I was chatting with my muse over WhatsApp about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and this topic inevitably led to talk about positive discrimination. Now I have strong opinions on most subjects, but shockingly enough, positive discrimination is one of the few topics where I am uncertain of my stance
On one hand, being a woman, I should be thankful of this system as it has forced all circles of power to budge aside and make room for us, “the weaker sex”. But in essence, how can I agree with a concept that discriminates others to favor those who are being discriminated?! There is an undeniable layer of absurdity that besides being slightly amusing is unmistakably sinister.
On the other hand, those who favor affirmative action will argue that this is the only way to correct the inequalities; there is no other way to compensate for and readjust injustice propagated at the systemic level. Furthermore, they will add that this correction is not a way to propel incompetent people to the top, but people who are simply put: not straight white males.
I understand and agree with this reasoning, although it still leaves me with a strong sense of discomfort. It’s the same feeling of unsettlement I get when I witness the Zwarte Petes parading throughout the cities and villages of Batavia at winter time.
If you are not familiar with Zwarte Pete, please allow me to describe him briefly: here in the Netherlands, he is the black slave who helps Saint Nicholas distribute presents; the black cog in the supply chain of the gift-giving machine. Every year in November, fake Santa Claus with skin white as a Scottish butt that never saw the sun since generations and generations, lands in Amsterdam. His pasty pale visage is surrounded by over 500 Zwarte Petes, who are white guys with black makeup covering their faces, huge blown-up red lips that even Kim Kardashian would be jealous of, and black curly hair. They used to have big golden earrings, but that made them look “too Black”, so they do not wear them anymore – yes, because the earrings were clearly the one most offensive feature which needed to be done away with…
If you ever have the desire to witness the normally stoic Dutch people lose their North European composure and rise up passionately about their national identity, here is a hair-trigger for you to use: just use the words “Zwarte Pete” and “racist” in the same sentence. You can insult them for their ungentlemanliness when it comes to taking women on dates and even their meta stoicness when being insulted, and receive no strong reactions. However, when I tell my Dutch best friends that this is wrong at every level, they keel over in sincere pain, radiating genuine disappointment at my inability to understand their “culture”. They refuse to accept the truth. It is a bit like me when I realized that my favorite childhood singer, Michael Jackson, was actually a paedophile. At that realization, I became an adult.
So here I wonder, with too much time in my hands, should we exterminate Zwarte Pete from the Dutch folklore – or is there a possibility to apply some positive discrimination to this event and thus make it UNracist?
1. Recognizing that we are a polyethnic society
Now, if we are serious in our attempt to make Zwarte Pete no longer an ode to slavery, we need to accept that the Netherlands is no longer a white-skinned, and blue-eyed society. It is a polyethnic society with immigrants comprising a significant portion of its people. Olala I can already picture Geert Wilders spitting out his Gouda sandwich, getting all red like a proper white guy, and getting ready for an offensive meme- because that is how politicians argue these days… (I really can’t handle populism.)
In all seriousness, applying affirmative action to Pete would be the first step to accept that this Nordic society is not only composed of poor melanin pigments. It is a multiethnic one. So no need to use black-faced white guys to be the Petes.
2. Correcting the socio-economic inequality
The second step would be to correct the socio-economic inequality between Saint Nicholas and the Petes.
We would need some of the Petes to learn how to ride a horse. Not all the Petes will be able to have a horse because we are not creating a communist utopia where everyone gets the same wealth!
However, we do need to have some Petes to know how to ride a horse. So the government should subsidize this upper class activity for these Petes who can’t afford to gallop freely in the middle of the flat green land under a grey sky.
3.Inviting other minorities to the party
Thirdly, I think that to apply positive discrimination evenly, not only should Zwarte Pete be represented at this event, but we should have other minorities participating in this celebration.How about Mixed Petra, standing in for the women and the multiracials? Drag Queen Peter, the shining glittery symbol of the LGBTQ community? And last but not least, Reserved Parking Peter representing the disabled people?
If some people think that the names that I suggest might be offensive, then perhaps we should rename Zwarte Pete, which translates to Black Pete. Having said that, as much as I want to live in a society in which everyone is equal, I am not in favor of a society that is dictated by political correctness to the point that we cannot gently make fun of differences.
Anyways moving on to our next point to successfully impose positive discrimination: I encourage a Bosniac rotation.
4. Imposing a Bosniac rotation
In order to give an equal representation to its 3 communautés (Croats, Bosniacs and Serbs), the position of Chairperson in the little country of Bosnia-Herzegovina rotates twice around three members every eight months. Ok, this is a bit complex to put in place for an annual celebration. Therefore, I suggest something a bit easier: each year one of our Petes representing a different minority group will be at the head of the event. In order to not offend anyone, Saint Nicolas will still be invited to be at the center of attention, but only once every 5 years.
And this leads to my last point.
5. Having it temporarily
As I have followed the strict definition of positive discrimination throughout my argumentation, there is one last element of it that needs to be discussed and it is the temporariness of affirmative action,
Indeed, positive discrimination policies are deliberately made to not last. They are there to drive an impetus within a society where power is not shared. This out of date celebration is the perfect candidate for this policy. But once this affirmative action is installed, we should rest assured that it will never go back to how we knew it.
Applying positive discrimination to Zwarte Pete
Why would we never go back? This celebration could be the perfect example of systemic morality to teach children:
A mixed plurality of helpers distributing the presents; a fair and compromising rotation of leadership; and a government helping to erase deeply entrenched socioeconomic differences.
I am now ultimately convinced that affirmative action is the only way to modernize this celebration and keep Zwarte Pete alive. Because yes, all black lives matter. Even Zwarte Pete’s.
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