Please join us in sending a message to the owners and customers of Dutch businesses in Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada. Ask them to end discriminatory portrayals of Black Pete. Please visit or call the Dutch store in your town or province. If they carry Black Pete products or host a performance, ask them to stop. My focus is Canada because I live here, and anti-black racism hurts and kills people here. Black Pete merchandise and parties in Canada reflect anti-black racism in Canada, not only in the Dutch immigrant community. Like in the Netherlands, Canadians deny our history of slavery. Anti-black bigotry and violence are commonplace in Canada. For a history of blackface in Canada and its popularity still today, see this article by McGill professor Phillip S. S. Howard. His timeline of incidents of contemporary Canadian blackface includes recent performances of Black Pete. For a thorough account of white supremacy in Canada, see scholar and activist Robyn Maynard’s new book “Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present”. I first encountered Black Pete as a teenager, when my mother spoke against the practice in our Dutch community. My parents came to Canada in 1952 from Gelderland and eventually settled on a farm in Osgoode township near Ottawa. Like most Dutch immigrants at that time, many continuing to this day, they celebrated December 5 with a party where someone dressed as Sinterklaas and someone dressed as Black Pete, in blackface. My parents never dressed as Black Pete, but I heard the stories about these parties, and about the mean Black Pete of their childhood. One year, my mother went to the party as usual but objected to Black Pete. Mom was ostracized for criticizing “tradition”, but I was proud of her; she helped me see racism for the first time. My mother, a white settler farmer in her 50s living in an entirely white and very conservative community came to understand that Black Pete is a vestige of slavery and harmful. How can Dutch Canadians today, with far more information about the harms of colonialism and racism, continue these racist caricatures? When I told my daughter that the Ottawa store owners accused me of spoiling the party for the children, Mallory said “you’re not spoiling it, you’re helping the kids … you’re like Grinch who stole racism.” My mother understood it 35 years ago and my 11-year old daughter understood it instantly. Blackface and Black Pete are racism. We need to stop it.
Irene Jansen in End Black Pete (Irenejansen)