Saturday, November 2, 2013

Holiday Blackface Happens in Europe, Too

[via Hip Hop Wired

For understandable reasons, recent pictures of Halloween costumes featuring white individuals in blackface have sparked widespread outrage.

The once-popular practice, however, isn't limited to the United States.

An Italian fashion industry party, Disco Africa (not be confused with the actual "Disco Africa") featured at least one prominent designer in a full-on, American minstrel show get-up, along with men with fake darkened skin wearing chains or "tribal" clothing.

The Netherlands have also seen a recent blackface fashion show controversy. But their particular version of the Christmas tradition has even more deep-seated racial implications:
EVERY year on December 5th and 6th, tens of thousands of Dutch people paint their faces black, don Renaissance-style jerkins and pantaloons, and assume the persona of Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete"). The comical character plays a vital part in the celebration of the feast day of St Nicholas, known as Sinterklaas, which overshadows Christmas as the most important children’s holiday. According to a custom standardised in the late 1800s, Sinterklaas arrives on a steamboat from Spain, accompanied by a team of his black-faced servants, who distribute presents and ginger biscuits to good children while threatening to scoop up naughty ones in a sack and carry them back to Spain to pick oranges.
Of course, not everyone there sees it as racism, or even sees it as a reasonable issue to openly discuss.
Many Dutch who have come out against Zwarte Piet have been hounded by the traditionalists. One group in the country’s north who had planned to paint themselves as multicoloured “rainbow-Piets” had to give up after receiving death threats. Anouk, the Dutch representative at this year’s Eurovision contest, was attacked with racial epithets for her opposition to the custom. When a Jamaican researcher for a UN cultural panel said she thought Zwarte Piet was racist, she was overwhelmed with racially offensive e-mails. Geert Wilders, the anti-immigrant populist whose Party for Freedom is currently on top of the Dutch polls, tweeted that he would rather eliminate the UN than Zwarte Piet. A pro-Piet protest in The Hague turned sour when a dark-skinned woman was surrounded by an angry mob and had to be rescued by police.
Perhaps the world can learn a thing or two from comedienne Ellen DeGeneres' Nicki Minaj costume - goofy, spot-on, and completely devoid of uncomfortable cartoonish racism via dark facepaint.

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