By Guest Contributor Marly Pierre-Louis
Photos courtesy of the author.
I was warned before moving to Amsterdam that there’s a term Dutch people use for kids which translates to “monkey.” They use it with all kids and it’s supposed to be a term of endearment. They literally have no context for why you can’t call a Black kid that. The thing is my son is exceptionally cute (just sayin’) and people are constantly cooing at him, especially older people. Sure, they’re all smiles and sweet sounds but are they in fact calling my son a monkey?! And if they are, what do I do about it? Curse them out in English? Memorize Dutch insults to sling at all offending grandmothers?
We were also warned that we should make sure to be vocal about our two-year-old not being involved with any Zwarte Piet celebrations at his daycare. Most schools not only have kids coloring in pictures of him but they may even consider having Sekani dress up as a Piet! Excuse my Dutch but WHAT THE F*CK!?
The Dutch are so adamant about their love for Piet that the indoctrination begins as early as daycare. When parents have tried to have their kids abstain from the festivities at school, it seems unfathomable to teachers who do everything from guilt tripping the parents, “Why do you want your child to be left out?” to turning the kid against their parents, “your mommy doesn’t want you to have fun.” I heard from a friend that a Black mother she knew went to pick up her daughter from school one day only to find her face painted Black. This is all problematic for so many reasons.
When Sinterklaas season began, I was fully preparing to go to war.
By Guest Contributor Marly Pierre-Louis
I’m an activist and, one way or another, wherever I am, I always find my way to movement work, or it finds me. So when my partner and I uprooted our lives in Brooklyn for him to pursue a job opportunity in Amsterdam, I was excited to get involved. I figured since we’d be living here for the indefinite future, might as well jump in the mix. What were the issues? Who were the oppressed? And what were they fighting for? I met with organizers and did my research. Initially, I was disappointed at what seemed like a lack of collective struggle and as a result a lack of movement work. I didn’t detect a culture of resistance. But surely there was conflict in a society that celebrated a figure like Zwarte Piet.
In fact, there’s been more activity than ever before concerning Zwarte Piet, particularly in the last couple of months. In the Dutch mythology, every year Sinterklaas, more of a religious figure than our Santa Claus, rolls through the Netherlands from his home in Spain. Accompanying him are his servants known as Zwarte Piets or Black Piets. These characters are white adult men and women with their faces painted Black, red lipstick, gold hoop earrings and a black curly wig. Zwarte Piet is clumsy, subservient and unintelligent; a regular coon. In October, Quinsy Gario, a prominent anti Zwarte Piet activist who was arrested in 2011 for protesting the Sinterklaas parade (Trigger Warning: Police violence) while wearing a T-shirt that read, “Zwarte Piet is Racisme (Black Piet is racism)”, publicly denounced Zwarte Piet on a popular Dutch talk show, as racist and hurtful. Dutch Twitter went MAD, and an ugly, racist underbelly of the worst kind was revealed:
(Trigger Warning for pictures under the cut)
By Guest Contributor Flavia Tamara Dzodan, cross-posted from Red Light Politics
Here in The Netherlands, racial matters and subsequent discussions are framed very differently from those in North America. I suspect that due to the fact that The Netherlands has lacked an equivalent to the Civil Rights Movement, race issues are still stalled in a colonial phase where oppressive language and the relevant discourse have never been properly deconstructed and challenged (and hardly analyzed at all outside academic circles).
To give a bit of background, the Dutch state has a classification system for those of us who live here. This classification is not necessarily framed on ethnicity but on place of birth (both for the classified subject and her parents). The Dutch state uses a word appropriated from biology, “allochtoon” to refer to us. This term originally denotes any organism which is non native to a given ecosystem. They have, in turn, created a scale of “foreignness” in which a Native Dutch (known as “autochtoon” in Dutch state parlance) is at the top of the food chain, followed by “Western foreigners” (i.e. Americans and other Caucasian Europeans) and then at the bottom of the foreignness pyramid, “non-Western foreigners” (i.e. everyone who comes from a country classified as non Western or underdeveloped).
This foreignness is determined not only by the place where one was born but also by the place where one’s parents come from. So, someone could be born in The Netherlands, but still be classified as a non Western foreigner because one of her parents hails from such place. Because I am South American, I am one such “Non Western Foreigner”. My status as an ethnic foreigner is also made evident by the way I look (I am consistently addressed in Arabic or Turkish because of my completion).
The laws of the country are such that I am obliged to disclose my “Non Western foreigner” status in a multitude of ways: if I am to apply for a job, I am obliged to tell; if I am to take a language course, I am obliged to tell; my healthcare provider demands to know this and I am obliged to tell (supposedly for statistical purposes); education plans and programs are put in place specifically for people like me (and my children if I had any).