Raisa Blommestijn: Removal of children’s books about Black Pete troubling
Libraries in the Netherlands are removing books that contain references to Black Pete. According to the director of the Public Library Association, a logical and fitting response in the spirit of the times.
In NPO radio programme Dit is de Dag researcher and lecturer Raisa Blommestijn discussed this with Jacques Vriens, an author of children’s books.
Blommestijn disagrees with the removal of these books from libraries. 'What I find troubling about this development, is that there is a belief that the Sinterklaas story is confirmation of a stereotype. But the question is: who decides that? If you look at the history of the Sinterklaas celebrations, there are no elements of racism or discrimination. But in the last ten years a small group of activists has been pushing the narrative that it involves stereotypes, racism, and discrimination. I find that worrying. It places a dot on the horizon, almost a totalitarian trend: this is the truth, and this is what we have to move towards.
Limiting freedom of choice
Blommestijn also questions the role of libraries in this matter. 'These are public libraries, essential in the provision of information and what is accessible to the Dutch population. Removing these books limits freedom of choice. It makes it impossible for parents to allow their children to find out about the traditional figure Black Pete via these books.'
The fact that more and more people find the traditional figure Black Pete racist should not be the determining factor in this discussion, says Blommestijn. 'A subjective element would then be decisive. We should take a step back: is this really about racism? Behind this whole discussion lies something much broader: the figure of Black Pete, with his traditional appearance, has become a symbol of a much broader cultural battle, where statues are being taken down and streets renamed. We are focussing too much on the figure of Black Pete. We should be focussing more on the broad trend that is occurring in society.'