I'm going to tell you a little story. It's a kind of a Christmassy story. Very traditional. It's about children and goodness and a larger-than-life hero who did good things because. well. just because he was a good man.
The story of Sinterklaas (almost, but not quite Santa Claus) takes place a long time ago - centuries ago, when some values were different from those we covet today.
It may make you feel good about just how good some people can be, and how they can make good triumph over evil.
It's a quaint story that may raise some guffaws and laughter. After all, the antagonists of the story, who get their come-uppance in the end, are nasty people who say and do nasty things - things that all the rules say they should not do - and so they deserve what they get.
Of course, the antagonists are little children. And the object of the story is to terrorize all little children into being "good little boys and girls."
You may just get your knickers in a twist when you start reading it, and you realize you don't like the story, after all.
Not because its purpose is to terrify kids into being "good." Our literature is filled with such stories: Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin and Pinocchio and Peter and the Wolf and The Pied Piper of Hamelin and. so many others.
Heck, the things that terrify kids have always been a wellspring of ideas for great bedtime stories.
But this is a Christmas story. And what I expect - hope - will get you upset about the story is that it's racist.
It's got racism written all over it.
And yet, a lot of people have deluded themselves into believing that, since the story is part of a tradition that goes way, way back, it can't possibly be racist.
Or maybe they think that the tradition out-weighs the racism.
Maybe they think that, since they know that they themselves aren't racist, it's okay to celebrate this obviously racist tradition.
They've even tweaked the tradition over the years to hide the racism. or maybe they truly believe that masking it somehow mitigates the impact of the racism.
But it is still racist. At first, the traditional story was about a wonderful white benefactor who rode around on a great white stallion, doing good things for good people.
Meanwhile, he was followed around by a slave - a child nicknamed Black Peter after the colour of his skin - who beat "bad" children with a stick, threw them into a sack, and took them away forever. ("Bad" children were those who didn't listen to their parents, or didn't mind their manners, or committed other similar capital offences.)
The tradition was softened over the years. Eventually, the sack and the stick disappeared, and the little slave boy was assigned the task of leaving a lump of coal - no gifts or candy - in naughty kids' stockings.
Apparently, in some places, the tradition has softened still further, and the little black slave (or black-faced white person) just hands out the beneficent white guy's candies.
Interestingly, the folks in New Westminster took only about three and a half decades to figure out how racist the tradition and its underlying story really are.
So the organizers are moving it to what they expect will be a more welcoming venue. in Langley.
Oops. Now I don't have room left for the story I wanted to tell.
Ah well. Who really needs to fiddle about with a racist tradition that's about scaring the life out of "imperfect" children?
@ Copyright 2013