You know how 2020 felt like an unceasing onslaught of misery, day after day, until you were about to start crying blood? Well, here are some problems that we all seemed to have overlooked to get started on your 2021 pile ...

The Dutch Have A Big Blackface Problem

You know a story is bad when you're not even sure if you can relay information about it without feeling like you've crossed a line, and with that in mind, may I present to you, uh, "Black Pete":

SalenaProductions/Wikimedia Commons
This costume is from 2 years ago, and not, as one would assume, 1870.

Also known as "Zwarte Piet" this ... character is portrayed as a bumbling sidekick to Sinterklaas. He's kinda like Santa's version of Iago from Aladdin, only instead of being voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, he's deeply hurtful and offensive to an entire demographic of people. Naturally, as times have changed, so have people's perception of the Christmas character, and today, Black Pete (God, I feel terrible having to type that over and over again) is the subject of many screaming matches in Dutch

On one side of the argument are people who believe the character is incredibly racist. It's subtle, but if you look closely, you'll see that Black Pete evokes images made popular by the minstrel shows of yesteryear that essentially only existed to mock black people by enforcing tired and harmful stereotypes. The other side of the argument holds that they've never been offended by Black Pete, so that means nobody else could possibly be either. My guess is that side is mostly populated by folks who call people whatever the dutch word for "Snowflake" is a bunch. The argument has reached a fever pitch this year, spurred on by reactions to George Floydd's tragic death, and given further mainstream attention after person-you're-surprised-you-agree-with Kim Kardashian retweeted an article discussing why the character should be retired.

Tenorio81/Wikimedia Commons
Seriously, Holland; get your crap together so we don't have to agree with a Kardashian again.

The battle has loomed large enough over their Christmas that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has even commented on it. Like all good politicians, the PM came out with a clear and honest condemnation of the racism inherent in-- Nah, I'm totally kidding. What he actually said is that while he believes that the character is offensive, he's sympathetic to people who want to keep the tradition around and won't do anything to ban the character any time soon. It's unfortunate, but I guess it makes sense. If I've learned one thing from Thanksgiving at my grandpa's house, it's that ignoring racism is a huge part of the holidays.

Poland's Recent Abortion Protests

And now for a bit of a lighter subject: Abortion. A court ruling in Poland has placed a ban on nearly all abortions in the country, and while it's not quite the worst thing that's ever happened to human rights in Poland ... Well, that's not exactly a high bar, is it? 

The strict ruling banned abortions in the case of fetal abnormalities, which, unfortunately, comprised the vast majority of legal abortions in the country. As such, the laws will mean that a lot of women may be forced to give birth to children against their will, which, naturally, has ruffled a lot of feathers, and many protestors across the country are making their voices heard in the form of protests. (Hence, the whole calling them "protestors" part.) It's a heated issue, but thankfully because the government is the one on the side that wants to protect the sanctity of human life, the protests have remained totally peaceful ... except for the cops absolutely using force against them

Though this all started from a debate about abortion, the protests seem to represent a breaking point of sorts between the liberal citizens of Poland and the Conservative government. The movement marks the largest demonstrations in the country since the fall of communism three decades ago, and though they continue to rage on, they actually seem to be working. Despite the ruling, it seems as if the protests have delayed the implementation of these laws for the time being. 

You're A Single Mom In Japan, Life Is Unnecessarily Difficult

For our next topic in this comedy article, let's take a moment to discuss the plight of single mothers in Japan. Har-dee-har-har ...?

Basically, it sucks to be a single mother. Aside from the obvious, the reasons behind this suckage are a number of sucky societal issues that all come together to form a perfect storm of suck. For starters, they don't really do joint custody in Japan, so right off the bat, if you're a mother who gets a divorce, that means you either don't get to parent your child at all, or, more likely, you take full responsibility for them. While that's probably the preferable option (I'm told. I don't have kids), sole responsibility includes sole financial responsibility, and that's where things start to get a little bit more complicated thanks to an old friend named systemic sexism. 

By in large, women in Japan are forced to accept lower-paying and less stable work opportunities. This fact is especially true for single mothers because before their marriage fell apart, many of them dropped out of the workforce to care for their children, meaning that by the time they need to get a job again, their resume has taken a serious hit. As a result, Japan has the highest percentage of working single mothers at 85%. Despite this fact, Japan also tops the list of countries in which families with working single parents are living below the poverty line at a whopping 56%.  

For comparison's sake, the United States only has about 34% of working single-parent households, and while that statistic should still fill me with deep despair, as an American, I'm honestly just happy to see a list of terrible statistics where my home country isn't the worst. 

As if that wasn't bad enough, let's add COVID to the mix. When the pandemic hit the global economy like a sack of bricks, women were the most susceptible to layoffs because, as previously stated, they were more likely to have temporary, part-time, or contract jobs. Though the government has been providing people hit by the pandy with financial support (lucky), this won't likely be the case once things return to normal, and you know things are bad when the better alternative is a mass plague. I'd like to leave this on a more hopeful note, but it genuinely sounds like a problem that's just gonna get worse until some serious structural changes are made, so ... get on that shit?  

China's Oppression of the Uighurs Is Still Happening (And US Companies Are Complicit)

Being a single mother in Japan is awful, but, hey, at least it's not as bad as being a Uighur in China, amiright, guys ...? Amiright ...? Guys ...? Ugh ...

Via Wikimedia Commons
If you agree, just give a blank look like you're desperately trying not to get sent to a re-education camp.

For those of you who don't know, the Uighur people are a Muslim minority occupying China's Xinjiang province. The province was annexed by China in 1949, so many of those who occupy the area don't exactly identify as Chinese. For that reason, the Chinese government has decided to "re-educate" them, and, yes, being re-educated in this context is exactly as terrifying and horrible as it sounds.

Since 2017, Uighurs have been targeted by the Chinese government and forced into internment camps, the conditions of which are beyond inhumane. Uighur prisoners have been subjected to beatings, forced sterilizations, and have even been forced to consume pork products against their Muslim beliefs. There have been at least one million prisoners detained in a total of 85 confirmed camps, making it one of the greatest violations of human rights facing the world today. 

A lot of you reading this probably just spit out your Coke as you read that and threw your iPhone across the room so you wouldn't have to see it anymore. "I'd never support something so barbaric," you say as you lace up your Nikes and hit the streets to do what you can to put an end to these atrocities. Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you

This is the part where you get to feel guilty.  Sorry.

One of the less-than-great things happening in the camps is forced labor, and the internment camps pass the savings from that right on to you, the consumer. Major companies have benefitted so much from the free labor that many have allegedly tried to weaken legislation meant to fight Uighur detainment by limiting the import of products made in the region. These companies include Nike, Apple, Coca Cola, and countless others that make up the fabric of American culture. So not only are these horrible human rights violations occurring as we speak, but most of us are a little bit complicit! Hooray! 

Top image: Silar/Wikimedia Commons, Fernandozhiminaicela/Pixabay

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