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Let’s Talk About Blackface, Zwarte Piet, and Political Correctness

"Blackface is not offensive and black people getting mad about it is just stupid," she said.

by Deedra Abboud in Political, Social Views, Uncategorized
December 4, 2016 0 comments

I recently visited Holland on a US Department of Homeland Security exchange program focusing on dealing with immigration and radicalization.

Upon my return, many people ask about my trip. I share a lot of what I learned and my observations while there. One of my experiences was seeing a white child dressed in a costume and a painted ‘blackface.’ Later, our escorts explained the story of Zwart Piet (Black Pete), a character that accompanies Sinterklaas (Santa Clause) in Dutch Christmas festivals.

The woman asked, “Why is it controversial?” Her tone suggested she was completely clueless.

I explained that Zwart Piet had become controversial in Holland due to the ‘blackface’ and other stereotypical aspects of his costume (lips, hair, large gold earrings, etc.).

“Blackface is not offensive and black people getting mad about it is just stupid,” she said.

“Says the white woman,” I responded.

 

The American Christmas tradition includes Santa Clause himself making a list of good and bad children, as well as Santa himself potentially leaving coal or sticks instead of gifts for children.

However, in the Holland tradition, the history of Zwarte Piet includes slavery and Piet, rather than Sinterklaas, leaving coal or sticks instead of gifts – in addition to parents warning that Piet kidnaps ‘bad’ children at Christmas.

Not exactly a positive¬†portrayal. It sounds a lot like the ‘boogie man,’ except it leaves children with the idea of what he looks like – black.

Kids being scared that ‘Black Pete” might steal them away for ‘being bad’ surely has an effect on how they perceive people who are naturally black the rest of the year.

But I am not debating whether Holland should or should not have Zwarte Piet as a tradition. That is for the people of Holland to decide.

What struck me was the conversation I had with a fellow America about whether people of color have a right to be offended when they are portrayed with negative stereotypes.

I understand that people are frustrated because it feels like so many people are looking to be constantly offended.

I understand ‘politically correct’ has been pushed so far that we are not sure what to say to one another for fear of upsetting or hurting someone’s feelings.

I understand that labels and word definitions are changing so rapidly we can barely keep up with them.

I also understand that the media jumps on any real or perceived slight as a way to inflame the population for their own financial gain – even if only one ‘talking head’ or ‘paid commentator’ in the whole country is claiming offense in order to get ‘airtime.’

But that frustration, that abuse of our tolerance, should never cause us to become deliberately offensive in order to ‘strike back.’

Nor should it cause us to stop using our intelligence and empathy to understand that some things are not only offensive in truth, but have far-reaching negative impacts on our children.

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