(18e) Black and white

Saint Nicholas

Last weekend was 6 December and that meant Saint Nicholas day in a number of countries such as Belgium and The Netherlands. This is a day when children receive presents from their parents and at school while even employers can organise a Saint Nicholas celebration whereby the children of parents working for the company can come to collect a gift and enjoy a small party with e.g. facial body painting and sweats. It should be a fun day for everyone, a little like Santa Claus in the English-speaking world (that is based upon the same person) who also gives toys to children during the Christmas period and is now also widely celebrated in other parts of the world.

Except that it has become politicised to an extend that some people are calling to end the whole thing and as a result children will no longer receive something on that day although its end will also be cost-effective for society when no longer presents need to be bought - and this at a moment when some parents find it difficult to buy something for their own children as toys become very expensive. The reason why many people, and mainly those from other countries and it seems even important organisations such as the UN are questioning this celebration is because of supposed racism (and thus race becomes involved). Indeed, the main actors are one white saint who is the boss and mostly white people who paint themselves black and act as his servants. I can understand this can cause a reaction as white people still rule black people in many countries although black people are not forced to serve the saint; still the perception is important.

Top left: the original white saint Nicholas and his black servant Pete behind a bag full with toys to give to children. Top right: saint Nicholas in white chocolate. Bottom left: Santa Claus in black chocolate who is more neutral as he does most of the delivery himself while even women dress like him.

As explanation for the presence of black painted white servants, people give a number of reasons such as the white people's faces are painted black because the story goes the servants climb through chimneys to deliver toys and sweats inside homes and thus become dirty and black. Others explain the story that the saint saved the lives of children in what is now Turkey who were dark-skinned and later continued working for the man who saved their lives (although probably the saint should then also be dark-skinned as he lived in the same region). Whatever the story, I can understand why some people criticise that children are given toys by white people whose faces are painted black and serve a white person because it seems to suggest black people serve white people as happened throughout history, something that is no longer defensible. However, others will use this because they live in countries that have their own racial problems or have poor human rights records so that by focusing on someone else tradition, attention is no longer focused on the problems in their own society.

Still, I wonder why black people don't decide to dress as a black saint with white-painted servants who give toys and sweats to children. Children will not mind to receive a present from white, black or oriental-looking persons; on the other hand, if people criticise this and may even refuse that their child accept their gift, than it will indeed expose racism in society - although of course, the first year people will look surprised and this is only a normal reaction to a change to an old tradition. And indeed, the moment people started to question the existence of that day, some individuals started to feel the need to defend their tradition with racist-motivated arguments as the UN report mentions.

Nevertheless, we can continue the English tradition of Santa Claus, also (mainly/exclusively?) a white man but without black servants. Further, few black people will question this white man as not many black people would consider to live at the north pole while saint Nicholas comes from the south. Finally, there is already a tradition that people dress as Santa on Christmas eve or day, even women have their outfit. In addition, two children festivals in one month are expensive.

Worldwide (black) issues

Nevertheless, in many parts of the world criticism of white people and their traditions is growing and thus we may enter a period whereby white people will also have to stop their own traditions just as we destroyed the traditions of other cultures during the past centuries when we invaded those places but even today when in many developing countries certain leaders aim to destroy their own culture as they find the Western culture superior to their own and indeed, everyone wants television and Internet and air conditioning but this can be done with respect for their own culture.

  • USA
Recently, there was some commotion about a white actor playing Martin Luther King in a theatre play although also a black actor played Mr King. The black author of the play, Mrs Katori Hall, didn't like the decision of the black director, Mr Michael Oatman, that a white person could play Mr King to show the struggle by black people to liberate themselves, a struggle that could even lead to their death; Mrs Hall found that at least Mr Oatman should have discussed why he wanted to use a white actor. I can understand her anger and agree with her as even today many black people still experience racism or at least have the feeling that they experience it.

Mr Martin Luther King had a dream about a better world for everyone, not only for black people but also for other people in which everyone could live together in harmony; still he was harassed by the FBI, led by a white director, that failed to protect him and thus his life ended by being killed by a white person. I think that history should be shown as it was while if a white man plays Mr King, it is as if a white person died while fighting for the liberation of the black section of society from the suppression by white people while it was a black man. Indeed, black and white people couldn't even sit together on public transport and as many of these people who experienced this are still alive today and remember, they don't want that others hijack their stories. Still, the director could have introduced a white character who was on the side of the black movement.

Indeed, history has also many examples of white people who even died at the hands of their own kind because they defended black (and other minority) people. An example is President Abraham Lincoln, by many regarded as one of the greatest US presidents. This white president was murdered by a white man because he abolished slavery and thus liberated black people. A black man can't play President Lincoln because then it seems as if a society existed where a black person could be president (which wasn't while the USA had to wait until 2009 before Mr Barack Obama became the first black president) who was killed by a white racist because a black president liberated his own people (and this would be in opposition to the fact that a black person could be president). Only a white person can play this president to show that some white people liberated others and for this they were even killed by their own people.

History should not be falsified as each colour has its heroes and villains and thus doesn't need to change colour to show an example of the good or bad done by some. For instance, only white people can really play Hitler and his supporters as white people were to blame for the atrocities done by that regime although also the good white people who fought them should be shown while black and Asian people have their own genocides to reflect upon. Of course, others can play the history of others but not by taking the blame upon themselves (e.g. a black actor can paint himself white to show what white people did if they refuse to do so) but admitting guilt is the highest way to change ones own path for the better (as Elton John sings: "Sorry seems to be the hardest word"). On the other hand, every colour should be able to play a fictional person such as a James Bond or Santa Claus as they never really existed. And today, the "Black lives matter" campaign illustrates black people are still angry that it seems not everyone is treated equally.

  • South Africa
But it is not only in the West that anger towards white people is growing. Also in for instance South-Africa this is happening. Indeed, about 20 years after Nelson Mandela was liberated from prison and became president (a prison sentence because he demanded equal rights for everyone, including black people), the younger black generation is becoming angry that they still don't seem to have the same opportunities as white people, and for this, they don't only blame white people but also the older black generation who didn't seem to have done enough for more equal rights. Many of these younger people study at university, still often they get the lesser paid jobs, even in a country where black people rule and thus they question why inequality is still so high and why many black people still have to live under poor conditions.

Indeed, maybe the ruling classes should have forced more equal opportunities for everyone but probably the new black rulers were more than happy that the apartheid system was over when problems for black people were much bigger while they realise that the major problems that were the result of this apartheid system couldn't be fixed in only 20 years, certainly not in such a huge country.

But it are mainly white people who are to blame for the anger of the black youth as they introduced the apartheid system that benefited them while many white people were not more prepared to share enough of their wealth with the black people after the system collapsed. Indeed, after the arrival of the Europeans, they introduced apartheid and removed black people from their land that the white took for themselves while the black were forced to work as slaves for the new white South-African rulers but also elsewhere whereby white people gained much wealth by selling black humans as if they were cattle.
Slave castle in Ghana where slaves from all over Africa were collected before being shipped to other continents if they didn't have to serve a master in Africa.

Still, after the apartheid system collapsed and black people became free whereby they didn't seek revenge but they were happy that they finally could vote during elections or go to university, the wealth remained largely with white people although it is correct that many ordinary white people also lost. Still, as a consequence of the unwillingness of many white people to redistribute land and wealth, black people are angry that many remain poor and now they are starting to wipe out the legacy of white people. Indeed, the statue of the founder of apartheid was first covered with shit and later removed although his name remains. And while some white persons can understand the anger of many black people, those of the older black generation who were successful are angry that the younger generation is still demanding more equal status, and as a result the new black generation starts to attack the older black leaders for not wanting to understand and defend them. And thus, in the end, the whole white legacy from previous rulers may be removed from history so it can't even be used as a reminder of how certain evil people introduced a system that legally oppressed people. And finally, if white people continue to refuse to share more, as in Zimbabwe, their wealth may be removed by force, either by the people or by a government so that they loose everything because then personal belongings that are without value may also be destroyed while even the good done by many white people may be forgotten. Still, also black people may face the anger of other black people.


  • Many other countries

But also in other parts of the world, leaders of white countries think they need to interfere so that they cause anger. In Chile, in 1970 people elected President Salvador Allende but by 1973 he was removed by the Chilean army under the leadership of dictator Pinochet who was supported by many in the West although we knew many (young) people disappeared under his rule. Even today we think we should oppose democratically-elected presidents such as the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his successor as they want to use some wealth created by companies for the development of their own poor people and then we wonder why those countries oppose us and even side with Russia. That doesn't mean agreeing with everything those leaders do but at least they should be given a chance although they can also be blinded by thinking everything the West does is against them. Still, recently the Venezuelan opposition won the elections as happens in all democratic countries when people become tired of the ruling leaders and want a change while the West may celebrate this change.

But we can do good such as in Afghanistan where the invasion of the country improved the lives of many people although there were flaws while our withdrawal may result in a catastrophe for the local people as the Taliban and al-Qaeda may come back and seek revenge. Also in Syria and Iraq, the USA tries to stop the growth of Isis by selectively bombing them while many Europeans protest that the USA bomb those evil forces and try to protect the ordinary people. On the other hand, here are indeed some forces who wouldn't mind bombing every single Syrian.

Also closer to home young people start to fight. For instance, Belgium has one of the highest numbers of jihadists who are fighting with Isis and to some extend their anger is understandable when they experienced racism by the extreme right over many years while many immigrants complained they couldn't find work although this was changing. On the other hand, in the UK there was a good integration under PM Blair although some mad people attacked society while PM Cameron's government often blames immigrants for the troubles in British society and claims all immigrants cost the British society too much and thus opposition towards immigrants, helped by the terrorist attacks, is growing and as a result also the number of angry Muslims may start to increase.

Even on climate change there are issues as the poor developing countries demand that the rich Western countries should do more than them as mainly the rich countries are responsible for the expected troubles. Still, the developing countries should also accept that it is in their own interest to develop now a more sustainable economy that can also liberate them from Western influences. But the West should indeed do most efforts in tackling climate change and show the economy can be done differently so other countries will follow easier.

In conclusion

As in 2013 in Turkey where young people were fighting the government over a green piece in the city they wanted to keep while the older generation didn't understand the young people and supported PM Erdoğan to become president, so also elsewhere the gap grows between the older generation who gained and the younger generation who fear for their future as they understand much better the changes that are going on, that resulted in mainly peaceful demonstrations worldwide. And thus, we have an angry mainly younger generation who experience the world as unfair while the older generation finds the younger generation should be more grateful for the opportunities they get such as being able to go to university while the admission fees are increasing and unemployment is high in many places. And thus, many in the younger generation wants a better world where all "races" integrate and resources are better divided while mainly the older generation defends what they have and fear the newcomers that may take away their traditions and wealth but also the opportunities for their children. As a result, society further polarises. Still, when the generations talk with each other, problems can be diluted if everyone agrees to share (including power) in order to come to a better world. And people should not only live in the past as than there can never be progress although the past can be used to prevent the same mistakes are repeated.

Update 28/12/2015 on story about South Africa
It seems I am not the only one who thinks that something may be brewing in South-Africa as illustrated with this recent BBC article that describes how the very ambitious man Julius Malema is trying to gain power to force change upon the society while the article also describes the anger by many black people who feel left behind and are finding it more difficult to catch up as university fees are rising and thus both may one day join forces. Getting rid of Mr Malema as some may consider is the best way forward may even speed up resistance against white people. I think the best solution is a redistribution amongst all South-Afrikaners, not only from wealth but also from opportunities so the whole country starts renewed.
But also at the University of Oxford, UK some students are demanding that the statue of South-African Cecil Rhodes should be removed to reduce his name in history while many, including old president of South-Africa Mr FW De Klerk, insist the statue should remain. What South-Afrikaners do in their country with statues of people who exploited them is up to them while here in Europe I think it may be better when the general public is informed about the way he gained his wealth by abusing other people, resulting in a destruction of his legacy but also as a warning to others that exploiting others for own benefit will result in a bad name in the future and destroy any good they may have done for their own people but against others.

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