That time of the year is coming up again and the contested Dutch blackface figure Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) is still with us. Some tried to turn blackface into brownface (only in the Netherlands) while others are still trying to convince us that Black Pete sets a fine example for black people. In any case, anti-blackface protestors have not been silent.
Recently, anti-blackface campaigners have again drawn attention to the economic dimension of blackface. It is quite apparent that the Dutch state and its economy are profiting generously from their annual blackface partay. The Dutch spend more on the Sinterklaas celebration than on any other public holiday – think presents, but also lots of Sinterklaas related stuff from toys, candy, and chocolates to wrapping paper. It comes to no surprise then that campaigners are critically examining who exactly is profiting from the production of blackface.
The idea that blackface is not only produced, but also very much consumed goes back a long while. Blackface has a long trajectory of entertainment. The consumerist notion of blackface has led to a situation in which the use of blackface has become normalized. In the same vein, using caricatures and stereotypes of black people in the design of, for instance, children’s toys is also common practice. The act of consuming blackface has now become a disposable act, unrelated to any political issue and completely emptied out of its historical context. This also, partly, explains the huge outrage (and all the tears) that anti-blackface campaigners are faced with; they are disturbing the natural order of things (blackface). As many have argued before me, the dehumanization of black people has become ingrained in the fabric of our societies.