The debate around the Black Pete tradition in the Netherlands rages on: while many outspoken voices have presented different arguments on why the tradition should be at the very least severely modified (I recommend in particular the pieces by Asha ten Broeke), a very large portion of the population has expressed its support and fondness for the tradition as is, in particular by ‘liking’ a Facebook page, a ‘Pete-tion’, defending the continuation of the tradition. As of now, more than 2 million Facebook users have ‘liked’ this page, and last Saturday supporters gathered for a rally in The Hague.
Interestingly, in its most recent update, the Pete-tion FB page (Pietitie, in Dutch) proudly announces that it is ‘against racism, let us be clear on that’. Now, what they mean by ‘racism’ here must surely be different from what Black Pete critics mean when they describe the tradition as racist. More generally, and as often the case, it seems that those involved in the debate may at least to some extent be talking past each other because different meanings of ‘racism’ are floating around. (To be clear, I do not think this is a merely verbal dispute; there does seem to be a core of true disagreement.) Well, one of the skills we philosophers pride ourselves on is the skill of language precisification and conceptual analysis. So in what follows I’ll attempt to distinguish some of the different meanings of racism underpinning the debate, in the hope that such a clarification may somehow contribute to its advancement. (Full disclosure: what I really want to accomplish is to convince my many intelligent, well-meaning friends who do not see the racist component of the tradition that it is there, and that it is problematic.)