Considering the apology bordering on tears, it’s apparent Nova Scotia Liberal Joachim Stroink meant no offence in posing for a picture with a black-faced Zwarte Piet on the weekend at a Dutch Christmas event in Halifax.
Tweeting the photo took it a step further – as social media is notorious for doing. If sitting in the character of legend’s lap for a picture was any kind of indiscretion, putting it out there for all to see will ensure it turns into a bigger one. There are plenty of people in the Twitterverse, and if something can be interpreted as politically incorrect, it will be.
Stroink explained that the character was a familiar one to him growing up – a Dutch character portrayed with black face and as a servant to Sinterklaas, the Netherlands version of Santa Claus. The clownish figure, with painted face and often frizzy-haired wig, has in more recent years become an object of controversy to the point that, as in Halifax and elsewhere, Black Pete’s days might well be numbered in such celebrations.
Many argue that the character is beloved, one who leaves treats for children at Christmas time.
Those who would like to see this particular tradition stopped, however, say this depiction of a black-faced servant has its roots in a time when the slave trade was in practice.
Error in judgment or not, it would hardly be fair to continue focusing a whole lot of criticism on Stroink. In fact he’s now behind the idea of change where this character is concerned.
Not surprisingly many will argue that the depiction is presented in fun, and the critics are taking political correctness too far.
But as one person commenting on Stroink’s indiscretion put it, traditions can be a great way to perpetuate racist sentiment.
Perhaps there are two sides to this, but when something creates divisive debate and hard feelings during a celebration that is supposed to be joyous, planners of such events would do well to err on the side of caution.