Black Pete? Green Pete!
It is only a couple days until it is the 5th of December, which is in the Netherlands traditionally called "pakjesavond". Sinterklaas arrived a few weeks ago in his steam ship together with his servants, also known as Black Petes. As you have probably noticed, there is an ongoing discussion about the skin colour of "Black" Pete. The documentary "Zwart als roet" (meaning: black as soot) by Sunny Bergman inspired me to write this column about Black Pete.
As a native Dutch citizen I grew up with this tradition. I was told that Black Pete became black because he was entering the house by the chimney and became black of the soot he was facing. Each year they came to visit our village by horse, about one week after they arrived in the Netherlands by a steam ship full of gifts. Sinterklaas checked if I have behaved last year using his 'great book' and if so, I received gifts from the always funny and kind Black Petes. However, opponents of Black Pete argue that Black Pete is a 'racially stereotype of the black human being' (Zwarte piet niet, 2014) and should therefore be omitted. They relate the Dutch history of slavery to the colour of Black Pete. I do not want to judge the groups who are in favour of or against Black Pete and say if they are right or wrong. The colour of its skin is based on a tradition, and whether this tradition is based on a morally right or wrong (historical) fact, I am convinced that traditions can be altered to maintain the idea of Sinterklaas without the disadvantage of feeling acts of racism.
The first image of Black Pete dates from 1850 (Stichting Geschiedenis Kinder- en Jeugdliteratuur, 2014) but I am wondering what he would look like if its character was created these days. In the light of this course I will sketch an image of a sustainable Pete.
At first, a steam ship is not especially an example of sustainable transport. I would suggest a sailing ship, although this could lead to increased travel time. Traveling by horse is not considered as unsustainable, but you could argue if roofs are the most effective infrastructure for distributing the gifts, at least it does not increase the congestion on the Dutch highways.
The second aspect that I would like to address is the number of gifts. From the documentary, one states: "Sinterklaas is one big capitalistic party to encourage the consumerism". Children receive many gifts during these weeks and almost all of these gifts are bought in a store. Because of the volume of the presents, they often do not play with all of their presents. To limit the consumerism, Sinterklaas could buy his presents at for example a second hand shop. And instead of a carrot in a shoe (I doubt that Amerigo can eat all the carrots and waste of food is of course not desirable), the kids could even give their 'old' toys to Sinterklaas, so he can give them to other kids.
Finally, the wooden stove is in most households replaced by a central heating system. Due to an absence of chimneys, the Petes have to come up with another way to enter the house. To prevent major heat losses, a small rooftop window should be perfect.
Since the sustainable Pete does not have to face to soot anymore, another skin colour would be appropriate. As this Pete is representing sustainability, I will introduce to you: "Green Pete"!
Stichting Geschiedenis Kinder- en Jeugdliteratuur. (2014, 12 2). Schenkmans Sint Nicolaas. Retrieved 12 2, 2014 from Het oude kinderboek: http://www.hetoudekinderboek.nl/archief/BomNikolaas/BomNikolaas.htm
Zwarte piet niet. (2014, 12 2). Zwarte piet niet. Retrieved 12 2, 2014 from Zwarte piet niet: http://www.zwartepietniet.nl/
After I wrote this column, I found out that there is already a Green Pete (see link: http://www.groenepietgame.nl/)