Greg Shapiro: Zwarte Piet and DHL

Greg Shapiro thinks he might have turned his children into little racists.

Sinterklaas is in full swing in the Netherlands, with his army of Zwarte Pieten scaring all the tourists again. Dutch people insist: ‘It’s not racist!’ How do they justify it? More than once, I’ve heard Dutch people say ‘…because it’s for the children.’

Case in point: my little Dutch kid. Surely she knows the difference between Zwarte Piet and a real black person, right? Well, let’s go back to a Sinterklaas evening not long ago.

My daughter was about 5, and it was time for Sinterklaas to come. My wife is Dutch, and we do our Sinterklaas ritual in – what I’m told – is the traditional Dutch way. That is: as cheaply as possible.

We have a sack of gifts, and we give it to the neighbor. At the appointed time, the neighbor drops off the gifts by the door, rings the doorbell and runs like hell. The kids then open the door, and they scream and cheer ‘Zwarte Piet!’ …even though no one is there. This is the most cost-effective special effect ever.

One year, it’s almost 6 o’clock, it’s dark out. And before I could go to the neighbor, the doorbell rings. My daughter is 5 years old, she yells ‘yay!’ and runs over to the door.

She whips it open, and there – standing in the doorway is a guy with a black face, big curly hair, a brightly colored red & yellow outfit and holding out a package for my daughter. The package says: DHL Post. Because he’s a Surinamese guy who delivers the post for DHL.

And I’m looking at my daughter like: ‘don’t say it…’ My daughter raises her hand, and sure enough, she says it: ‘Zwarte Piet!’

The American part of me was ashamed: ‘We’ve made my daughter racist!…’ I took the package and gave him some cash. I felt a little better until my wife said ‘Why would you give away money?’

The Zwarte Piet debate continues at Boom Chicago because ‘THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS SINTERKLAAS‘ until December 5.




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