White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race
“… For Even Though I Am Black as Soot, My Intentions Are Good”: The Case of Zwarte Piet/Black Pete
The most beloved folkloric figure in the Netherlands is Zwarte Piet/Black Pete, a blackface, silly man or woman, wielding ungrammatical “dumbspeak,” who comes with his boss, Sinterklaas, a white bishop, from Spain every year to bring presents to children. Although black people have protested against the racism inherent in this figure for four decades, it is only in the last four years, under the influence of international attention, that it has become a pressing social issue, dividing black and white people. The vehement and aggressive reactions from the white public, which overwhelmingly defends Zwarte Piet, display entitlement racism. Innocence, smallness, defenselessness, and other themes become evident in an analysis of the e-mail bombardment addressed at the Van Abbemuseum, which planned a critical exhibition on Zwarte Piet in 2008. The chapter analyzes the historical and current meanings of Zwarte Piet, using Paul Gilroy’s notion of postcolonial melancholia, whereby the memory of empire strongly comes into play.