Dealing with Ambiguity: Johan Maurits, Black Pete and the Crisis of Dutch Identity
Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy , Volume 47 - Issue 1
A dominant way in which the Dutch think of themselves entails the image of an enlightened nation, too small to be really significant in world politics but nevertheless important as an ethical guiding light for other nations. In a globalizing world, that self- congratulatory image has recently been severely challenged, with public debate being dominated by the opposing sides of those who one-sidedly debunk Dutch culture and politics as oppressive and violent and others who persist in the myth of innocent bystandership and enlightened progressivism. Many scholars and publicists have called for a more nuanced discussion, typically emphasizing the ‘grey middle ground’ in between black and white opposites. This paper starts out by providing short accounts of Johan Maurits’s governorship of Dutch Brazil (1637-1644) and the stereotyped persona of Black Pete (one of the central figures of an annual children’s festival) as two topics of recent heated debate. Subsequently, it proposes an alternative way out of the current Dutch identity crisis while drawing on what may come as a surprising source: ancient Greek tragedy.