The Dutch right-wing is very angry. Because the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam have ended the black face tradition of Black Pete. This fictional character is part of the Saint Nicolas festival and is portrayed as a clumsy black painted person with black curly hair, bright red lips and golden earrings. The majority of white Dutch don’t understand why Black Pete is racism. They cannot understand why black facing is wrong. It shows the deep ignorance many have in the kingdom. Dutch history portrays their colonialist period as a ”Golden Age” with little attention given to the suffering of the 600.000 black slaves, Dutch ships transported to America. Also there is a wide spread believe that the Netherlands is a ”tolerant” society, free of racism and stigmatization, reality is different. Racism is a problem and many black Dutch have faced rejection as they fight against racial stereotypes like Black Pete.
In 2011, a Dutch man called Quinsy Gario started a small protest against the black faced character called Black Pete, during the arrival of Saint Nicolas. He and his friend were told by police to go away, as the white Dutch felt uneasy with two black guys wearing t-shirts saying: ”Black Pete is Racism”. Gario faced the anger of the majority of the Dutch population. In their world view, Black Pete is part of a ”innocent” children festival. A problem with this excuse is that the festival is designed and executed by adults. Also it does no justice to black children who face racism and rejection based on their skin color. Few to no white Dutch have ever faced racism. But many black or colored Dutch have. We have examples of Turkish and Moroccan Dutch, who are stigmatized as ”Muslim terrorists” and ”criminals”. Even Italian Dutch are called ”Muslims” by ignorant white racists because they have dark hair and a Mediterranean skin color!
In the last six years the movement against black facing is growing. This is why Amsterdam and Rotterdam have now ended the black face tradition. Members of the far-right party: Livable Rotterdam are very angry about this. Like the neo-confederates in America, who love their Confederate battle flag, Livable Rotterdam claims that tradition should not be changed. Two other far-right parties have even called for Black Pete to be protected by the state. Forum for Democracy (FvD) and the Party for Freedom (PVV) belong to the far-right spectrum. While the PVV is based on one personality (Geert Wilders), the FvD is more a classic Dutch nationalist party. With 5000 members and two seats in the Dutch parliament the FvD calls for ethnic nationalism, pseudo-liberal conservatism and white culture to rule supreme!
Still the majority of white Dutch refuse to understand. They hold dogmatically to their own fantasy about a ”innocent children’s festival” under siege by ”angry people”. With angry people they mean black activists who face outright hatred on social media for they stand against Black Pete. It reminds us of those brave Americans who united around Martin Luther King. Back in the 1960’s they too faced racism and rejected by the establishment. Whites in the south of America started to use the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of white supremacy against desegregation. Although the Dutch cannot be called pure racists like those white southerns in the 60’s, they close their eyes to racism. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to Black Pete, even as a white person. Because this character is very loved. To say that it is racist and wrong, means that you can be excluded and isolated. There are many Dutch (both white and black) who don’t dare to speak out!
Why are the Dutch so ignorant? Partly this has to do with their history. Dutch people have never confronted themselves with their colonialist past. Schoolbooks in the Netherlands portray the colonialist period as a ”Golden Age”, when ships of the United Republic of the Seven Provinces made the country rich by trade. They fail to mention that all this wealth was taken by force. Jan Pieterszoon Coen was Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies between 1618 and 1623. In only four years, Coen monopolized the trade under the banner of the capitalist; VOC, the Dutch East India Company in Indonesia. He used brutal force in dealing with those natives who refused to sell their products to him. During the Banda massacre in 1621, VOC forces under Coen’s leadership killed 14.000 peasants and allowed 1.000 to live, to become slaves to their white masters. Jan Pieterszoon Coen himself died young, but was hailed as a ”Great Dutch Man” by the republic and the later Kingdom of the Netherlands. Today the butcher of Banda still has statues and name plates, honoring him in his homeland!
There has never been massive public criticism of Dutch colonialism. The only ones who rejected imperialism were revolutionary leftists. Marxists from the Social-Democratic Party (after 1918: Communist Party Holland) were one of the first who called for a independent Indonesia. Dutch liberals, conservatives and anti-revolutionary socialists were furious. They said that if the Netherlands would lose Indonesia (Dutch Indies) then disaster would follow. A popular saying back then was: ”Indië verloren, rampspoed geboren” meaning: ”Indies lost. disaster born” literally. After 1918, the Communist Party Holland became the leading force of Dutch anti-colonialism in the 20’s and 30’s. Still most Dutch were cultural racist and considered European culture to be superior to Asian cultures. The Dutch did not differ much from British, French and German colonialism, who also shared this racist ideology of white cultural supremacy!
After world war two the Dutch government of Catholics and social democrats faced a republican uprising in Indonesia. To defend Dutch colonialism, Willem Drees ordered the Royal Dutch Army to crush the republicans in Indonesia. Four years and 150.000 deaths later, Indonesia became a free republic. The Dutch choose to forget and this is why black facing has never been questioned. Black Dutch who tried to fight against racism often faced outright hatred and deep rejection from white colleges, friends and the establishment. White Dutch created a fictional bubble of a country that does not exist. In this bubble there is no racism and all people are equal and happy. Reality is different. Dutch capitalists discriminate against none-whites and rejection based on heritage is a fact. Young people with a Islamic background often find out that their name is enough not to be given a job. Black people from Suriname also face discrimination on the labour market!
Each year Saint Nicolas comes, with his army of black faced white people. Opposition is however growing and this makes the establishment uncomfortable. Police brutality has increased since 2011 and racist remarks against black activists are no longer exceptional. On Facebook and Twitter there is a wave of hatred going, against people like Quinsy Gario. He recently said that (white) people start to defend Black Pete automatically as soon as he enters a store with Saint Nicolas and Black Pete products. The Dutch political left remains silent. Moderate socialists from the Socialist Party are too afraid to lose voters, so the SP does not comment on Black Pete. The pseudo-leftist; Party of Labour defends black face, so does the Party for Freedom and Democracy (neoliberals of the VVD). Revolutionary socialists stand in solidarity with all those brave black activists who dare to defy the icon. We stand against black facing and reject the fantasy arguments on why Black Pete is not racism!