Journal of Controversial Ideas

(ISSN: 2694-5991) Open Access Journal
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Controversial Ideas 2021, 1(1), 8; doi: 10.35995/jci01010008

Black Pete, King Balthasar, and the New Orleans Zulus: Can Black Make-Up Traditions Ever Be Justified?

1 Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies Umeå University;
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 21 Oct 2020 / Revised: 25 Mar 2021 / Accepted: 25 Mar 2021 / Published: 25 Apr 2021
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Abstract

Wearing black make-up to impersonate black individuals has become highly controversial in many countries, even when it is part of long-standing cultural traditions. Prominent examples of such traditions include Saint Nicolas celebrations in the Netherlands (which feature a black character known as “Black Pete” who hands out candy to children), Epiphany parades in Spain (which feature impersonations of the biblical king Balthasar who is traditionally portrayed as black) and the annual Zulu parade in New Orleans (which features impersonations of South African Zulu warriors). In this article, I challenge the widely held view that black make-up traditions are categorically wrong. Specifically, I argue that these traditions can be morally vindicated if (i) the large majority of individuals who help to maintain them do not believe that they denigrate black people; (ii) the relevant traditions do not depict black people in denigrating ways; and (iii) the relevant traditions are not gratuitously offensive. While the Dutch Saint Nicholas tradition fails to satisfy these conditions, the New Orleans Zulu tradition is found to satisfy them, as is the Spanish Epiphany tradition in certain cases. I end by identifying another set of conditions under which black make-up traditions might be morally justified.
Keywords: Black Pete; King Balthasar; Zulu parade; black make-up traditions; blackface; offence
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).
CITE
De Vries, B. Black Pete, King Balthasar, and the New Orleans Zulus: Can Black Make-Up Traditions Ever Be Justified? Controversial_Ideas 2021, 1, 8.
De Vries B. Black Pete, King Balthasar, and the New Orleans Zulus: Can Black Make-Up Traditions Ever Be Justified? Journal of Controversial Ideas. 2021; 1(1):8.
De Vries, Bouke. 2021. "Black Pete, King Balthasar, and the New Orleans Zulus: Can Black Make-Up Traditions Ever Be Justified?" Controversial_Ideas 1, no. 1: 8.
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