On 15 November 2019, Professor Gloria Wekker addressed a packed Aula at the International Institute of Social Studies. Professor Wekker spoke on two subjects: the lack of relationship with refugees in Europe and the Netherlands, and Zwarte Piet or Black Pete.
Through stories of her encounters with refugees and experiences of racial profiling, Professor Wekker asked us: is this the best that we can do? She also argued for naming and unpacking the 'self-narratives' of superiority or exceptionalism, to begin dismantling the cultural archive that is based on imperialism.
Professor Wekker's lecture also invited us to question the myth that Europe has always been white.
A playful embodiment of how the Dutch can 'enjoy' blackness
Professor Wekker connected this argument to 'Zwarte Piet', the black servant of Sint (Santa Claus) who appears in celebrations of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands and Belgium on 5 December.
Professor Wekker traced the first appearances of this character to 1850, more than a decade before the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands.
For Professor Wekker, Zwarte Piet's depiction as fun playfully embodies how the Dutch can 'enjoy' blackness. She argued that this ritualized degradation of Piet was a mechanism to compound ideas of white superiority through the historical moment of abolition. This is a perspective from which the persistence of Zwarte Piet seems to become much more difficult to defend.