Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Black Peter

I'd better cover Zwarte Piet/Black Peter. He got mentioned in conjunction with about every other St. Nick related creature.

Today he's a comically offensive character dressed in Renaissance page garb and blackface. His clothing comes from his depiction in a book around 1850 or so. Some try to claim that his dark skin comes from going down sooty chimneys, but that doesn't explain the frizzy hair or big lips. Or the fact that he's supposed to be a freed slave that now voluntarily serves St. Nick. Black Peter used to be a bit dim. Brains weren't expected from africans. But with an increase in immigration from colonies he became more respected and an assistant. Kind of how the elves are viewed in the US.

Not all stories follow that story. Some have him as yet another former demonic companion who has been mastered by St. Nick and now act as servant rather than equal. Having him as a slave doesn't really help the "it's not black face!" argument.

Efforts have been made by the Dutch to remove or revise Black Peter. There's lots of objections to the black face. But there are still greater protests about the break with tradition that bring him back shortly thereafter.

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