Zwarte Piet visits Halifax

Joachim Stroink posing with Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet

This image was originally posted by Joachim Stroink, and retweeted by the NS Liberal Party account. The post has since been removed from both Twitter accounts.

On Sunday night, Joachim Stroink, the MLA for Halifax-Chebucto, posted pictures on Twitter of himself at a Christmas party with Nova Scotia’s Dutch community. Unfortunately, the celebrations included Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) a character played by a white man in blackface makeup. There has been immediate backlash, and a lot of confusion about the links between modern practices and the tradition’s troubling history.

We recognize that there have been some efforts to reform the character of Zwarte Piet. Piet is no longer described as a slave. He is no longer exclusively male. Official representations of him no longer speak with “broken” Dutch grammar and an affected Surinamese or Antillean accent.

HOWEVER. The blackface makeup has stubbornly remained. Blackface is not unique to the Americas, and is part of long-standing “traditions” that caricature and oppress people with dark skin. And there has been severe racist harassment of people in the Netherlands who dare to speak publicly about how Zwarte Piet is a symptom of endemic racism that affects them daily.

Stroink believes that growing up with the character of Zwarte Piet did not make him think less of his African Nova Scotian neighbours and friends. But he has failed to recognize the reality that racism affects the daily life of African Nova Scotians and other people of colour in the Maritimes. Racism is an unerasable part of our history, and it is not over. It lives and breathes here, in our schools and on our streets. Black people in Halifax are discriminated against by employers, by institutions, and by strangers in public space. These stories cannot be ignored. And we are troubled indeed to see such a lack of awareness and critical thinking from a recently elected MLA in our city.

Telling children that “racism is wrong” does us little good if we also teach them to ignore, accept, and even celebrate racist behaviour. When entire groups of people are objectified and stereotyped, they aren’t being treated as equals, and to dismiss their experience is a disservice to our entire community. African Nova Scotian people, Black people, people of colour — all of us are equally deserving of respect.

It seems unlikely that Zwarte Piet can truly be reformed. As long as he is celebrated, his figure will continue to invoke a violent and racist history, and will perpetuate the racism in our present culture. If Sinterklaas wishes to try to find a peaceful home in Nova Scotia, he must leave blackface behind.

Please join us in challenging Joachim Stroink to educate himself about racism and history in both Halifax and the Netherlands. He needs to learn more about Africville, blackface performance, forced relocation, the Dutch role in the slave trade, and current racial tensions in HRM.  Here’s his contact information:

Facebook: JoachimStroink

Twitter: @JoachimStroink


Let’s get him pointed in the right direction.

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Theresa’s story: “I thought a police vehicle would be on its way”

I was walking to the bus one weekday morning just before 7 am when this guy starting screaming all the women in Halifax are whores and he was going to kill us all starting with me. There is no one around at that time of morning. I kept walking until I got up to Queen st where there are more people and crossed the street called 911 the operator answered the phone with a hello I wasn’t sure if I had dialled the right # So while I was doing that the guy went ahead of me realising I am on the phone with the police. I described the man exactly . All this time I thought a police vehicle would be on its way but at the end of the call she asked me if I wanted her to send a vehicle. So a guy threatening to kill a woman is not considered an emergency in this city and doesn’t rate a police officer being sent right away. I was grateful for my martial arts training helped me to stay calm and not panic.

I've got your back!

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Heather’s story: “I’m pissed at the person who just stood there and let it happen”

I am normally a pants/T-shirt kinda girl but I had a work function this evening and decided to get a little dressed up (a relative term for sure) so as to seem a bit more professional. I managed to make it one block from my apartment before getting harassed. I passed a man having a conversation with someone outside a store. As I walked by he said ‘hey’ so I politely responded with a quick ‘hi’ on my way past. Then he yelled after me “holy shit you are so hot! Damn! Are you married?!” I just shook my head and kept walking because I didn’t feel comfortable or safe engaging with this particular guy.

I’m pissed that I can’t seem to ever get out of my shell and wear something that makes me feel good without some dickhead making me feel like I’ve done something wrong.

I’m pissed at the person who just stood there and let it happen.

I’m pissed that this guy made me regret being friendly and polite to a stranger in passing.

I’m pissed that this makes me wish I could be in a bubble once I step out my front door.

I've got your back!

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CF’s story: “We began to completely ignore him. He continued to stare.”

A friend and I went to a local pizza place. While waiting inside, we were ogled for an uncomfortable period of time by a man waiting for food. He said to my friend “You two look hot, where you going?” She replied “Home.” to end the conversation. He said “Where’s that?” to which we began to completely ignore him. He continued to stare, and then we realized he was touching himself through his pants. It was disgusting and humiliating. We completely turned to face another side of the restaurant until our food was ready. When we left the restaurant, we felt as though he might follow us, but fortunately he did not.

I've got your back!

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Julia’s story: “One of them yelled ‘What are you doing walking alone at night?’”

Three big guys were walking down the other side of the street and one of them yelled “What are you doing walking alone at night?”. I said nothing and picked up my pace. Then another said “Even guys like us can’t walk around here without getting raped”. They started laughing. I yelled “That’s not funny”, and was suddenly thinking about running because they were getting closer to me. My response made them laugh even more and they started to yell “you’re a bitch!” and “you cunt!”. Luckily by that time I was very close to a busier street and they ended up continuing the opposite way. So I’m a bitch for insulting their (non)sense of humour and a cunt for well, being a woman.

I've got your back!

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Kat’s story: “it’s ok to call the police and ok not to”

Hi! A quick follow-up to the story I just submitted (the one about the weird incident in front of the Metro Centre/the guy in his car): it also sucks to have to call the police for this kind of thing because, like Jordan said a few stories back; it makes you feel powerless; and for a lot of people the police are about as safe as their initial attacker/harasser.

Police are as susceptible to sexism, racism and homophobia as anybody else; and have the full weight of the very, very messed up institutional justice system on their side. I reported the guy who told me to get in his car because I didn’t want him to target any other people, and the sooner someone could apprehend him, the better. I also probably should have let them know about the group of potentially dangerous men on the sidewalk for the same reasons; but that was a lot less clear.

Anyway, it’s ok to call the police and ok not to if you don’t feel safe doing it. What sucks is that safety in our society is afforded to only a certain few. I just wanted to talk about that a bit! Thank you so much, Hollaback, for giving myself and others a place tell our stories and listen to and support each other.

I've got your back!

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Kat’s story: “I’m still bewildered as to what was even happening”

This is about a really bizarre thing that happened to me a couple years ago. At the time I was more confused than anything else; and while I’m STILL confused, I’ve recently been thinking about it again and it was definitely a very direct form of harassment.

I was walking alone downtown at around 5pm to meet a friend at a film screening. I was running late and walking quickly. Walking directly in front of me in the opposite direction (towards me) on the sidewalk was a group of three men in their early-to-mid-twenties. We were on Granville St. in front of the Metro Centre, I didn’t take any more notice of them than I did of anyone else on the sidewalk. When we got closer to each other one of them pulled out some kind of beige mask or face covering (it might have been pantyhose?) I still didn’t pay any attention and kept walking, and the man who had covered his face stood directly in front of me and blocked my way. He didn’t seem to be making any moves to harm or rob me; or even say anything, he just stood in my way, like INCHES in front of me. He didn’t seem like he was in trouble or needed my help, either. I was in a hurry and in no mood to deal with whatever bullshit this was so I didn’t acknowledge him except to try and move and carry on my way. He moved with me, still blocking me. This happened maybe one more time, and then I shoved him to the side and kept walking. I didn’t look back and I heard his friends laughing as I walked away. They didn’t follow me.

This all happened in under a minute. I wasn’t thinking as I acted. I didn’t want to acknowledge or engage this man in ANY WAY except to get him out of my way; because I don’t owe a stranger who invades my space my time or my words and I was just so mad and confused. This could have gone any number of different ways, though. I don’t think pushing the man was the safest thing for me to do. I’m lucky nothing else happened and I wouldn’t have been able to physically defend myself if it had. And I’m still bewildered as to what was even happening at all. I don’t know if they were targeting me because I was a small woman walking alone or not; but it seems likely. There were lots of other people on the street with us. I didn’t report it, though I probably should have. I hope they didn’t try anything on anybody else.

Other shit happens too, to me and to so many others. More recently, on a quiet residential street, a middle-aged guy pulled up in his car and said “get in here”. I walked away as fast as I could, and that time I did report it.

I've got your back!

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HOLLA::Revolution is the first ever international speakers series on ending street harassment.  On July 25th, 2013, in New York City, Hollaback! is bringing together leading thinkers and activists to give talks and performances on feminism, tech, and street harassment.  It’s going to be an historic event, and we’re bringing it to you LIVE!

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