A Belgian Eye – Episode 131

Our resident Belgian, Philippe Persoons, takes a look at life through A Belgian Eye.

What is the big story in Belgian news this week? Donald Trump? Brexit? The public deficit?
No it’s Black Pete!!

Don’t tell me you haven’t heard about Black Pete? It was in this ‘Belgian Eye’ exactly one year ago and now he’s back. Black Pete is a main character in the children’s story about Saint Nicholas, a predecessor of Santa Claus in our region. According to the legend he was a Turkish bishop who travels with his boat from Spain, assisted by several black Pete’s. And a Black Pete is an assistant in giving presents to nice children, but he’s also the bad guy who puts the naughty children in a bag. Always a guy with curly black hair and black skin, … is he black … or … is he just dirty?

He’s dirty, he climbed down the chimney! That was the ‘official’ explanation given by a children’s program on Belgian TV already in the early nineties! The Dutch however, never had that program. So they kept on believing Black Pete to be a kind of slave. This is racism and it was last year being investigated by the United Nations.

Meanwhile we still don’t know what to do with him. We can all agree on the fact that he’s certainly no slave, but the issue is that he looks like the boy slaves that existed in the 16th century.

We consider him as the CEO working for Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas who has become too old to achieve anything. Don’t ask him to carry bags, to walk on the roof or to do the bookkeeping on which child deserves what, all such things must be done by the general manager. That smart guy, that ‘Mister do it all’ always used to be black. Why black? Well we don’t know. Is it because blacks are smarter and lither? Did it refer to child slavery in the 16th century? Was it for making a contrast between young lively black versus old grey white? Or is it how we were told: the black dirt from the chimney.

As I said, Belgian media and organisations could agree on the fact that he’s black because of the dirt from the Chimney. They made a pact on this, a ‘Pete Pact’. This ‘Pete Pact’ was signed by the educational networks, Studio 100, Ketnet, Kzoom and toys chain Dreamland. It stipulates that Pete’s will be made more grey than really black in the future in order to put an end to possible racial stereotyping. So everything ‘s settled? No, the making of this ‘Pete Pact’ created such a fuss that the discussion restarted. Does the ‘Pete Pact’ goes far enough, or is it an assault on our ancient Belgian traditions?

I won’t give you the answer but I’ll end with some concerns:
Pete was always dirty grey black because black face paint used to be too expensive and there for our parents did it with black burnt cork.
Since we live in the multicultural society we could have black people willing to play the role of Pete. Why not. But how will we have to paint them in the ‘Pete Pact’ future?
Wasn’t the story about Saint Nicholas, a bishop from Turkey? Turkey?? So, shouldn’t he be at least a little bit brown. Or why not, could a black person play the role of Saint Nicholas?

At this moment we Belgians we have agreed on not yet agreeing on the matter, but also on keeping our mouths shut until the 6th of December. That’s the day Saint-Nicholas and his team will leave us again for another year. It means one year to clear things up.

To be continued…

Have a nice day.