Quotidian 3-1 (February 2012)John Helsloot: Zwarte Piet and Cultural Aphasia in the Netherlands

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1. I took the term ‘cultural aphasia’, an adaptation of Ann Laura Stoler’s ‘colonial aphasia’, from Paulus Bijl. Cf. his ‘Nederlands als Geesteswetenschap’, Nieuwsbrief voor afgestudeerden van de opleiding Nederlands van de Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam nr. 36, September 2011, 23-27, 26. His unpublished doctoral dissertation, Emerging Memory. Photographs of Colonial Atrocities in Dutch Cultural Remembrance (2011), was at the time of writing this article not yet available to me. I integrate in this article parts of a paper presented at the ‘Power of the Mask’ conference of SIEF’s Ritual Year Working Group in Kaunas in 2009, which is yet to be published. The present article builds and expands on that paper, of which a slightly abridged Dutch version can be found in Helsloot (2009). Comments made by an anonymous reviewer were used to the benefit of the article.

2. Metro (NL), November, 11 2011 (Marlies Dinjens), Trouw, 14 November 2011.

3. Research paper Stereopiet, 27, www.stereopiet.nl/ (Accessed, as all internet sites mentioned below, December 2011).

4. A link to the video on zwartepietisracisme.tumblr.com/page/7. See also www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=BSwHoFCq58Y.

5. AD/Algemeen Dagblad, 14 November 2011 (Karlijn van Houwelingen), 15 November 2011 (Ingrid de Groot); AD/De Dordtenaar, 14/17/19 November 2011; NRC Handelsblad, 18 November 2011 (Anil Ramdas); Het Parool, 14 November 2011; Trouw, 15 November 2011 (Bart Zuidervaart).

6. See www.youtube.com/watch?v=79Q4n9UARDM&feature=related, www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=HBV7Peu0PpQ. And oralistisch.nl:80/2011/11/verslag-van-arrestaties-intocht-sinterklaas-amsterdam/.

7. Cf. Markus Balkenhol’s blog ‘Policing Tradition’, standplaatswereld.nl/2011/11/17/policing-tradition/.

8. Flyer Read the Mask, Van Abbe Museum, 2008.

9. E.g., ‘Really out of proportion’, Gertjan van Schoonhoven, Elsevier, 26 November 2011; ‘There seems to be a ban on political correctness’, Sabine Roeser, professor of political philosophy and ethics, Trouw, 23 November 2011 (Marc van Dijk).

10. See Hofstede (1990, 374-376) and Helsloot (2005) on the previous history of protests against, and defences of, Zwarte Piet. Here is shown how the 2011 debate by and large is a repetititon of public discussions in preceding years.

11. Letters to the editor in Het Parool, 17 November 2011; Trouw, 19 November 2011; Metro (NL), 14 November 2011.

12. Frits Booy, secretary of Stichting Nationaal Sint Nicolaas Comité, de Volkskrant, 24 November 2011.

13. ‘References to gruesome slavery are without any foundation at all. This is about a homely and innocent children’s festival that wrongly is incriminated and at which no one has to feel excluded’, De Telegraaf, 18 November 2011.

14. Cf. the very similar case of ‘Saracen’ horse collars in the Provence. These ‘create a confusion of the Self and the Other: they are obviously exotic and “Saracen”, but at the same time they symbolize a deep-rooted Provencal local identity and they are supported by a very conservative audience, in a political right-wing area. In this case, the “Saracen” Other is disconnected from the present immigration issues and connected with legendary time [i.e. the Middle Ages when Saracens occupied the Provence] (...) in order to anchor today’s Provencal identity’ (Fournier 2008, 67).

15. AD/De Dordtenaar, 14/19 November 2011; nos.nl/op3/artikel/313172-actievoerders-zwarte-piet-vertellen-over-arrestatie.html; Het Parool, 15 November 2011 (Patrick Meershoek).

16. Roelof Jan Minneboo, letter to the editor, de Volkskrant, 26 November 2011.

17. www.meertens.knaw.nl/cms/nl/nieuwsbriefteksten/nieuwsbriefuitgelicht/143677-de-oudst-bekende-naam-van-zwarte-piet-pieter-me-knecht-1850.

18. debatop2.ncrv.nl/ncrvgemist/3-12-2011/zwarte-piet-racistisch-of-niet.

19. Still under the impression that it was Schenkman who invented Zwarte Piet, I tried to find out, in a 2008 article, what might have motivated him to revive, in 1850, this pictorial tradition, which was already in decline in the late 18th century, and to connect it to the Sinterklaas ritual. Adducing much ‘circumstancial evidence’, I failed to come to a definite conclusion. Schenkman’s own position on blacks and slavery, of which he left no written account, remains unclear, and must provisionally be characterised as ambiguous (Helsloot 2008).

20. In her paper Dutch photographer Ruby Kwasiba Savage approached Zwarte Piet from the perspective, more or less related to the one adopted here, of Leon Festinger’s psychological theory of cognitive dissonance.

21. Asha ten Broeke, Trouw, 22 November 2011.

22. Frank Ligtvoet, de Volkskrant, 17 November 2011.

23. Nurah Hammoud of the Overlegorgaan Caribische Nederlanders (OCaN), Roy Khemradj of the Surinaams Inspraak Orgaan, Trouw, 17 November 2011 (Rob Pietersen); Devika Partima, NRC.Next, 5 December 2011.

24. Journalist Liesbeth Tjon A Meeuw, Trouw, 15 November 2011; Irving Eleonora of Dordrecht’s Antillean community, AD/Algemeen Dagblad, 15 November 2011 (Ingrid de Groot); Astrid Essed at www.at5.nl/artikelen/71402/zwarte-piet-demonstrant-is-amsterdammer.

25. Leeuwarder Courant, 26 November 2011.

26. ‘Whut’ on amsterdam.blog.nl/nieuws/2011/11/17/zwarte-piet-blijkt-helaas-inderdaad-racistisch-te-zijn; Shantie Jagmohansingh, Trouw, 17 November 2011; ‘Eddie’ at www.ad.nl/ad/nl/1002/Showbizz-TV/article/detail/3064932/2011/12/05/Anouk-Het-wordt-tijd-om-Zwarte-Piet-te-verbannen.dhtml.

27. ‘Roel’ on www.trouw.nl/tr/nl/4492/Nederland/article/detail/3035721/2011/11/15/Zwarte-Piet-doet-elk-jaar-weer-pijn.dhtml. ‘The activists’ take as their starting point the very worst, depicting that as the truth, ‘Auredium’ on nos.nl/op3/artikel/313172-actievoerders-zwarte-piet-vertellen-over-arrestatie.html.

28. A term coined by (Zwarte Piet opponent) dramatist Felix de Rooij, NRC Handelsblad, 12 November 2008.

29. ‘It’s great to act as a fool without anyone recognising you’, AD/Groene Hart, 14 November 2011; once dressed up as Zwarte Piet, ‘I get funny in the head, go dancing etcetera. Great!’, Leeuwarder Courant, 24 November 2011. Cf. Graf (2010, 102,105), Sussman (2001, 79).

30. Cf. Frank Ligtvoet in Het Parool, 26 November 2011.

31. See for a closely related case, Anglickiene (2010).

32. Aphasically, naturally not in the literal sense, but in the sense used earlier in this article.

33. www.nu.nl/binnenland/2684268/sinterklaas-snel-erfgoedlijst.html.