It seems the media has been really having a go at the Dutch St. Nicholas / Zwarte Piet custom in recent times.
Last December, the Guardian did an article on the racist origins of this custom.
In October this year, the Independent ran a piece on this.
And now the heat’s going up as the BBC, Huffington Post UK, SBS news (Australia), France24, CS Monitor, The Daily Beast, Reuters, The Star (Canada), Deutsche Welle （Germany）, Gulf Times (Qatar), just to name a few, have published articles about it within the last month.
The New York Times published a good article today about this as well. And earlier this month, the Economist also did so.
But some things have to be said. And no matter how the Dutch justify it, Black Pete / Zwarte Piet is a tradition that is racist in origin, even if most of them choose to celebrate it these days as a fun thing without bothering about Zwarte Pete’s origins. And from what I’ve seen so far, only the native Dutch will defend this tradition to the death and say it is not racist, even if it is apparent to most other nationalities that this is a racist and archaic practice.
The Dutch pride themselves on being tolerant and pragmatic people. And indeed, the Netherlands is a beautiful country, and not *all* Dutch people agree with the Zwarte Piet tradition, but in a survey conducted by pollster Maurice De Hond last month, an overwhelming 91% majority of a representative sample of Dutch people said the tradition should not be changed to ‘suit the tastes of a minority’.
So how can they get it so wrong on this one? Are traditions really worth defending no matter how wrong they seem in the modern context? In this case, I’d say that the British are more enlightened than the Dutch. At least the sale of golliwogs have been banned in England for some time, and most British people (except the minority) are of the opinion that golliwogs are racist emblems of the past and rightly so, have no place in modern civilised society.
Not all traditional customs are beautiful, and not all traditions need to be relived.