Sinterklaas or Saint Nicolas is a hero for children under the age of 7 in the Netherlands. A very popular man who visits the nation around November to celebrate his birthday. On 5 December, Saint Nicolas is giving children gifts if they behaved nice during this year. Since 1850, Saint Nicolas is aided by a black painted person called Black Pete. This character is acting as a servant of Saint Nicolas. Black Pete is based on a racist stereotype representation of a black person, which was common around 1850. But the Dutch don't see it as racist. Like the white Americans who performed ''Blackface'' comedy, they claim it has nothing to do with racism!
The Netherlands was a major slave trader before slavery was banned around 1877. Dutch white imperialists traded many slaves from Africa to Latin America. There the Dutch owned a nation today called Suriname. In the colony of Suriname, black workers were forced to work on farms producing huge profits for the Dutch ruling class. Live on these farms was hard and few white farmers choose to be nice to their slaves. Because black slaves were deemed subhuman, lower humans created by the Christian God because they were inferior to the white race. This was the racist propaganda spread by Protestant Churches in the Netherlands for hundreds of years!
Thanks to slavery the Netherlands became a very wealthy nation. Although the wealth was mostly concentrated in the white ruling class who owned the means of production. One of the early capitalist enterprises of the world was the Dutch United East India Trading Company. The VoC founded in 1602, were the masters of Dutch trade imperialism. They made a fortune by buying and selling of spices. The VoC was working on routes to Indonesia and did little in the slave trade. Only 0,3 percent of all slaves traded between 1519 and 1870 went to Indonesia. The VoC went bankrupt around 1800, because of the rise in competition from other Dutch capitalist enterprises!
It was the West India Trading Company that did the slave work for the Dutch. Between 1519 and 1870 they traded 2% of all slaves, which is still not much in compare to the Portuguese who shipped 38% of all black slaves. But still the Dutch did a fine work for a tiny nation. Unlike the British Empire that ruled over 1/3 of the world, the Dutch were able to make good money on black slaves and they were respected by almost all major European imperialists!
The Dutch festival of Saint Nicolas is very old. It pre-dates Santa Claus in the USA and is likely the prototype of the American Santa. In the Netherlands he is called Sinterklaas and his birthday on 5 December is a day of joy for little children. On that night they receive gifts from their parents who claim that Saint Nicolas delivered them. While the Saint is waiting on the roof of houses, Black Pete is travelling by the chimney into a home. The Dutch claim that Black Pete is black because he delivers gifts through the chimney. But this is a strange explanation because you don't get red lips or black curled hair by climbing down a chimney. Also it does not explain why Black Pete is wearing typical ''negro'' earrings and behaves sometimes like an ''idiot''.
This is a reflection of ''Blackface'' comedy. Were a white men is imitating a black person in a racist stereotype way. The position of blacks in the Netherlands has improved greatly since 1877, but Black Pete has not changed at all since he was created. This is because many Dutch are dogmatic about this character who plays a large role in the Saint Nicolas fantasy. Because of the harsh reactions by white Dutch, many black Dutch have chosen not to criticize this character who is based on ''Blackface'' comedy. Until 2012 few people spoke out against Black Pete and the way he is portrayed. It was Quinsy Gario who started to protest against this dogma and he would find out that Dutch society grew very intolerant. Both the media and police forces would attack him for his opinion!
Quinsy Gario is a Dutch artist. Born to black parents he started to fight the character of Black Pete when his mother faced racism on work. She was called the ''little Black Pete of the company'' by the people she worked with. As a strong mother she did not made too much of it. But her son Quinsy realized that too many Dutch think that Black Pete is not racist and he choose to tell the true about this ''child loving character''. In 2012 he started the website zwartepietisracisme.tumblr.com in which he attacked Black Pete. The Dutch were furious at him for doing this. He soon faced the hatred of many and even the Dutch police would arrest him during the arrival of Saint Nicolas!
Saint Nicolas visits the Netherlands each year by boat. One big show for little children as it is all played by actors. Saint Nicolas is played by Stefan de Walle who took over the role from Bram van der Vlugt, who played Saint Nicolas for almost 25 years. The Black Pete's are played by various people, all are painted with black faces and red lips. They wear black curled hair and typical ''nigger'' earrings. Children think it is all for good and many Dutch play along. But they were not happy when Quinsy Gario said in public that Black Pete was a racist stereotype display of blacks.
The Dutch police told him that he was not allowed to demonstrate against Saint Nicolas. During the Saint Nicolas festival no criticism was allowed. So Quinsy Gario choose only to wear a sweater with the words; Black Pete is racist. Again this was not allowed and the police officers told him to leave. Quinsy Gario refused saying he had the right to oppose Black Pete. This angered the police and with three officers they forced him on the ground and removed him by force. For opposing Black Pete he spend a night in a cold cell!
But this was not the end. The Dutch reaction was not supportive. Many whites used racist remarks against Quinsy Gario. Some said he must leave the nation if he opposes Black Pete. Others said that he should be a slave again. Finally there were those who think that Gario as a black person was insane, stupid, not-Dutch and anti-tradition. These racist remarks shows how intolerant ( some ) Dutch are in their defence of Black Pete. Quinsy Gario does not want Black Pete to be removed, neither does he wants to end the Saint Nicolas festival for children. He only wants to end the racist elements in Black Pete like the fully black face, the red lips and black curled hair. But this not unacceptable for most Dutch as Black Pete is ''theirs''. They hate it when people call out the true because they don't want to see the true. For them Black Pete is not racist because he acts very friendly to all children. This is true, but that does not hide the fact that Black Pete was created out of a 1850's racist stereotype representation of black people!