4 November: Activism in Action

Tori Egherman is an activist with the #womensmarchnl and also does relief and community support work for those living in Iran, the home country of her husband. InSite agents met at her office on the east side of Amsterdam on 4 November to make posters, write postcards of encouragement for those who are leading the movement to challenging the Dutch tradition of zwarte piet in the SinterKlas narrative.

As is our aim with InSite to expose students to what it looks like to be an activist or volunteer for various causes and to place oneself in the middle of controversy for the hope of a better outcome for more people living in a shared society. Tori gave a talk at the start to give context to the need and the current cultural clashes that are occurring in The Netherlands regarding racism and how the tradition of the zware piet character lends itself into this narrative and mindset.

Everyone participated in making signs of protest, wrote cards of encouragement for those leading the cause who are under attacks and even death threats for speaking out against this tradition.

We ended with a discussion about the tradition and how the students felt about it, ideas to change it and how they experience Sinterklaas and zwarte piet. There were many varied opinions and at times the discussion got a bit heated. It is so good to be able to sit in places of tension where not everyone agrees, where there are passionate pleas and heartfelt opinions shared. We need to hold those places and learn to listen to one another, even if we don’t agree. We need to be able to have a civil discussion and seek to understand.

Students were challenged to continue the conversation at school, at home and to continue to be curious about how this tradition impacts those of color. We were all challenged to look at this tradition from a perspective of context and the historical origins. Is it enough to simply change the narrative now and pretend that the origin story of slavery didn’t exist? Is it enough to change the colors of the piets and say that they black color on the face is from non-existent chimneys? Where should protests take place? Who are the decisions makers when it comes to issues like this? What do we want to be communicating to the world about race? How can the tradition of Sinterklas be intacted for future generations of children to enjoy?

We were all left to make our own decision about how we felt about this issue.