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what is race

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Saint Racism?

December 3, 2014



Let’s get right down to it shall we?


We have seen a growing movement against the appearance of Zwarte Piet. Why? Because many believe that the image of zwarte piet is hurtful as it continues negative racial stereotypes by lightheartedly reinforcing prejudice. It allows for social behaviors that are downright hurtful and stands in the way of critical thinking.

On the other hand we have also come across people, articles and comments saying that because the intent isn’t to discriminate, the tradition is therefore not racist. It is also said that the growing opposition could be attributed to cultural insensitivity (ironic considering zwarte piets’ visage), and “outsiders” misunderstanding the celebration.

Zwarte Piet according to defenders could not be racist as his coloring is attributed to soot, and his buffoonish behavior is a result from a past of being a disobedient, hardworking, undereducated child. Yes I mean kidnapped, forced into labor and neglected. As showers and education are apparently not offered in Sinterklaas’s care? Does this sound familiar to you?


Yeeeah moving on.

Again the question remains, is it racist?

And in my opinion what people secretly want to know, and basically defend (which brings us to cognitive dissonance; this will be explored in article two) – is if it makes them racist by association.

Defenders of the tradition are also quick to point out some historical tidbit or another in order to reaffirm/confirm explain and justify the tradition. 

But before we take the historical plunge into the life and times of St Nick (ground zero of many of our winter traditions) and Zwarte Piet. Before we explore the most current opinions. I say we understand what is at the foundation of the uproar. Racism. And in order to truly understand what kind of discussion we are walking into, we must explore it.


What is race?

Race is a social concept used to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation. Let’s pretend we have no idea it’s basically a made up concept and go on to the next step.



What is racism?

A simple google search says that it is;

“…the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
“Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”



Alright but what does acting racist look like ?

I went back to google and pulled this little summary:


  • The use of offensive terms and language.

  • Making prejudiced statements about other races and members of other races.

  • Believing that people of other races are incapable as working as well/being as smart/becoming as successful as someone of your own race.

  • Believing that you are better than someone of another race.

  • Any discrimination based solely on someone’s race.




We see the words prejudice and discrimination repeated, they must be important. Let’s take a closer look.

What the hey, let’s try Bing this time, where I found the and it states that
Prejudice is an unfair, intolerant, or unfavorable attitude toward a group of people. Prejudicial beliefs are virtually negative stereotypes. Social scientists view prejudice as the possession of negative attitudes targeted against members of a particular religious, racial, ethnic, social, and/or political group. These attitudes give rise to negative or unfavorable evaluations of individuals seen as belonging to that group. The perception that one belongs to a certain group is the precipitating factor in prejudicial feelings—not the actual attributes or behaviors of the person being judged. Like attitudes in general, prejudice has three components: beliefs, feelings, and “behavioral tendencies.”

Check this out though, it had an interesting tidbit on colonialism but the implications of that, much like cognitive dissonance will be discussed in the next article. Right now we are just laying down the groundwork.

Colonialism was based, in part, on a lack of tolerance of cultures different than that of the mother country and the development of stereotypes regarding people living in such different cultures”

And discrimination? “The practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other groups of people.” Thanks Merriam-Webster.The debate really is whether the appearance of Zwarte Piet as is, embodies, engenders or continues racism and any of its affiliated issues.


Ladies and gentleman we have explored the “what” of the situation, join me next time for the “who” and “how”. And finally in our third installment, we will explore the “when” and finally the “why” Zwarte Piet, as is, is racist or not.