Bob Groeneveld has been sharing his Odd Thoughts with Langley readers for the past four decades, give or take a few weeks.

Bob Groeneveld has been sharing his Odd Thoughts with Langley readers for the past four decades, give or take a few weeks.

Odd Thoughts: Bigger fish need to grow past Black Peter

Cultural racism is easy to overlook by those who grow up with it - but it’s still racism

By Bob Groeneveld

.

Like nearly all Canadian children of Dutch immigrants, I grew up with the pre-Christmas tradition of Sinterklaas.

It’s early to be talking about Christmas, but hang with me a bit. The election figures in my tale.

Canadians of Dutch heritage reading this are already cringing, because they know where I’m headed.

English-speaking Canadians are more likely to know Sinterklaas as Santa Claus.

But there are differences between them.

Like our benevolent Santa, Sinterklaas rewards good little boys and girls with toys and goodies.

Santa makes his deliveries via a magical sleigh ride on Christmas Eve. Sinterklaas hands out candies and oranges from horseback as he rides through town on Dec. 6.

Both traditions are aimed at keeping children in line. Santa has no gifts for “bad” kids.

And Sinterklaas is followed by Zwarte Piet, who in the version my parents related, gives “bad” children a lump of coal, but in a harsher version of the tradition, Sinterklaas’s sidekick stuffs bad kids into a sack and takes them away to suffer eternal punishment.

Zwarte Piet – or Black Peter, in English – is a slow-witted black dwarf or child, usually portrayed in parades and celebrations by a person in blackface. Sinterklaas is always white as the driven snow, sporting a white beard, and even his horse is always snow white.

When the Lower Mainland’s annual Sinterklaas Parade was moved to Langley in 2012, because New Westminster, the parade’s host for decades, decided it was racist, my first thought was, “Racist? Nonsense! What could possibly be racist about a tradition in which a cool white guy rewards good and nice children with candies and parties, while the bad children are left to be mistreated by a nasty little gnarled black… oh, wait… maybe New West has something there.”

I like to believe that my eyes were opened a bit, and that I grew a little.

I don’t believe people are bad when they unwittingly do bad things, like buy into the cultural racism of the Zwarte Piet insult.

But it’s still bad, and I believe I’m a better person now that I know and have divorced myself from that tradition.

People are saying that Trudeau made his brown- and blackface transgressions at a time when most Canadians were less aware of the damage. Canada has grown since then, and gotten a little (certainly not enough yet) better.

From his actions – and his immediate and effusive apologies – Trudeau appears to have grown with his country.

Meanwhile, as of this writing, days after revelation of her association with a black-face Zwarte Piet event – many years more recent that any of Trudeau’s transgressions – neither a Cloverdale-Langley Conservative candidate nor her party leader have apologized or even disavowed that racist tradition.

There are bigger fish to fry in the upcoming election – like whether or not there will be fish for my grandchildren’s children to fry.

Still, I’d just like to see evidence that all of our leaders can grow.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An investigator sets up a camera near a vehicle under investigation by IHIT at a murder scene in Langley City Wednesday morning. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Gunfire claims life in Langley City

This is a developing story

Langley City Coun. Gayle Martin was ‘appalled’ by Cloverdale-Langley City MP Tamara Jansen’s Commons comment calling the city a ‘ghost town’ (file)
VIDEO: Langley council presses MP to explain ‘ghost town’ comment

Response by Cloverdale-Langley City Conservative MP Tamara Jansen failed to answer question: Martin

Langley Township civic facility. (Black Press Media files)
Two cannabis shops close to approval in Langley Township

There were more than 20 initial applications spread across multiple locations

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million

A virtual marketplace and food concierge service has been launched by Willowbrook Shopping Centre in Langley (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Willowbrook Shopping Centre in Langley launches virtual marketplace and food concierge service

Customers can go online to shop product assortment assembled from centre’s food and beverage tenants

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

(Pixabay)
B.C. teacher gets 1 day suspension after ‘aggressively’ throwing dumbbell at student

Documents show the weight would have hit the student if they didn’t catch it

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
B.C. ramping up screening for faster-spreading COVID-19 ‘variants of concern’

B.C. has sequenced about 11,000 COVID-positive samples since last February

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Keygan Power with brother Quintin and mom Allison while camping the weekend before Keygan’s brain hemorrhage on Aug. 2, 2020. (Photo Allison Power)
B.C. teen ‘locked inside,’ battling to regain speech after severe brain bleed

16-year-old suffers traumatic loss of function, still plays a mean game of chess

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Most Read