It is increasingly difficult to understand the complexities that surround the sensitive field of combating racism. If someone dresses up as a black man, it is terrible. If a dark-skinned actor plays a historical figure everyone knows was white, such as Anne Boleyn in a recent production, that's good. If a company produces cosmetics intended for skin whitening, it isn't good at all. However, if I rename the same products as “ illuminating”, that's fine. Bronzing cosmetics somehow slipped through the cracks, but what if skin-darkening agents were manufactured? It would probably be awful, but the problem does not exist for now due to the lack of demand. Or maybe, on the contrary, the demand would be good?
Who is Othello?
So, let's consider this specific example: can Othello be white? Of course not if we stick to tragedy written by Shakespeare. Could Othello be played by a white person, an appropriately made-up actor or a singer when Verdi's opera is performed? Not anymore, because what was obvious for centuries today would be a manifestation of racism. So what are we supposed to do? Common sense would dictate that you stay away from "Othello" unless you have a dark-skinned performer around, which is not a problem in the case of actors but more difficult in the case of singers.
But one might say such drama is obsolete in its original form, dating four hundred years back. And thus, "Othello", performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 2015, opened a new path. Shakespeare's hero was white, and the Latvian singer Aleksandrs Antonenko gained a memorable place in the long history of opera. So, The Met took the lead, somewhat undeservedly, because a year earlier, Australian tenor Stuart Skelton had already appeared as the white Othello on the stage of the English National Opera.
SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE
However, racism trackers, in this particular case, fall into a trap. Othello was not a Negro (the drama takes place in Cyprus, and it was difficult to find Negroes there); he was a Moor - and therefore an Arab. Arabs are not a discriminated minority, and dressing up as an Arab is not frowned upon, at least for the time being. To make matters even worse, the Moors are considered white. The unfortunate Othello falls victim to an ideological fervour that should not concern him at all.
The Old Maid, the Black Peret must disappear
Every year, at the end of November, a highly anticipated guest arrives in the cities of the Netherlands and Belgium. This is Sinterklaas (by name, the equivalent of Saint Nicholas, although this is not quite the same). The entourage of time-honoured traditional helpers usually accompanies him along the way. Sinterklaas arrives by ship, travelling from Spain, and is greeted happily by all the inhabitants. Especially the younger ones are excited, which is completely understandable. They express their enthusiasm because his arrival begins the pre-Christmas fun time, which lasts until December 6.
Entire generations have grown up in this tradition, which has never been in doubt. Until progressive activists appeared on the scene and questioned the presence of Sinterklaas's helpers, known as the “Black Peters”. Zwarte Piet, a friendly guy painted black with curly black hair and full red lips, is the most popular parade participant because he entertains the audience and hands out gifts to children. For the Dutch, Zvarte Piet is the quintessence of good, truly Dutch tradition. Opponents see it as a relic of the Netherlands' colonial past and a living manifestation of racism that must disappear.
The “Kick Out Zwarte Piet” organisation has tried to eliminate the Black Peters family for over ten years. Not without effects, because although initially, the Dutch swore that they would never let Zwarte Piet disappear from their lives, years of persistent anti-Piet propaganda took their toll. Many people were convinced that tradition is tradition, but you cannot hurt anyone's feelings, even if those offended are the minority and the immigrants.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte's policy change could have been important. Not long ago, he didn't see anything wrong about Black Peter; indeed! – he revealed that he enjoyed being one when he was young. "Piet is just black, that's all," he said. Eventually, however, he relented. He did not go so far as to recommend that Peter could be subjected to the "cancelling" that is so desired today, i.e. removing him from games, but he expressed hope that the tradition would die a natural death over time. Black Peter’s faithful - conservatives and right-wing parties - fervently believe this will never happen.
A loophole has been found for now: Black Peter got a new name, a new look and a justification. He became “Peter of the Chimney”, black not because of his skin colour, but because he gets dirty with soot when entering houses through the chimney. He is white.. only with black streaks on his face. More and more cities want to adopt him now.