Sunday, December 6, 2009

Black Sint Against Racism

Yesterday in some places around centrum of Amsterdam was possible to see Black Saint Against Racism. We interviewed him to find out why he is doing it. Here You can watch the movie where he is explaining in simple way his statement for respect, for tolerance, for liberation of Black Peters, against slavery, discrimination and racism. The movie is made for children so if You are parent or If You know some parent's or children let them see this funny and educational,short movie. :)

Educational movie for kids about racism and disrimination, made by colecitive Spirit Of Squatters.
tekst below from : http://www.ferris.edu/JIMCROW/question/jan05/
The first voices that protested against Black Peter came from the former Dutch colony Surinam where the holiday was also a national celebration. When Surinam received its status of independence in 1975, the black slave was abolished. A new movement came into existence that searched for new positive images of black people. Representations of blacks as docile and submissive were no longer accepted. "Saint Nicholas" was changed into a black figure called "Good Father" and accompanied by black "employees". This change may seem minor but also in Surinam the myth of the white saint and his black slave was difficult to contest or criticise. For example, in 1970 writer Astrid Roemer was a High School teacher who refused to celebrate the holiday at school. She talked to her colleques and the principle of the school, but they refused to listen to her arguments. The day of the celebration she did not appear at the school. She was fired the next day.

In the seventies a lot of Surinamese people migrated to the Netherlands due to the political circumstances in their home country. Their presence led to a re-evaluation of the ways the Dutch dealt with their colonial history and their images of black people. Again Black Peter was scrutinised, only this time in a context where the majority of society was white. Blacks had already experienced the insult of hearing "Black Peter!" shouted at them on the streets in Paramaribo (as they were associated with the figure), but the person shouting was often black himself. In the Netherlands they entered a society that hardly knew anything about them; the only images white people were familiar with were stereotypes like 'Black Peter'. In response to the insult of the stereotype some Surinamese people refused to send their children to school when "Saint Nicholas" was celebrated, others urged for alternatives like a red or blue "Peter" in stead of a black one. For a while the yellow, blue, red painted versions of "Black Peter" were successful but as the protest-voices declined the Black version of Peter dominated the eighties.

In the Netherlands 17 percent of its citizens are people of 'color' right now. Most people are from former colonies like Indonesia and Surinam but a lot of people have their roots in Morocco and Turkey. They were drafted to do factory-work in Holland during the seventies with the idea that they would return home after a few years. But history decided otherwise; their wives and children joined them later and together they started a new future. This 17 percent of citizens are called "Allochtonen", a combination of two Greek words that literally means; "from another world, earth". This definition of citizenship is problematic in itself because it denies everyone who isn't white, Dutch membership. The 'allochtoon' is the Other; the ones who are usually discussed as a problem population by the media, in the political sphere and academia; all of which are pre-dominantly white and male. The 'allochtonen' are located in the so-called 'multicultural' society that exists in juxtaposition to the ‘Dutch society’, the domain of ‘Dutch’ people also called ‘Autochtones’ which means "from this earth".

The dualist relationship in which the two groups are locked in characterises the way Dutch society deals with the identities of her citizens. One can be Dutch by passport but that doesn't mean one can automatically claim the national identity of 'Dutchman'. For this identity the main condition is that one simply is White or looks White. Although whiteness determines whether one can claim the national identity, the effects of this ethnic factor are not being acknowledged. The ethnic factor and its power effects become invisible as it’s turned into an neutral universal category (that sets the norm) by particularising the identity of the Other; the migrant, her children ├ánd grandchildren. The identities of non-whites versus “Dutch” people are defined in terms of difference, dichotomies: the Allochtoon becomes everything the white Dutch person, the Autochtoon, is not.

This is problematic when it comes to having an active role in the way the nation-state should be organised. Although we are officially all equal, membership counts when it comes to public deliberation. The second rate citizenship of the ‘Other’ was also used as a strategy in the debate on Black Peter.

While there were always people, black and white, who individually protested against the celebration, the protest got organised in1995 by a group of second and third generation migrants. Contrary to their parents or grandparents they are born in the Netherlands, not limited by the idea that they are "guests”, having to conform to the symbols of a "host" which they find insulting. They are part of a generation of people that demands a place in Dutch society much more forcefully. Because of their input the discussion became a national one in 1996 in the sense that it was being discussed on television, in newspapers and schools.

The critics of Black Pete were repeatedly confronted with the argument that ‘they’ did not have the right to critique 'Dutch tradition' because they weren't 'Dutch'. The discussion was being polarised as if the different opinions were divided along ‘racial’ lines. The argument is as follows: as an 'allochtoon', a 'migrant', one has to accept the Dutch ‘traditions’. Just as a ‘Dutch’ person would have to accept local traditions when they lived in ‘another’ country. The logic here is that it’s not their country and culture that the youngsters are criticizing.

By ascribing second-rate citizenship to the critics who aren’t considered “Dutch”, the authority of the speaker is undermined. On the other hand when it appears that the critic is white, he or she is often being marginalized as being “political correct”, which is used as a contemptuous term. The letters in the newspapers and on the internet were in general very emotional, reflecting a fear that ‘Dutch’ culture is being ‘threatened’ by ‘foreigners’ The main arguments were:

* The holiday is a celebration for children and children aren’t racist.
* It’s a matter of ‘tradition’ (that certainly can’t be changed by ‘Foreigners’).
* The critics are the ones who make it racist.


The refusal to listen to counter-arguments and reply those with substantial criticism (in stead of ridiculing or marginalizing them) reflects an insensibility for the opinion of a minority. The portrayed image of the Netherlands as being “the most tolerant nation in the world” makes a critical self-reflection also very difficult: every accusation of racism is beforehand answered with denial.

One could say that the real problem in the Netherlands is not Black Peter, but for example the fact that the unemploymancy rate among colored people is ten times higher than whites. Of course the real problem is not Black Peter in itself. The debate about Black Peter and the white Saint however, is a discussion about citizenship, identity, and racism. And because this discussion does not take place behind closed doors between politicians and intellectuals only, but in schools, between colleques, family-members and friends, it offers us a chance to challenge old conceptions of self and other at many different levels. However, this annual debate is not sufficient to change things, but it can lead to more activism, a critical outlook and recognition of those situations where the same strategies of marginalization are being used. The Black servant and his White master can not be isolated from the social context, Dutch society, in which they exist.

Answer/Article by Lulu Njemileh Helder ©
Comments: blackservant_whitesaint@hotmail.com

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