It’s The Chimney – Right.

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It's The Chimney - Right.

Last week marked the beginning of an age-old Dutch tradition (Sinterklaas) that sees a bearded man with hordes of Dutch people in blackface go around the Netherlands. 

 

The tradition has stirred up quite some controversy, mostly because grown men running around with red lips and black makeup is starting to baffle the international community. 

 

Even Kim Kardashian had something to say, pointing out the tradition is disturbing and racist – and if a Kardashian gets involved in issues outside Instagram and plastic surgery, you can be sure it’s serious. 

 

That said, Kim does have some authority on the issue, as she’s been accused of ‘black-fishing’- i.e. ‘using the black aesthetic like it’s a costume’. Anyway, before Justin Trudeau goes off planning a state visit to win over Dutch hearts – let’s see what’s what.

 

‘Sinterklaas’ celebrates Saint Nicholas (a pre-Coca-Cola Santa) who in the middle ages would hand out cake to good children while the bad children got a visit from the devil. The black-faced helpers replaced the devil character in the colonial era, as servants remained mostly black. 

 

Nowadays, supporters of the tradition claim the blackface is the result of climbing down chimneys to hand out presents. Because a chimney also causes red lips, curly hair and a pristine, colourful outfit – right. 

 

Dutch politics has debated the issue at length, which makes you wonder how the Netherlands hasn’t sunk yet. 

 

The most vocal party on the issue is ‘The Party for the Freedom’ (PVV) which has called any attempt to ban black-Pete an attack on Dutch culture.

 

Other defences of black Pete include; “we don’t want to be told what to do”, “political correctness has gone mad” and “it’s a tradition, so it’s not racist”.

 

While not the most robust defence, the strong opposition likely comes from the inevitable conclusion that if tradition is racist, all Dutch people are racist — not something people wear with a badge of pride these days. 

 

Some do of course, and commented on Kardashian’s post saying; “mind your own business, cotton picker” and “Islam is taking over the world”. Not sure how that last one is relevant, but at least now we know who’s who. 

 

But the debate isn’t just run by the PVV and a few fringe racists. Two-thirds of the Dutch public doesn’t see any issue with the tradition, and the vast majority of schools still welcome black-Pete. 

 

As a result, the topic has caused several violent incidents across the country from both pro and anti movements. Last year, an incredibly motivated pro-Pete campaign shut down an entire motorway in the name of keeping Pete black. 

 

This is precisely the issue. Adults dominate the debate, while kids couldn’t care less if Pete is yellow (ok, maybe not a great idea), green, blue or whether he turns up at all. A new Playstation is what matters, preferably without getting bottled by protesters from either side. 

 

As time goes by, the tradition will likely become harder to explain – leaving only Dutch people who like to spend their weekends in a white hood. Sometimes it’s ok to revisit traditions. Otherwise, we’d still be throwing single-women into rivers to see if they float. Besides, any time 50-year-olds start using violence and blocking motorways for the sake of protecting the right to black up – it’s time to get suspicious. 

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