refused the police took them down and arrested them like criminals. Their freedom of speech was denied!
Five years later the situation is intensified. More colored and anti-racist Dutch have joined the struggle against Black Pete and this scares the white majority. The demonstrations are getting louder and human rights groups have agreed that Black Pete is a negative stereotyping of a black person. Most Dutch reject this line of thinking. They only see a clumsy innocent character who is helping an old man. This shows the inability of most white Dutch to understand why black people are protesting against Black Pete. The bigger picture however is the growing nationalism in Dutch society. This nationalism is intolerant and dogmatic. It has always been there but denied by the liberal political elite, who claims that the Netherlands is a ”progressive and tolerant” society!
In reality this has never been the case. The Dutch have always looked down on minorities. First the Indonesians (former colony) in the 1950’s, then the Turkish workers in the 1960’s, the Moluccans in the 1970, the black people from Suriname (former colony) in the 80’s and finally refugees from the Arab world since the 1990’s. White Dutch never liked them as they were seen as different and strange to white Dutch culture. The 1980’s brought a change in society. Neoliberal thinking became dominate among liberals, conservatives and social democrats. Many workers lost their jobs as capitalists moved them oversea to cheaper nations. Nationalists blamed foreigners and immigrants for this fact. The birth of the European Union in 1992 and the single capitalist economy its produced opened the Dutch labour market!
Right-wing populism grew in the 1990’s as the liberal political elite abandoned the welfare state for neoliberal dogmatism. The market was to be god, competition was to be king. Greed and market based politics soon alienated many workers from politics. Pim Fortuyn was one of the first populists who started to blame Muslims for the growing poverty and insecurity. He claimed that Islam did not belong in Dutch society. Like Hitler who blamed the Jews, Fortuyn wanted to limit democratic freedoms for Muslims. He was murdered in 2002 by an animal rights activist, which only alienated more people from the traditional political parties. A former member of the main neoliberal party turned rightist populist and became the face of Dutch populism. Geert Wilders is loved and hated by many. Like Fortuyn he blames foreign immigrants (especially Muslims) and wishes to limit their democratic rights!
For the 2016 arrival of Saint Nicolas, the Dutch city of Maassluis took dramatic actions. The police sealed the city off. Demonstrations were only allowed if you had a official permit. The neonazi: Dutch People’s Union got such permit and were allowed to demonstrate in favor of Black Pete, in a city council approved location. But the anti-racists see it as a constitutional right to express their opinion. They traveled in two buses to Maassluis to demonstrate win out a official permit. Police officers halted the buses in Rotterdam. Since the protesters had no permit to demonstrate, the police kept them away from Maassluis. The anti-Black Pete protesters refused to obey the officers, so they were all arrested. Over 200 anti-racists were detained, to keep the arrival of Saint Nicolas and his Black Pete’s free from dissident opinions!
White Dutch reacted very happy to this injustice. They praised the police from keeping Maassluis free from anti-racist protests. It reminds us of those white Americans who applauded police brutality against anti-racist demonstrators in the 1960’s, led by Martin Luther King. Remember those white southern Americans with their Confederate battle flags and racist slogans, calling for segregation and racism against black Americans. Many white Dutch have the same reaction. They treat anti-racists who demonstrate against Black Pete as ”’none-Dutch” and many receive racist reactions. There are enough Facebook pages who call for the deportation and enslavement of black Dutch, who call for the removal of Black Pete from the Saint Nicolas festival!