Black Pete exposes the Netherlands’ problem with race

White people dressing up as fools with black faces is not the harmless Christmas fun that the Dutch make it out to be


I once heard a joke that went something like this: when the world is coming to an end, move to the Netherlands because everything happens there 50 years later. A bit harsh, I thought, after all, the Dutch are a relatively progressive people with much to recommend them: from the high level of volunteering to absence of hysteria around subjects such as cannabis, prostitution, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. On the matter of race, though, you do wonder. Particularly around this time of year, by way of a character called “Zwarte Piet” (Black Pete).

In America you have Santa Claus, in the UK he’s Father Christmas, and in the Netherlands he’s called Sinterklaas. Unlike the other Santas, though, the Dutch Sinterklaas arrives with his slave/servant called Zwarte Piet. The slave-servant comes dressed like a renaissance minstrel: black face, painted red lips, afro wig. The arrival is a huge event: Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten make a grand entrance, and the whole parade is broadcast on public television. Sinterklaas sits tall on a white horse while his black servants share out candy to the kids on the sidelines, and families from all over the country turn up to watch. Or course, there are always several Black Petes, typically played by white people, all in blackface, with red painted lips and afro wigs.

The transformation, however, is not complete with the outfit and greasepaint. The character must speak poor Dutch with a stupid accent, and must act childlike and mischievous when performing. And from mid-November, when Sintaklass and his servants arrive, you can see Zwarte Pieten all over, on television programmes and commercials and on the streets, acting the fool.

At schools across the country, children sing songs referring to the skin tone and character of the black servant “…even if I’m black as coal I mean well…”, “Saint Nicolas, enter with your black servant”, etc, and there are other old songs about Zwarte Piet in which he’s made out to be a little bit stupid, a little bit clumsy, more akin to a child than an adult, the same generalisations previously applied to black people, but which can no longer be made explicitly.

What on is going on with the Dutch? How can such an abhorrent anachronism exist in a seemingly modern and progressive country? As one writer put it, “millions of black people were killed or enslaved by white people over four centuries, and millions more continue to suffer discrimination all over Europe and in the States, so this Zwarte Piet character is about as funny as wearing a swastika.”

zwarte piet

Campaigning during the arrival of Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet

As I hinted in the first paragraph, Zwarte Piet is not the only sign that the Dutch have a problem with race. Dutch society also has more subtle ways of reminding black people of their place and keeping them there. If you spend any time in the Netherlands, you will soon hear the words “allochtoon” used in polite conversation.

People of “non-western” descent are labeled “allochtoon”, not only by the white society, but also by law. “Allochtoon” is based on a Greek word, “allokhthon”, and means “found in a place other than where they were formed”. But no non-Dutch white person living in the Netherlands is referred to as allochtoon, only non-white people, Dutch and otherwise. These allochtonen, the “outsiders” (many of whom were born and raised in the Netherlands) are the ones typically accused by the right-wing politician Geert Wilders and others of exploiting the country’s resources and social services while not integrating properly into Dutch society. The word allochtoon is thus used as a continuous reminder to people of colour in the Netherlands that white-Dutch people simply do not see them as an equal member of the society, let alone as Dutch, no matter multi-cultural said society might appear on the surface.


Anti-racist activists arrested for wearing hoodies with the text “Black Pete is racism!” during the arrival of Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet

Yet a fifth of the Dutch population consists of people of colour. This includes people from former colonies such as Indonesia and Surinam, but also people whose roots lay in Morocco and Turkey. Since the 1980s, there has also been a steady stream of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to the Netherlands. Some of them are now grandparents, with kids and grandkids who consider the Netherlands home (or try to, at any rate). All of these people are “allochtoon”.

In this context, one can start to understand why the unemployment rate of non-white Dutch people (at 15% in the first quarter of 2012) is two-and-a-half times higher than the Dutch average. One also starts to understand why black and white Dutch people see nothing wrong with a film like Alleen Maar Nette Mensen (“Only Decent People”) or why, in December last year, the editor of Dutch fashion magazine Jackie thought it was okay to give its readers fashion advice that they could dress like a “Nigga Bitch”, associating the style with Rihanna. Rihanna, of course, didn’t hold back in her response (she’s not black Dutch, so one imagines she didn’t know her place), and the editor was forced to resign. But here’s the thing, many white and black people felt the editor would have kept her job, if the controversy hadn’t been picked up outside the Netherlands. Those who objected were labelled “too sensitive”. When the editor was first confronted about the racist slur, her response was that it was just a “bad joke”.


Anti-racism pamphlet (1987)

Why do people keep defending Zwarte Piet? Is it that they really can’t see that it is racist or that they don’t want to see? One blogger (Toby Sterling) writes that actually, the people who defend Zwarte Piet know all to well that he is a racist caricature, but that they are experiencing the psychological phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance”: the brain filters out new information (Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature) that conflicts with what one already believes (I love Zwarte Piet and I am not a racist).

You don’t have to have a degree in psychology or sociology to work out that the figure of Zwarte Piet, and the use of words like “neger” and “allochtoon” ensure the continued internalisation of ideas of superiority of white Dutch people, and of inferiority and marginalisation of black Dutch people. Nor do you need it to understand the associate power of symbols like Zwarte Piet. You can keep a symbolic boot on someone’s neck, and it can be just as effective as doing so physically, more so, even.

The debate is also, as Lulu Wang writes, a discussion about citizenship and identity. “And because this discussion does not take place behind closed doors between politicians and intellectuals only, but in schools, between colleagues, family-members and friends, it offers us a chance to challenge old conceptions of self and other at many different levels. However, this annual debate is not sufficient to change things, but it can lead to more activism, a critical outlook and recognition of those situations where the same strategies of marginalisation are being used. The Black servant and his White master can not be isolated from the social context, Dutch society, in which they exist.”

In researching this piece, and from discussing it with Dutch people, black and white, I discovered that this debate has been going on for years, every year. Initially, I thought that was cause for concern. Perhaps the defenders of the “tradition” believe so long as they don’t listen to anything the black Dutch people say, the debate will never get beyond talk, and the anti-Piet campaigners will give up from exhaustion. But I was reassured that the numbers (black and white) of those against this “tradition” are indeed growing.


“Down with Black Pete! Open your eyes & see”

Playwright Mark Walraven, for instance, says he used to be one of the many white men who would paint their faces black each year to the delight of children. “I stopped after I began working with black people,” he said. “Many people are offended by this symbol.”

Four years ago, Walraven put on a play In the Shadow of the Saint about the debate over Black Pete at Amsterdam’s Krater Theater. One of messages of his play is that you can still have Sinterklaas without Black Pete. “Many countries have abolished these kinds of things but in Holland they still exist,” Walraven said. “Nevertheless, most Dutch don’t consider themselves to be racist and feel they are being personally attacked when you criticise Black Pete,” he said.”

“The majority here in Holland refuse to talk about Black Pete. They are afraid that the people who discuss it want to take away Sinterklaas as a phenomenon.”



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545 thoughts on “Black Pete exposes the Netherlands’ problem with race

  1. A few points I disagree with:

    The Netherlands are 50 years behind? I mean, really? We were the first country to adopt gay marriage, and have always been very liberal to the point that we’re painted like a liberal hedonistic hellhole in other countries.

    Furthermore, it’s the intent of what you mean when you say something, and the same goes for symbolism. All the black Pete’s are painted like friendly, warm, hard working friends of children. You really think that black Pete teaches children to fear and/or have contempt for people of color? I once heard an english comedian say that he found the concept of black pete mind boggling, because he would be scared shitless if there were a bunch of black people breaking in his house at midnight. Now that’s a hundred times more racist, and nobody batted an eye.

    Attack the elements of the culture that spawned words and symbols btw, you’re only hurting the discussion if you make certain words and symbols socially unacceptable.

    I for one am proud that the Dutch aren’t afraid for racially or socio economic issues in popular culture which make people slightly uncomfortable, as it gets the issues in the public eye and the discussion going. We’re remembered of our horrible past of slave trade every year on one of our biggest holidays, which you can’t say of any other country on earth. One of the reasons we’re still one of the most liberal and progressive countries on earth, a little bit of political incorrectness is healthy.

    • “…it’s the intent of what you mean when you say something, and the same goes for symbolism…”

      Effect matters just as much, if not more, than intent. If the effect of this tradition is the continued marginalization of people of colour and the teaching of inequality to children, perhaps it is time for new traditions.

      • ‘Symbolism.’?
        You mean what Black Pete represents?

        Black Pete represents a humanized version of a blackskinned gargoyle (cause gargoyles are too scary for child festivities) which also exists on the Notre Dame.

        Black Peter (gargoyle) kept an eye out for naughty children.

        Black Pete (helper) kept an eye out for naught children so Saint Nick knew who to give presents and who to give coal.

        • I have never heard of that origin story in my life, and I doubt that it even has to do with Black Pete.

          “I for one am proud that the Dutch aren’t afraid for racially or socio economic issues”

          Which is why the standard response of white Dutch people (anyone whom are not recognized as foreigners) tends to be “go back to your country”

  2. Well that’s just Holland, right? we really dont care how “other”people soon as there an English publication about this subject, Dutch people rush in to tell ya how it really is. As you can tell by the post above, you’ll need a lot of words to explain why it is NOT a harmfull feast.

    But believe me, there are not that many coloured people in The Netherlands whom are happy with this phenomenon. Though the mayority(white people) will simply ingnore, or be really aggresive about it, telling you “its a childerns thing”, yet they are the ones aggitated , not the kids. Welcome in Holland, where we understand that you would like to get high, or get yourself some hooker-action once in a while..even racism , we’ll understand that you wanna make black people feel like idiots once a year. Let them know they are worth less, each year over and over again..

    • Do you celabrate christmas and santa claus.. santa claus is sinterklaas, only coca cola created santa claus.. so they could make more money… you have the elfs?? In films they are pretending like midgets? Why is that not discrimination? We learned as we where little that zwarte piet was a very kind man.. why do we have to distroy our belevings? Nobody things that zwarte piet is being racist only a small group of people that doesn’t come from the netherlands. Why, do we have to chance it, because other countries don’t get it.. but infact doing the same bij celebrating santa claus…

  3. Wow, this is the most twisted story i’ve read in a long time… It is all too clear that this is not written by someone who knows Holland only a bit, but has all information gathered by the internet.

    The funny thing is that I asked my (African) collegue yesterday if he felt discriminated by the Zwarte Piet thing, which was not the case. On the other hand, he felt discriminated at work. He was never given the opportunity to work at the office or get in a better position. He felt he was the one working the hardest in the company and in the most nasty place. This says a man who doesn’t speak eighter Dutch, English or German at all after living in Holland for 20 years! What I noticed in the conversation I had with him after that, his impression is that the rest of the company works on a slow and easy pace, doing nothing all the time. He couldn’t believe that he is the only one in the whole company that has two lunch breaks and that (speaking only for myself) I work harder, do more and work parts of the day in an environment similar to his.

    Am I being discriminated in my own country? Even being white? Or is he just a little too lazy to learn proper Dutch and is he not willing to see that the Dutch culture and working environment is slightly different than what he was used to in the old days in his own country? If I want to achieve anything, I have to do an education for it as well, don’t I?

    Of course racism is not good and should not be allowed. No one should be bullied, for whatever reason. Skin tone should not be a reason, but wearing your hair differently or having these strange glasses should not be a reason eighter!

    I think this article coming from a British magazine, whilst England is finding a way to deal with a lot of immigrants itself is calling for a Dutch saying: De pot verwijt de ketel dat ‘ie zwart ziet. Meaning so much as: You say something about me, although you are the same.

    The reason I wrote this is to make clear that it is important to see what is really racism and do something about that and which is not. Zwarte Piet is a tradition that is being enjoyed by children from all races in Holland. Even black kids paint their face black when they dress up like zwarte piet! Not only black people sometimes have a hard time, others as well. Don’t push everything aside as racism, learn to see the difference!

  4. Try to interpret things from the inside out. That must be one of the most important research principles that students, writers and journalists of culture work with. Generally speaking, interpretations of Zwarte Piet as racist are strange to the people that celebrate the feast of Sinterklaas (the original Santa Claus by the way, what’s in a name). Almost all dutch children are a big, big fan of Zwarte Piet. Of course, he is the guy who gives presents and sweets, the guy who is funny, acrobatic and smart (!), much smarter than grey, old Sinterklaas.

    I do not deny that the origins of Zwarte Piet are at least a bit controversial, seen from a comtemporary perspective. And I do not deny that the ways SOME Zwarte Pieten or hulpsinterklazen (helping Sinterklaases, not the real one :)) behave in the streets in the days before 5 december, are easily interpreted in racist terms, or might even have a racist element to SOME of the dressed people who behave like that. Personally, I could live with White Petes or Blue Petes or whatever, understanding that more and more people in this globalising world and country have problems with this cultural tradition. But I strongly oppose that the ‘nature’ of the contemporary celebration is racist to the many, many Dutch children and adults (light- and also dark-skinned!) that celebrate this feast. That could be one of the main reasons why many Dutch people feel highly offended in this debate, because most of us are not racists at all.

    P.S.1: I never heard the joke the article starts with by the way, and I strongly doubt that it’s typical to (foreign) understanders of Dutch culture, but it sets the tone for the article. When it comes to cultural matters, we oftentimes are quite progressive as you rightly mention.
    P.S.2: A few corrections: the word ‘allochtoon’ (often ‘allochtone Nederlanders’) was intended to be a politically correct way of talking about people from abroad (and it’s always hard to find an enduring correct word for such matters!). It is not a four-letter word as the article suggests and it has no superiority in it at all. The almost similar word for native Dutch people (or whatever you call them) is ‘autochtoon’ by the way. In official documents and statistics we talk about western and non-western allochtonen, so the word allochtoon is not related to skincolor (of course there are some people who misuse the word, but misuse of words is not typically dutch). Geert Wilders (I don’t like or vote him) talks very little about ‘allochtonen’, but most of the time about Islam and (to a lesser extent) Muslims, or simply Moroccans, Turks, Polis, Bulgarians, etc.

    • I completely agree with you. I feel this issue is oversimplified by both the people in favor of Zwarte Piet and those against.

      When a UN researcher (Shepherd) calls for an end to this racist tradition and implies that Dutch people think all black people are like Black Petes, I think she exaggerates her case and misses the point.

      When Dutch people say it’s just for kids and joke: “What’s next? Tomorrow I can’t even have a black coffee, hahaha.” They use fallacies to support a flawed argument.

      Personally, I think Black Pete could easily be changed to Blue Pete or White Pete. This will be courteous towards the people offended by this tradition and I am sure the kids won’t like it any less (for them it’s never been about the colour!) so I think Dutch politician Plasterk made a fair point when he said pretty much the same thing.

      PS1: This is associated with famous German writer Heinrich Heine. Actually, Heine wrote: “Wenn die Welt untergeht, so ziehe ich nach Mecklenburg, denn dort geschieht alles 50 Jahre später.” In 1939 German communist Fritz Kieft changed Mecklenburg to the Netherlands, claiming that Heine had said so to strengthen his claim.

      Dutch researcher Nico Scheepmaker has done some research into this, which is actually quite fascinating…

  5. You are starting off with a few misconceptions, zwarte piet is not a slave/servant, he is a page or assistant organising everything so sinterklaas can focus on the children, not unlike the elves for the spinoff that is the american santa.
    the broken dutch and dumb accent has been out of style for many decades, they speak normal dutch these days with a normal dutch accent.

  6. How can you tell people Black Pete is racism, and meanwhile ignoring the problems closer to your own home: Thanksgiving? I mean, you guys dress up school kids as generous, native Indians in school plays. Unless American history differs in the US from the one we are taught, we all know how that story ended. But hey, that won’t spoil the fun for you, because no harm no foul right? And that is exactly the point: We don’t mean any harm. We don’t associate Black Pete with slaves, we associate them with cool, generous people. Friends. That happen to be black.

  7. If anyone feels the need to write a blog to shuffle their opinions through others throats, the least you can do is make sure that what you write is the truth. You cannot hide behind names of others by using quotes. That Toby Sterling can kiss my ass for all I care. And the word “allochtoon” being only used for non white people, is just a big lie! Anyone born outside our country yet living here is an allochtoon. If you have a black, yellow, red or white skin has nothing to do with it. But yet here you are writing this nonsens. For example you describe the kind of friends we dutch people are. Letting our non white coloured friends know their place? I remember when I was a little girl in the toy store, big surprise, but as soon as I came in the store I just ran to the dolls. And guess what I specifically wanted a black doll, I thouht they were so much prettier. Maybe you can ask your sounding board what kind of racist of discriminator this makes me?

  8. I can image that black people feel uncomfortable with Zwarte Piet, when he is associated with stupidity, slavery and racial inferiority. But look at it this way: why are there so many dutch children who dress up like Black Pete? Not because they want to look ridiculous (children don’t like that). They dress up like Black Pete because he is some sort of a hero. For most children he’s even more interesting than Sinterklaas himself (who is, to be honest, a boring, slow-talking old man). Now look at the parents’ perspective: do they want their children to resemble a dumbass slave who is scourned for his colour of skin? Come on…

  9. LOL, there is almost no racisme over here in The Netherlands, go and look at your own countries. Not even the black population in the Dutch speaking countries are offended, they celebrate the holiday as well. And it has NOTHING to do with Xmas. about 35 people in The Netherlands are companing against Black Pete, the other 16 million don’t mind…and now everybody thinks they know what it is all about. Go do your homework and try to think for yourself instead of following the sheep. Oh by the way, Germany and Belgium celebrate it also.

  10. Its funny though how most international criticism on Black Pete comes from the USA, while those same people celebrate Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. Celebrating the start of the occupation and genocide of the native Americans, but they don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Hypocrisy anyone?

  11. this is quite a prejudice article: it starts by calling zwarte piet a fool, and then the article continues calling him a slave. this article shows your own personal issues about coming to terms with who you are, and you found this tradition perfect to blame it for your own inadequacies. sinterklaas and zwarte piet is for children, ofcourse zwarte piet is funny, me personally i cant keep a strait face when its sinterklaas is talking. would any child be interested if the sinterklaas news was brought like the news on cnn? please go and do someting usefull

  12. <>

    Funny these words give *you* any feeling of superiority…

  13. “You don’t have to have a degree in psychology or sociology to work out that the figure of Zwarte Piet, and the use of words like “neger” and “allochtoon” ensure the continued internalisation of ideas of superiority of white Dutch people.”

    Funny these words give *you* any feeling of superiority…

  14. First of all: get your facts straight. You’re article is overflowing with factual errors and is basically just extremely biased.

    To show you the other, and much more supported side of the story, here is the email I have sent to the lady who is the head of the UN research comity that is investigating the matter. Maybe you’ll learn something from it. For example that is not the Dutch people who have a problem with race, but you.

    Dear Ms. Shepherd,

    I am writing you this email regarding your recent comments on the celebration of ‘Sinterklaas’ in my country The Netherlands.

    It seems to me that you have been receiving some very biased information and therefore I am worried that you will start your upcoming investigation from a biased point of view. I would like you to read the following information in the hope I can show you the other, and much more supported, side of the story.

    What I would like you to understand is that nobody, rare exceptions aside, celebrates Sinterklaas with any form of racist intentions. That ‘Zwarte Piet’ (Black Pete) has a black skin colour is a clear fact. However, I do not see the problem with that. Zwarte Piet is a very positive character. He is gentle, generous, friendly, acrobatic, often very smart (the Zwarte Pieten handle all of Sinterklaas’ business (as his voluntary helpers/employees, not as his slaves)) and children love and adore him! More so than Sinterklaas.

    I can’t escape the notion that you seem to value skin colour as a thing of importance. I noticed that in your recent interview with a Dutch journalist you often start sentences with ‘As a black person…’. I must say that I consider this to be faulty manner of communication, especially for someone who has human rights as her profession.
    What would you think if I started arguments with ‘As a white person…’, or ‘As a person with blue eyes…’. Especially with the last example I’m sure you’ll see it doesn’t make any sense. Colour is not an argument. I can’t help but conclude that, just like the people who filed complaints against ‘Zwarte Piet’ in The Netherlands, you too look at the world in a, I’m sorry to say, racist manner. You value colour of skin. Well, I’m quite wonder-struck that I have to explain to you, a human rights worker, that the colour of someone’s skin does not and should not matter. Whether you have a black, brown, white, yellow or red skin, it is of no concern for anything and should never be used as an argument for anything! Anyone who feels differently about this is someone who divides the world in colour groups and is therefore a racist. This is what I believe to be the case with the people who see ‘Zwarte Piet’ as something racist. Not the people in The Netherlands who celebrate Sinterklaas and who love the character ‘Zwarte Piet’, without ever considering his black skin as anything negative whatsoever, are the racists, but the people who complain about it. They are the ones who seem to think skin colour matters. The people who like to celebrate Sinterklaas just want to keep their tradition the way it has always been. That’s it. If Zwarte Piet had always been blue we would have wanted him to stay blue. And the group of supporters of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet form a vast majority of 90% to 96% of the Dutch population (and are not just people with white skins).

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Yours faithfully,

  15. Zwarte Piet is not a slave-servant as suggested. ‘knecht’ is a helping hand who is getting paid for the services he does and is free to leave whenevee he wants. That brings us to the real problem, that a small minority of people have: his boss is a white man. Ieeeeeks, imagine yourself black men working for a white man; pure rascism! Or not, how many black people have white bosses? How many white people have white bosses?

    If you don’t believe it imagine Sinterklaas also being black, what image do we have then. A group of black people, with one being the elder boss bringing gifts to little children. What a superb image of integration that would be, and only by changing the color of the boss.

    So what’s he real problem?

    • I think the real problem is that the dutch, among many european(world)societies are extremely racist and they show no remorse about their racist and cruel past, tha’s the main problem among others, discrimnation, as a foreigner Zwarte Piet sounds diminishing and racist, but I understand that for many of you it’s not intended that way, but it hurts many people and gives a very stupid image of Holland. It’s not hurtful to me, but I can understand it is hurtful to other people who are as well being discriminated in Holland(Europe and in the rest of the world as well). You do understand this, do you?it’s not so much about Zwarte Piet but about what it represents. Greetings

  16. Anyone who has actually been to Holland and has witnessed the celebration of Sinterklaas would soon realize that Zwarte Piet has absolutely nothing to do with racism at all. It’s odd, very odd but it’s utterly, utterly harmless and brings great joy to countless children, black and white.By openly criticizing this people are introducing a young generation of children to the concept of discrimination.Something they should not even be aware of till their teens. Ok, so why do some people have a problem with it? Because they want to be politically correct? Because they got fired for doing a bad job and want to shout racism? because 300 years ago white people did really bad things to black people? Wake up and smell the coffee people, Sinterklaas is for the kids. They (black and white) get a real kick out of it and if you take it away you’ll have to explain why, to small children. Do you really want to do that?

    • Pretty insane! Lousy journalism, piecing together nonsense in order to prove your prejudice. We never ever sung: Sinterklaas enter with your black slave! The song goes: Sinterklaas, come and enter with your assistant, “Sinterklaasje kom maar binnen met uw knecht”. A farmer has assistants, and they are called: “knecht”. Is there anything wrong with being an assistant?? Millions of people must feel discriminated against because they have to go to a job everyday where they are not the boss! Reductio ad absurdum for those who have no sense of humour. Going back a really long way the word knight and knecht are also the same, not surprising since a knight is the helper/warrior of a nobleman.

      Anyway that is all historical hogwash, the thing that is really mindboggling is how little effort the UN professor has done to really understand a great celebration.

      The thing truly racist people from abroad don’t get is that they are looking into their own soul, and through their own racist eyes, seeing things that just are not there in The Netherlands. We Dutch are a very mixed people, according to the truly racist one drop rule from the US a very large minority of the people could be considered colored. Something like 10 to 20% are from Indonesian descent. I am from Indonesian descent, but look white, and my father did not.

      But nobody feels it that way, when you speak Dutch, you are. In the US on the other hand if your skin is black, even when you are the president, you are basically a descendant of a slave, or someone who really at the end of the day is less, never just a black person.

      So it is as always, if people find fault with others, what they are really seeing and experiencing is their own fear, anger, hatred and ignorance.

      Sinterklaas is a great, warm festival, a time of joy and coming together. Children eagerly waiting and hoping for presents, curious and a bit apprehensive about being called forward to Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, who will make mild fun of the kids, and once in a while a bit more fun of their father. Most of the grown up jokes about their father they won’t understand, but they will understand that even their dad is in awe of Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas. Good for the soul, being humble, giving thanks, being together.

      That is the essence of Sinterklaas, how could someone be so superficial, being a professor!!, and not even try to understand what it really is about.

      All this nonsense feels like a very early and depressing April’s fool’s day.

      • I don’t hundred percent agree with the article, it may sound exagerate, but the bottom line is that a lot of people find Zwarte Piet diminishing and hurtful, Don’t you think that’s the point you should discuss? Don’t you think what’s important here is that if you look from the outside it matches the fact that coloured people(or that second class dutch who are what you call marrocanen, turken, surinamers) suffer from considerable higher unemployment rates than white first class citicens and that those are discriminated(proved in various studies, try calling an uitzendbureu and asking for non alloctonen labour force, they probably answer, yes, of course, a lot of poeple ask for this, well, that’s is not legal, it’s a crime, agains the dutch grondwet to begin with). The truth is that Holland(and many, if not all, european lands) has to change their attitude towards minorities, and try showing remorse and respect. You may be lucky you are white on the outside, otherwise you’d have experience a completely differnt life in Holland, and you won’t have a job, probably. So let’s face it and don’t be so sensitive, you know with all that zwarte scholen and nasty things that people say about minorities and no one responds, let’s make several things politically incorrect and show that we respect all races, religions, and also people with no money.Greetings

    • The problem is that dutch society is racist, this leads that foreigners and minorities consider zwarte piet a weird character, if you watch Disney movies, for instance, the idiot has an african american accent, in spanish it´s a southamerican, it´s not fair to classify people with behaviour, zwarte piet is somehow dumb, it doesn´t relly matter if it´s meant to be racist, because it makes the conexion, black are idiots and servants. It´s not the dutch fault, we do it all over the world and we got to stop with this, and this includes women, muslims, etc. It´s just a polite request, please think about what hurts other people or what makes that people tend to think racist and try to stop that. Greetings

  17. You know what I don`t understand.
    Sinterklaas wasn`t a racist party until now!
    I live in Holland, and I am black.
    For as long as I can remember, Sinterklaas has always been a Dutch tradition. When the whole discussion about black Pete started, I thought aren`t people overreacting, to a harmless childrens party.
    I understood both parties, black and white.
    Because everbody, is entitled to their own opinion.
    And it is a tradition for a lot of children.
    I don`t think, everbody, sees ‘black Pete, as something racist.
    But I could understand, why it would hurt some black people,
    from an historic point.
    When the discussion started, it was a civilized disscusion,
    with an concrete question.
    The question was; Is ‘black Pete a racist symbol? yes or no?
    Everybody, had an opinion, but the atmosfere was, normal.
    Within a few days, the ‘Dutch ‘media jumped on the item.
    On every show, causing a frenzy and commotion.
    Mrs Shepard voiced her opinion, a lot of people didn`t agree,
    including some colored people.
    A facebookpage was created to keep ‘Black Pete as a tradition in the childrensparty.
    When the website was created, people voiced their opinion,
    Nothing wrong with that.
    The media jumped on the site.
    Within a few days, the whole atmosfere changed!
    What started of as a normal discussion, suddenly became
    an platform, for real racism!
    The opinions on the facebookpage, went from, normal opinions, and reactions. To really racist remarks, about black people.
    People, who already had racist ideas, saw it as a change to voice their opinion. I have read some off the reactions, on the page,
    and I am shocked and horrified.
    I can`t understand that a discussion about ,an so called innocent childrensparty and tradition, became such a platform for real racism.
    Now I am starting to wonder, if mrs Sheperd isnMeanwhile real problems and issues that are more important, are not being adressed. Like ,People who don`t have enough money to pay their morgage, an unemployment rate that is sky high.
    I think, If people want to celebrate Sinterklaas, just do it,
    but dont use it as an excuse for your frustration and real racist thoughts.

  18. The article is somewhat direct, but many things are true, I can understand that many dutch find it hard to accept, but the dutch is an over average racist society, its no Austria of Finland but it is a land in which you can openly say something discriminatory about dutch muslims or dutch black people and no one would stand for them, this is in many lands in Europe(mine for instance) politically incorrect, and, alas, we are also racist but there’s a border I’m glad we do not cross too easy, we don’t let racists or the racist in each one of us have their say without concious harm. I live in Holland for more than 10 years, I was surprised when I first saw Zwarte Piet, I know that for many people this is not bad intended, but it is hurtful because the european societies are racist societies, this just adds to their high unemployment rates, the way the’re treated and their feeling as underclass or secondary citicens. There are a number of things that I like about Holland, but Holland is not a tolerant country, on the contrary, it’s a quite strict polarized society and people tend to be very hard en controlling with each other, and surprisingly we let them do this. What I miss from the dutch it to look deeply into their society, to run down the dutch way of life and to know who they are, to change what they don’t like and what’s harmful to others. I would never support any diminishing image of a certain groep, I just don’t like that, it’s not funny, and I know that for most it’s not intended that way, but I would change it, and as a foreigner I don’t think I am eny better than dutch, just trying to help here. Greetings

    • @Fran
      You CANNOT openly say something discriminatory. It’s against the law. Freedom of speech is restricted in article 1 of the constitution: “[…] discrimination on account of: religious ground, political preferences, race, gender or any ground whatsoever, is not allowed”

      I have no problem with changing Piet color, but I honestly don’t really understand why Piet is considered racist/discriminatory. Can someone explain that to me please? I could be wrong, but I think it is often based on misconceptions. A lot of foreign people write that Zwarte Piet is archaic. Well, traditions usually are, that’s why they’re called traditions.

      If changing Piet’s color to green for example, would solve the problem then go for it. The reason many people don’t want this is probably because the transition could reveal to children that Sinterklaas en pieten are not real (also because it’s an old tradition and change is difficult for people) and to a lesser extent that it might be considered as an admission of guilt.

      • Gernand, it may be against the law, but ‘my first years in Amsterdam I could not believe wat I was hearing from good educated grown-ups over minorities like say from moroccan of surinams origin or moslim religion, in my work for instance, and no one would correct them as pointing out that that was inaproppiate(With colleagues of those origins in the room or nearby). I was specilly surprised that those people would make statements about the way the moroccan look, like, the women have a moustache, hahah, or something like that, as if they were perfect looking people. I don’t think dutch are more racist than say spaniards, but I think a lot of people is aware that there’s something politically incorrect the way some people here refer to minorities or just the way people look. I don’t really know if Piet is discriminatory, it’s just the combination of a discriminatory society(Almost the whole western societies are discriminatory societies) with a such a tradition. If you look back in history there many scornful portraits of black people being look down on or making a fool of themselves, Piet looks pretty much like this portraits, maybe you’re used to it because you grew up with it, but as a foreigner let me say that it looks and feels politically incorrect, but it’s not the real problem, you’re right about that. Let me say, as well, that tradictions are not archaic, their origin is archaic, but they evolve in different ways, and as society changes and what’s pollitically correct also changes so must change the way we enjoy our traditions, not only in Holland, everywhere. Greetings, Fran

  19. First translation mistake in this artice is the word ‘slave/servant’. In no Dutch book or notes Zwarte Piet is called a slave. We don’t use the word ‘slaaf’. It are friendly helpers like Santa’s elves. (Sinterklaas and Santa are not the same by the way!)

    Second mistake is how allochtoon is used. It’s not only for non-white people and I’m sure that every country had a word for foreigner. This article makes me quite upset as a Dutch person because it insults me, taking part o a tradition that has always been there for me. Not looking at the Zwarte Pieten on a bad level at all. Love them. Next to that, as shown, this article is not correct on many issues. To bad. Hope this is not your guys only source on judging the question. Especially if you didn’t grow up in the Netherlands, you need more sources then one from an outside point of view.

  20. without critisism from the outside there is no progression on the inside: this is the first axioma that defines Europe’s ancient vision, so for me it doesn’t matter where the debate started; when you make a point, you make a point.
    I’m not offended by a festival with a discriminating origin
    but more by people that refuse to reconize that well known fact.

    off topic:

    by repeating so called reports about violence and criminal acts done by ‘allochtonen’ people get programmed to believe none of them are part of the social inner circle.

    even my friends believe anything the tube says and that is scary stuff because after Geert Wilders has spoken about how ‘allochtonen’ are 9? times more ‘likely’ to get involved with the justice system (which is a semantic play of words) they look up to me and tell me that’s true and ask for explanation or an excuse on my side, like I do pro bono work as a representative for an entire group of people.

    getting involved with the justice system could easily mean, someone has pointed you as a suspect because you look suspicious- get it? happened to me many many many times
    but it still has to be reported and turned in to a statistic.
    and let’s not forget the false reports done by the beneficiaries so they can get money from the insurance companies.
    the rest is just a hype and plain juxtapose (yes, I am an intellectual)

    remember the sopranos saying: ‘oh those two guys’ (black)

    also the word allochtoon is split in two:
    non western allochtoon (dark) = many regulations
    western allochtoon (not dark) = less regulations

    result: big difference in treatment by authorities without even touching the muslim aspect of it all.

    I have a skintone and white chicks love it so I just have to fight racism another way with my dark ‘dominant’ genes.
    as I recall my biology courses

    but I refuse to be pushed in a corner by limited souls with no original thoughts of their own. like in biology: it turns out into a fysical confrontation which I never walk away from, unlike Jesus.

  21. Pingback: Spreker op aankomend Basta! debat over Zwarte Piet bedreigd | Nieuws | Kritische Studenten Utrecht

  22. Joanna,

    The article seems to be more of a hurdle of opinions than actual facts and therefore I think that your article does not resemble the Dutch society at all.

    Unfortunately, since it’s in English, the opinions and misconceptions you heaped together will find its way to a global audience.

    I was raised in the Netherlands and currently reside in the US. I travel quite a bit (off the tourist tracks) on a global level and have a strong understanding of what goes around economically, demographically and above all, socially on mother earth.

    My personal conclusion is simple – the Dutch can be considered one of the most intellectually profound, advanced and least racist people on the planet. If you think that black people or foreigners in general are being 2nd ranked in the Netherlands, you should probably come take a look at that aspect in the US.

    The Netherlands is in absolutely no way or form 50 years behind, as a matter of fact, the opposite is more likely to be the case.

    As far as the Black Pete tradition is concerned — I’m sure that over time a transition will take place to where the color will be switched up or something along those lines, as people will get tired of debating about it. Do I care for Pete being black? Absolutely not, as in my books, it’s tradition. Hence the same reasoning applies to festivities as Thanksgiving and Kwanzaa.

    I think I caught a glimpse of an updated article in the commenting section — already marked it in my “must read” list.


  24. I just want to compare this to something else. I am gay. In the second world war, 10.000 gays were killed and many many more were castrated and so on. What must I do now? Hate all Germans? Hate German parties? Eh, no in fact I love Germany and go there several times per year. Why? Because it’s been more than 70 years and I don’t think the Germans that are living now are responsible for what happened that relatively short period ago.

    Now back to black Pete (in my opinion created to put an end to slavery, because in that time normally no one would have created festivities and drawings of black slaves, so I really think Sinterklaas was being used to show the public the new progressive way to go… free slaves and show that Black Pete was a free man who stayed with st nicolas as his helper by himself, not forced)…

    Why do black (or whatever colour of the skin) people keep coming back to things happened more than 300 (!!!) years ago? Of course that should never have happened, of course we must not forget and learn from past mistakes, but why are people now personally offended by this? 300 years… no one living now in The Netherlands has witnessed the slavery from that time personally, neither did their parents, grand-parents or the parents before. Why personally keep bringing this up over and over and over again as if someone attacks them personally?

    As someone stated earlier… without that, no one would even think about this being racist. By bringing this up over and over again, linking their own colour to slavery over and over again, keeps this alive in a very bad way.

    Colour does not matter! So if you are white, yellow, black or whatever… don’t use your colour to make statements. If I would say all the time that I am a white man, people would go crazy. But some black persons keep saying I am a / as a black (wo)man… why the fuck?

    And the last thing… why are coloured people so offended by black Pete? If they feel that he is like them (regarding colour) then they should not be offended by him I guess? Why get rid of him? Why would you get rid of someone who’s like you? Isn’t that in a strange way also a kind of racism? If you want to get rid of someone (based on the false facts and feelings, but okay…) shouldn’t you get rid of Sinterklaas himself? Because, if you’re right… he’s the one using someone as a slave isn’t he?

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