Those of us who have actually spent any time in the Netherlands know that the country’s reputation for “tolerance” and openness has been mythically overstated. 

One of the most bizarre Dutch traditions – read creepy, atavistic and strange – is Sinterklaas, when Saint Nick rides in from Spain with his jolly “helpers” dressed up in blackface, performing buffooneries for the delight of little Dutchies.

Over at Magnum Photos, Peter van Agtmael takes a critical look at the tradition – as you would expect, with a nice accompanying photo, which I won’t post here. It’s a click away.

In America, of course, this would never fly. Is that a matter of us being too politically correct, or is this custom truly as vile as it seems to me? Is there a cultural frame of reference within which spectacles like this, which harken so directly to the minstrel shows of old, are acceptable? Even if there is, it wouldn’t seem to me like Holland – with its deep history of slavetrading and brutality – should provide that proper frame.

This is of course, old news at this point, but always relevant.

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