Eric Garner, Zwarte Piet and Belgian Headlines

At first read it would seem Eric Garner and Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) have nothing in common, besides the “color” of their skin. Except this week in the Belgian papers, both of them headlined.

For different reasons.

HeadlinesAs I watch and react to the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death, I feel helpless, and angry. I’m proud to be an American living in Belgium, yet I feel so detached and bewildered as to what’s going on back in the States. I know there’s not much I could be doing if I wasn’t this far away, perhaps joining a protest somewhere in Manhattan…yet, I wish I could reach out my arms and shake America, and shake it violently, maybe hard enough to break something…or put something back in its place.

I watched this video today, and it moved me. Oh how I wish I had been there. I’ve walked by that very spot thousands of times. My New York. My country. And my past. While my present happens here in Belgium. What my future holds I don’t know, or where…

The emotions and rage are real for me, just as they are real for many of you.

Yet here in Belgium, the headlines basically read “More turmoil in US over unpunished cop who killed a black man…” and that’s that. There are other things going on here that take precedence…like the Zwarte Piet debate, which I wrote about once.


So in Brussels, apparently and according to above headlines, any public Zwarte Piets are foregoing the “pitch-black” blackface and opting instead to appear as if they’re just “dirtied from soot.”

This makes sense since Zwarte Piet helps Sinterklaas down the chimney and such…I’ll take that look over white people in blackface any day…

This Time Last Year

This time last year Noah couldn’t even say “Zwarte Piet” yet he did throw himself, literally, into Sinterklaas celebrations by diving into gift bags for all his gifts…


This Year

This year, not only can Noah pronounce Zwarte Piet, but he can also point him out in a crowd…

We attended a Sinterklaas event last week and Noah didn’t seem too fond of those arriving in blackface. I can’t blame him. They didn’t look dirtied from soot, but just plain scary. Noah has no aversion to black people, but the fact that this was clearly a white man with black paint on his face proved too freaky for Noah to take a proper photo.


Noah’s School

I’m not going to hijack this blog with Zwarte Piet debate, but I will share the fact that Noah’s school held a Sinterklaas event on Friday and they made a decision not to don blackface…


I was shocked. I’m sure some of the other parents were too. Some of the older children looks confused but preschoolers like Noah didn’t even notice.

But I noticed. The parents noticed. The older children noticed. Awareness is happening…


Also happening was the Macarena, by “The Pinkies,” and Noah definitely had one of the best seats in the house as he waved his Sinterklaas flag with fervor.


Noah, standing at the bottom right of the photo…

And the next day, he awoke to a Sinterklaas themed living room full of gifts and candy hanging from doorknobs…


Festivities continued all day yesterday, spilling over to grandma’s house and auntie’s house. Today too there will be more celebration that couldn’t be fit into one day. And despite Noah’s squeals of joy and sugar rushes…

I was constantly reminded that this holiday season there are children who will be without their father. Eric Garner is gone.

It’s so fucked up. I get choked up. Tears burn in my eyes.

As a mother, a New Yorker, and a woman of color…




Always dishing,



  1. Happy Sinterklass! This blog touched me on many levels Jun. My thoughts are swirling randomly like fallen leaves, eventually joining the circle dance and settling down. This is like an Advent Calendar, opening one door a day to find a morsel to savor. Thank you for this gift 🙂 M.A.

  2. Thankful for your blog, this morning. A glimmer of light in a very bleak situation. Beautifully communicated & Oh so appreciated.

    Chicago native, here, & also a woman of color (African American & Sicilian descent) …. in other words, ‘black’. 😉

    Blessings to you & your beautiful family,


    1. Jun Song Author

      Thanks for sharing Robin. I know there are voices being raised in Chicago too. We have to keep the faith and have our voices heard. Happy Holidays to you and yours 🙂

    1. Jun Song Author

      It’s insane. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in your shoes. I told Davy the other day that I was glad I was not a mother of a young black man in America today. How fucked up it sounded coming out of my mouth but it was the truth. Shit needs to change. I KNOW you raised good men, but let’s hope that’s enough… Wish I could hug you mama.

  3. Anonymous

    Let’s just do away with tradition all together…forget all the traditions, Let us forget our heritage, let us not integrate and become part of a wonderful culture and tradtion…No we must not do that, we must after all become all the same and not stand out and be unique for our differences…No we must become a bland all the same…tradition be dammed. Let they just become a distant memory to people who always celebrated this and we will be able to tell our grandkids and they will think them fairytales.. I wonder why people still have thanksgiving and christmas…let’s just do away with the turkey and santa claus oh and not to mention the elves…those creepy little men…No we must do away with this… elves are white, creep and wear funny closes and have funny voices…we need to protest them… yep my take on all this..
    I say you don’t like it…don’t go to the events, don’t celebrate it…turn off the tv, keep your kids at home from school that day and keep them of the street. Problem solved.

      1. Phyllis

        @jun-the “bitter much” comment is towards anonymous right above-not you. Your column was wonderful & heartfelt-as always. Thank you

    1. Jun Song Author

      I don’t think it’s necessarily about becoming the same, unless becoming the same means being more aware and sensitive to basically human needs… I don’t think the children would care if it was a Purple Pete or a White Pete or a Polka Dot Pete…

    1. Jun Song Author

      It’s crazy how much has happened in the four years I’ve been away…at first I thought I was just noticing more and being more sensitive. But indeed there’s so much going on back in the States and it makes me feel that much farther away. I’ll admit I’m relieved I’m over here sometimes…

  4. Nick

    What you missed in the last 5 years — we got a black president and angry white people freaked the fuck out. But we’re basically dealing with the racial tension that had to be dealt with eventually. Ugly while this lasts, though.


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