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Annual Zwarte Piet debate

19th November 2003, Comments40 comments

Annual Zwarte Piet debate
Every year in the run-up to the Sinterklaas feast day on 5 December, expats join Dutch people in debating whether Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature or a loveable fairytale figure.

Saint Nicholas is the Christian source for Father Christmas or Santa Claus, who comes bearing gifts for children in the early morning of 25 December. The main difference is that the enterprising Dutch hooked up with a jovial present-giver who arrives earlier in the month.

Although it seems he is also based on Saint Nicholas, this fellow goes by the name Sinterklaas. He traditionally arrives by boat in the Netherlands from Spain in the third week of November and gets the presents to children and — often to adults too — by 5 December.

He provides a good service? Yes, indeed he does, or rather the credit should go to his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, or Black Piets.

Herein lays the crux of the problem: is Zwarte Piet his assistant, helper or slave?

And why is Zwarte Piet black with trademark dark curly hair and large gold earrings despite the fact the role is generally played by white, native Dutch people who think it is so amusing to don black face paint?

A gollywog or a miniature Zwarte Piet?


Sinterklaas, on the other hand, is based a white Christian Archbishop with flowing robes and a long white beard.

In short, why does Zwarte Piet bear a very close resemblance to the traditional gollywog doll, which has long since been consigned to the "politically incorrect" sin bin of history?

The gollywog was one of the first things to get the chop in 1987 when publishers of books by children's' author Enid Blyton agreed to expunge all "racism" from her works. Her gollywogs have now been transformed into neutral gnomes.

Who is this dark stranger?

Depending on the commentator's disposition towards the character, Zwarte Piet is either an Ethiopian orphan who was saved by slavery by Sinterklaas, a chimney sweep (who presumably hasn't had time to have a bath) or a "Moorish assistant" who really enjoys doing all the work for his white friend.

Or according to website zoz.nl, Zwarte Piet could be a modern version of a "wizard that helped the community stay in contact with the Gods".

"And like a shaman who appears as a little devil, Piet has attired himself in the clothes of the hated Spanish soldiers (who occupied the south of the Netherlands in the 16th century). An optimal contrast to the good Saint Nicholas."

Many of his supporters insist that far from being a slave to the white man, Piet was a little black devil Sinterklaas had to protect us from.

Hopefully all that unpleasantness is behind us now and it is just fun for all the family. And indeed anyone can help distribute the presents on 5 December.

The website zoz.nl explains how you too can transform yourself into a Zwarte Piet: "a real Piet can be recognised by his black make-up, red lipstick, perm curls, frilly collar, hat and tights. We refer to Piet as he or him, but Piet can also have considerable female attributes: many helper Piets have real breasts under a loose blouse and abundant, unnecessary space in their puffy pantaloons."

How very equal opportunity!


Contributors to Expatica have been divided on the issue over the years.

"It's a great tradition. Every year, children's eyes are full of fright when the old, white, bearded man comes back into the country with his black helpers," argued one Dutch Expatica columnist.

"Sinterklaas comes from Madrid, the Spanish capital, and, for all these children know, Madrid is very far away. The colour of these helpers has a lot in common with the colour of the chimneys they have to climb down in. That's why they are the colour that they are."

But then he explained that "the helpers are there to check on the behaviour of the children over the past year. If the kids have behaved badly, they are given no presents. And there is a chance that they will get slapped on their buttocks with the "roede" or, even worse, put into the helper's bag and taken back to that faraway country."


Zwarte Piet remains unfazed by criticism.


Humbug, countered fiery Canadian expat columnist Kevin Lowe.

"My first reaction to Zwarte Piet was one of absolute horror. Fresh from a politically correct university career in North America, the idea of what is essentially a black face struck me as an abhorrent anachronism, bizarre in a modern, 'progressive' country," Lowe wrote.

"The Dutch will go to great lengths to explain that Zwarte Piet is not a caricature of a black servant, that he is not a racist stereotype playing step-n-fetch-it for his master

"But that is exactly what he is. If the application of black make-up weren't enough to convince you, the "Moorish" outfit of earrings, kinky hair and pantaloons should cinch it.

"To understand the endurance of an icon like Zwarte Piet is to know the gaping divide between tolerance and acceptance, between a multi-cultural society and one which is Dutch with buitenlanders on the begrudging periphery. It is one of the subtle paradoxes of Dutch culture, but one I believe illustrates perfectly the hypocrisy and passive aggressiveness of the Dutch character. "

Over to you

Heady stuff.

Our readers have not been shy either about pronouncing judgment on these two, very different interpretations of the Dutch icon.

"I found Lowe's views in his Zwarte Piet article to be ridiculous. Sinterklaas has nothing to do with racism, or even symbols of slavery. It has to do with the same cheer as commercial X-mas. This is a festival for children, where dirty-faced helpers — and children are also dirty-faced helpers — are given candy," replied one reader last year.

Another attacked Kraal for referring to the child recipients of Zwarte Piet's largesse as "brats" and his "simplistic and ultimately nasty" analysis of the issue.

What do you think? Have your say in the Expatica Discussion Forum about Zwarte Piet.

Updated 3 December 2004




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40 comments on this article Add a comment

  • 10th November 2008, 07:06:19 Chris posted:
    Interesting fact is that Zwarte Piet is actually of Moorish persuasion, hence the dress, afro and earrings. He has nothing to do with afro-americans, racism or any other tail. It has grown to be that Saint Nicholas has become a white person (while he is originally Turkish). Initially, they were all more or less the same 'color' although from different cultures.
    What are we discussing here? This is just a very harmless fairy for children.
  • 14th November 2008, 01:31:36 1.Prawda posted:

    We are the discussing the stereotypical images of Zwarte Piet [with big red lips, white teeth and bugged-out eyes] that are offensive to many everyday people in Amsterdam. These people probably include your friends and colleagues.

    please check this link to educate yourself

  • 16th November 2008, 00:04:00 Anouk posted:
    And the American version of Santa's helpers are OK? Little people might feel offended as well..

    It is interesting to see that these discussions only take place in English. I have yet to find a Dutch discussion on the so-called controversy of the Zwarte Pieten.

    I grew up in Holland and many of my friends are not white. No Dutch child (white or not)or adult for that matter sees Zwarte Piet as a black person. The Zwarte Pieten, just as Sinterklaas are characters in a holiday story, just like Santa and his elves.

    In analyzing this tradition you should not forget that everyone is culturally biased by default and what is considered politically correct in the States is not necessarily true in the rest of the world.

    Living in the States I do see that people find Zwarte Piet controversial. I try to keep an open mind when I look at other people's tradition's and I wish that this Dutch tradition would be treated with the same open mind.

    Don't just repeat what others have said about it but try and come to Holland around that time and experience the celebration yourself, together with a Dutch family.

    I would like to hear if it changes your view on the subject!

  • 2nd November 2009, 22:47:55 King Leopold II posted:
    Anouk, If you don't think that Zwarte Piet portrays a black person, [edited] have a little read about the history of Zwarte Piet (from 1850 onwards), and the things going on in your colonies about that time - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zwarte_Piet.
    I am in Flanders at the moment, and am completely dumbstruck by the flagrant racist imagery, which have popped up everywhere. Zwarte Piet characters are typically performed by white people dressed in a renaissance minstrel’s outfit complete with blackface, painted red lips, and an ‘afro’-wig. The characters usually speak in a ‘stupid’ or Surinamese accent, and are portrayed as childlike and mischievous when performing in public or on television programmes. There is further evidence that such characters are subjected to racist ridicule, as evidenced by the following ‘satire’ which was released onto public television as late as 2007 and is available on the following URL with almost 450,000 views: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2H6SXaWxuo
    P.S. I am not American, I was raised in New Zealand. It's not just the Americans that would have a reaction to Zwarte Piet, I'm sure Canadians, Australians, the English, French and other Europeans would see this as racist. In fact, the Zwarte Piet aspect is probably the most racist public celebration I can think of, its almost satirical, [edited by moderator] The problem is that this is real, this is a modern, rich, and educated Western society (the Netherlands and Flanders) and it's the 21st century. Wake up! Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature and damaging to children. The only reason you don't think the same is because of the psychological pressure caused by conforming to Dutch-speaking society is warping your view of reality - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments
  • 24th November 2009, 01:31:40 Nysse posted:
    I strongly agree with Anouk, but since I grew up in the Netherlands too you will probably extend your presumptions to me being brainwashed too. I pesonally believe the origin of Zwarte Piet is that of the Ethiopian slaveboy Piter, whom Nicholas bought free at a slavemarket somewhere along the Mediterranian who voluntarily stayed with him as a servant (presumably because he had nowhere else to go). Before WW2 therfor, Sinterklaas had only one 'Zwarte Piet', playing the part of Sinterklaas' companion At the end of the war, someone invited Canadian troops to help out with the activities, and that's how the bunch of mischievous Zwarte Pieten came to be: the combination of servant and troop of cheerful young men. As for present day: Children don't know what racism is untill you throw a fit about it. Zwarte Piet is a character, just like Sinterklaas. Piet may be mischievous, but Sinterklaas also tends to come across as a slightly senile old man. I've never heard anyone complain about that. @ King Leopold: that link is , as you mention SATIRE. It's from a show that is known to push buttons, and it's meant to stir the cringing feeling that you got. By doing so, it prooves that this is not the way Zwarte Piet is seen. That's what makes it satire. I could just easily remark that women are ridiculed in that clip, but I know what satire is. I grew up with Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, and I assure you I don't think I've been damaged in any way. (Hint: I don't really believe all black people are like Zwarte Piet, just like I don't really believe people actually ride horses on my roof) [Edited by moderator] Stop screaming racism when there's no reason to. Doing so is more racist than you might think ;-)
  • 25th November 2009, 14:58:06 Mark T. Worthy posted:
    Read the seminal work on the subject by Professor Dr. Allison Blakely of Boston University, "Blacks in the Dutch World." You will find that the topic is placed into context with varifiable and supporting references.
  • 6th December 2009, 17:18:29 sandra posted:
    I can understand that some people find it offensive and racist. No doubt that it has some bad history. From what I've read, the Zwarte Piet is quite racist in Flanders. He speaks with a Surinamese accent and acts childish. This is very offensive, and I do think it has to change.

    But Sinterklaas is different in The Netherlands. Zwarte Piet isn't just a servant, he's a friend, much like Santa's elves. And he can be a jolly kid or a professor. So I don't consider it racist. As a kid, I've always been told he's black because he climbs down chimneys. Sinterklaas does not create little racists.
  • 7th December 2010, 09:34:03 André posted:
    BTW funny nickname, King Leopold II (of Belgium), for somebody who wants to blame a society for having a four century old cultural-fest and call that a racist thing. The fest already existed before the Netherlands acquired colonies.
    King Leopold practically owned the Congo and the ruling of it was not very understanding towards the people there. But maybe that is what works best there and that is why you adopted the nick?
  • 7th December 2010, 12:44:34 Shrike posted:
    Most of you is why racism still lives. You can't see beyond the race issue into the absurd, humor, and the who cares. Most of my black friends see well beyond the racism. They are always picking on me with their black humor because I am white. They turn racist jokes backwards. To me they are just that, fiends. Don't care about color. Respect is earned not given.
  • 15th November 2011, 15:44:07 Kiki posted:
    I am not Dutch but my husband is and he loves Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas. I am black and I find certain images offensive..... no matter how much I try to pretend it doesn't. I particularly find offensive, the images of Zwarte Piet as a short black man with ridiculously huge lips, big buggy eyes and a big afro. This is a typical, RACIST caricature of a black person that the rest of the civilised world threw out ages ago. I've allowed my kids to partake in Sinterklaas celebrations since birth but it's something I feel very unsure about. I don't understand how many Dutch people can't see how offensive this image is.... it's on wrapping paper, cds, sweets.
  • 16th November 2011, 02:34:26 Gloria posted:
    Having read Kiki's post 5 years after this debate started, I guess it shows that the only people who continue to claim to not see the offence in the entire "Zwarte Piet caricature" are certain white Dutch people. Thankfully, they are in the minority. I think that this can be said of all predominantly White cultures: there is a lack of empathy when people who have not historically been disadvantaged by slavery, colonialism or institutional racism and are not under or poorly represented in popular culture, sport, music and mainstream society, and the fact that we even have to explain that despite Zwarte Piet being jovial, going down a chimney does not, has not and will never give you an AFRO! [Edited by moderator] It honestly is a shame for such a seemingly tolerant and otherwise amicable society to reveal hypocritical behaviour every single year, despite the number of Dutch-born or naturalised citizens of African/other non-white heritage protesting this tasteless exercise year-in-and-year-out. Having lived here for 4 years now, (married to a Dutchman) I have tried to respect a lot of the cultural differences, but I cannot change the fact that I am black, and no matter how many times I have tried to filter it through a cultural understanding and tolerance filter, I simply still find it offensive. Zwarte Piet himself is not offensive, the CONTEXT of his character (and yes, he is fictional) is racist. The fact that Dutch people at one time in History enriched themselves at the expense of so many people of color, and that they used to hold views of "stupid" and "mischievous" and "sooty" and "labouring" black people is not peripheral to the existence of "Zwarte Piet". Is there no kinder and more dignified and respectful way of teaching children the REAL History of their country? Even if he is fictional! So what? The Dutch involvement in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and in colonialism were not fiction. The institutional discrimination, abuse and demonization of black people today in subtle and insidious ways is not and was not fictional. Don't we owe it to all of the Black Dutch and White Dutch to celebrate progress, development and advancement in a more modern way?
  • 17th November 2011, 23:59:42 Hannes MInkema posted:
    Gloria, the problem with the way in which you continue this discussion is that you put your opponents in a Catch-22 situation. Either they agree with you, and then you have won the discussion. Or they continue to disagree with you, and then they prove ignorant by your standards, or even hateful and bigoted, which implies that you have also won this discussion.

    This situation decreases the possibility of a sincere exchange of arguments and opinions pretty much down to zero. Just like the possibility of *mutual* understanding and respect.
  • 19th November 2011, 13:27:22 martin posted:
    Hello Im from the Netherlands and i do agree that zwarte Piet is not something from this time, Dutch people think its normal because they dont know the history of this event , and the history of this event is very hurtfull and shocking , cause you can best believe that the real black Pete had a horrible life ,and to turn that into a celebration is very shocking to the people who know the facts, and if people wanna say he have that face for climbing through a chimney ,then why his clothes are allways clean? [Edited by moderator] if the Dutch government think that zwarte Piet is correct, just invite Barack Obama over for dinner on 5 december , [edited] the original Piet is a black cervant who is not too smart and allways obeys his master and he talks with a Suriname accent , i tell you when you a young black kid sitting in class you feel very confused ,.....Im 32 years old and was born in Denhaag and i never liked Zwarte piet id rather celebrate christmas ! real talk
  • 19th November 2011, 17:57:02 Jennifer posted:
    I lived in the Netherlands for decades and am puzzled and confused. For a country claiming to be so liberal and tolerant and then to be genuinely shocked and immediately emotionally offended when you tell them that this is one of the most insulting and racist remains of the past 500 years of slavery and colonialism.

    The Netherlands needs to grow up pretty fast and de-racialize its Sinterklaas feest. The most straight forward way is to paint Piet in all colours of the rainbow and get rid of his Afro, but this is undebatable in Holland with emotions really getting sky high..

    Why are the Dutch so keen to hold on to actually a very recently acquired (1850 is not that long) tradition. The whole idea that the children like it so it is good is ridiculous. Children like Tom and Jerry bashing each other up do, but that does not mean that we condone random violence or do we?
  • 23rd November 2011, 10:57:29 Kaya posted:
    It is time this celebration is changed. Please sign the petition below to prevent our children from being taught that racial stereotyping is ok: http://www.change.org/petitions/dutch-ministry-of-education-get-zwarte-piet-as-a-blackface-tradition-out-of-dutch-schools
  • 22nd October 2012, 21:09:01 Piet (de Zwarte) posted:
    It is our tradition, and not yours. I tend to find many day-to-day choice English language phrase referring to Dutch as being "bad", or those typres depicted on wooden shoes with fingers in the dike, equally offensive and stereotypical.

    Of course we cannot say anything about the annual "Catholic" burning fest in the Commonwealth, called Guy Fawkes Night. This is also known as November 5 bonfire night in Canada and all. I don't because im a guest, and cant challenge my hosts.

    When I'm in the English speaking world, I will be sure not to celebrate "Sinterklaas", but when I'm home, I do what and however I please. Black make-up or not.

    It is our tradition and we can do, and will do what we please. That is why we call it Holland, the land of Hollanders.
  • 6th November 2012, 03:47:32 Dont call me Piet posted:
    I'm thinking if this is the last year I'll ignore children calling me Zwarte Piet. [Edited by moderator]. Ask the black children who are being called Zwarte Piet each year if they think it's funny. The land of the Hollanders has black people too and we don't want to be called zwarte piet because you think it's so much fun to play black-face every december!
  • 20th November 2012, 15:52:41 Bart Anderson posted:
    @Jennifer: You say: 'The Netherlands needs to grow up pretty fast and de-racialize its Sinterklaas feest." You are wrong. I am (Dutch and) sick and tired of Anglosaxons telling us what our culture is and isn't. Your minstrel or gollywog is not the same as Zwarte Piet. One of my colleagues is black and from Surinam. She tells me Sinterklaas is celebrated in the former colony as well, the only difference being that the Zwarte Pieten wear no make-up, while Sinterklaas is a black person wearing whiteface. [Edited by moderator]
  • 30th November 2012, 12:46:32 Racism is racism posted:
    Not too sure that's accurate Bart. http://www.rnw.nl/english/bulletin/dutch-santa-faces-ban-suriname
  • 1st December 2012, 11:22:18 Amber posted:
    How I think about Zwarte Piet, and how changes should be made:

    I do agree that Zwarte Piet is racist, and needs to change, the question is how. And how to make the Dutch in general understand the very necessity of this change.
    What is most important to realise with how much (positive) sentiment Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet are valued by the main public. Almost everybody loves them deeply (and I do too), their roots lie so deep in Dutch culture and tradition, that every attack on them is being felt as an attack on Dutch identity and culture.

    Second, one must realise that Zwarte Piet is seen as a positive figure. A role model so to speak, who is fun, and friendly. Sinterklaas is often seen as the strict, and slightly scary old man, where Zwarte Piet is much easier to associate with for kids. This makes it extremely hard for Dutch people to see the relation with racism. People who aren't (intentionally) racist, and don't see themselves as racist, and often have a positive image of black people do not like to be called racist. And rightly so, because they aren't really. They just honestly don't realise they are being racist (which is often hard to notice of yourself anyway).

    There are also a lot of children who don't associate Zwarte Piet with a black person at all. I for one never did. The first time I realised there might be a connection was when I was about 12, and saw a discussion about the subject on TV, and even then I was pretty confused about why black people would feel offended, because surely Zwarte Piet wasn't a black person at all, it was just soot from the chimneys.
    What I want to demonstrate with this example of my own experience is how incredibly hard it is to see how people can feel offended by something you only see (for as long as you remember) as something extremely positive, that you look up to.

    However, the caricature of the 'Morish' black man with rings in his ears and big red lips IS racist. It is not intended that way, but it is. And it does hurt people, so it needs to change. Zwarte Piet cannot be banned, or completely changed at once. That's like banning Christmas trees, or replacing them with ferns or something. It's also disrespectful towards the tradition. So I think change needs to happen gradually.

    Maybe we can start by replacing the entirely black faces with a lot of soot in the first year, but keeping the wigs and red lips, and a little less soot in the year after that. The next year the hair could be changed to different, fun colours as well. A year later there can be subtle experiments with other things as well. There are amazing possibilities for the make up. Piets could become more varied and fun even. But the main point is that every change has to be very subtle, cause people have to adjust to it. Also the kids shouldn't notice that Zwarte piet suddenly is completely different. Cause in the end, it is about the kids. Societies don't change overnight, and people in general don't like changes, especially to things that are Sacred to them, and Sinterklaas and Piet are sacred.

    If the changes are subtle, and gradually enough, people won't even notice them, and get used to it without a feeling of loss. If the government makes sure those subtle changes are made each year during the Arrival of Sinterklaas and in schools (perhaps malls as well, although I don't know how that's organised), the rest will follow. And in 10 or 20 years the Dutch will be laughing about their silly, and bizarre racist depiction of Piet from the past.
  • 1st December 2012, 22:26:56 Sluggy posted:
    In German, Swiss and Austrian folklore, (as well as in other European countries) Saint Nicholas's helper is called KRAMPUS. Krampus's appearance is somewhat demonic, with goat horns, a long tongue, often hoofed feet. He carries with him a basket containing fruit to give to good children, a burlap sack, and a bundle of twigs to castigate bad children with. Krampus is essentially the same figure as Zwarte Piet.
    Over times, in Holland and Flanders Zwarte Piet acquired a more human form and became more humorous than fearsome. Zwarte Piet's "Moorish" appearance is undoubtedly related to the "Eighty Year's War" (Spanish occupation of what would become the Netherlands). People back then, up until a century or even 50 years ago had never even seen a black man.
    I understand how some people think Zwarte Piet is racist (my US girlfriend is shocked and amused by the phenomenon), Seen through contemporary, 21st century eyes the depiction of Zwarte Piet probably is racist. One crucial factor is that there is no racist INTENT.
    The Piet phenomenon is not comparable to Al Jolson blackface or minstrel shows in the US back in the 30's. It's not about ridiculing black people. The politically correct Zeitgeist of today even demands that the headwear of St. Nicholas, a BISHOP, may no longer haveh a Christian cross on ot for this for this would "offend" muslims.
  • 18th October 2013, 18:57:13 more sluggy posted:
    To add to sluggy:
    The first origin of Sinterklaas and his helpers can probably be found in the Wild Hunt of Wodan. Riding the white horse Sleipnir he flew through the air as the leader of the Wild Hunt. He was always accompanied by two black ravens, Huginn and Muninn. [2] Those helpers would listen, just like Zwarte Piet, at the chimney - which was just a hole in the roof at that time - to tell Wodan about the good and bad behaviour of the mortals.[3][4] During Christianization, Pope Gregory I argued that conversions were easier if people were allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditions, while claiming that the traditions were in honour of the Christian God; the Saint Nicolas tradition is one of them, converting Wodan to a Christian counterpart.[citation needed]
    The Harii (Latinized West Germanic "warriors"[1]) were, according to 1st century CE Roman historian Tacitus, a Germanic people. In his work Germania, Tacitus describes them as painting themselves and their shields black, and attacking at night as a ghostly army, much to the terror of their opponents. Theories have been proposed connecting the Harii to the Einherjar of much later Norse mythology, and to the tradition of the Wild Hunt.
  • 24th October 2013, 00:42:09 Hans Vanmechelen posted:
    It is fascinating to see the polarised opinions on the issue...but also a bit frightening how an innocent (enough) tradition is judged so harshly.
    It seems like two feelings prevail: coloured people feeling discriminated and/or personally offended. Well...

    There is most definitely no correlation at all between racist 'morals' of a citizen and his/her love for this tradition. For foreigners this may be hard to grasp... but then i suppose also this is a matter of culture.

    Then...about feeling offended. May I compare this with religious issues? Remember Mony Python's life of Bryan? I was quite a strong christian believer at that time...but i never felt offended in any way.on the contrary: it was hi-la-ri-ous... it was just plain fun.

    The way how we can see the relativity of things...how we don't get strangled in political correctness... in a context where freedom of speech doesn't cause violence but helps through humor and irony smoothen the way we cope with differences in our world,... is, i hope, a sort of moral richness and ripeness where others also can learn from...

    the extreme negative reactions of certain islamic fundamentalists on cartoons and
  • 24th October 2013, 00:49:22 Hans Vanmechelen posted:
    ...that ridiculising movie last year illustrate this difference too, in how we cope with those issues. there is a strong difference between words and deeds.
    of course there is a grey zone...and a risk of harmless thoughts and ideas becoming a threat to human rights... history is full of examples...but here, as far as zwarte piet is concerned, i think our civilisation is strong enough to keep this under control ;)
  • 24th October 2013, 15:56:05 TAJ posted:
    Really, the discussion has gone long enough without reaching any kind of conclusion. The people who are against Zwarte Piet keep repeating the same cons (offensive, racial profiling) and the people who are pro Zwarte Piet keep repeating theirs (cultural significance).
    To be quite frank with you, I care little about an American's opinion on a Dutch festival, or an Australian view on a Dutch habit. Please realise that while your opinions are valid, they are only valid as your opinions. Please realise that you are commenting on a country you have likely never visited. Please realise that most of the "facts" you are being told are just plain lies.
    For one, I have yet to meet a kid who refers to a black person on the street as Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet is tied to an event. Every Zwarte Piet is a black man, but not every black man is Zwarte Piet. Secondly, the idea that Sinterklaas leads to racism is quite laughable; Zwarte Piet is a hero. Children in primary schools want to be him. A long standing tradition is children getting there "Pieten Diploma" in gym class, as prove that they are as nimble as Zwarte Piet. We have television shows (probably the most popular kid shows in the country) dedicated to their actions.

    If Zwarte Piet offends you, that is a shame. If you want to debate on it, that's fine. But realise that at the end of the day, if you are not Dutch, you cannot possibly have all the facts on a Dutch festival. Just imagine how you would react if Pakistan called the US and told them to abolish Santa Claus because it is offensive to little people.
  • 24th October 2013, 17:57:49 Lisa posted:
    I am black AND I am dutch. I can tell you, i have been called 'zwarte piet' very often. So your assumption that nobody refers to black people as zwarte piet is just wrong. The whole thing is offending and painful. That people are not dutch does not strip them of their right to comment on the dutch blackface tradition.

    Zwarte Piet is something totally different when you are a black child. Do you have any understanding what it does to young black children to see people dressed up as black face, with the big red lips, afro hair, golden earrings, with a crooked accent, being the dumb servant of a white man? Every year black people are being reminded of the slave trade because of this stupidity. And the fact that everybody keeps denying it, makes it even more painful.

    And if it's such a typical dutch tradition that nobody has the right to comment on, then WHY do you need to mimic black people to carry out that tradition?? Why can't you just leave us alone and celebrate your tradition with white Petes? Problem solved!

    As long as dutch people need to put down minorities with their 'tradition', people have the right to comment on it!
  • 24th October 2013, 19:27:47 lelijkaard posted:
    it's just part of the culture, so if you as a non-duchman or -belgian say that it is racist, you just don't understand the culture
    @all the people who say that it's racist because they have been called zwarte piet: is it also offensive to be called Sinterklaas by little children when you are an old bearded man? anyway, I have never heard an old man with a beard complaint about it..
  • 28th October 2013, 17:02:28 jinna posted:
    This is not about race this is about the choice to respect the pain of those that live among us.. I feel the same as Lisa!


    I am black AND I am dutch. I can tell you, i have been called 'zwarte piet' very often. So your assumption that nobody refers to black people as zwarte piet is just wrong. The whole thing is offending and painful. That people are not dutch does not strip them of their right to comment on the dutch blackface tradition.

    Zwarte Piet is something totally different when you are a black child. Do you have any understanding what it does to young black children to see people dressed up as black face, with the big red lips, afro hair, golden earrings, with a crooked accent, being the dumb servant of a white man? Every year black people are being reminded of the slave trade because of this stupidity. And the fact that everybody keeps denying it, makes it even more painful.

    And if it's such a typical dutch tradition that nobody has the right to comment on, then WHY do you need to mimic black people to carry out that tradition?? Why can't you just leave us alone and celebrate your tradition with white Petes? Problem solved!

    As long as dutch people need to put down minorities with their 'tradition', people have the right to comment on it!
  • 28th October 2013, 17:05:05 jinna posted:

    are old men with breads typically stereotyped as dumb? have they historically been enslaved?
  • 28th October 2013, 19:44:42 lelijkaard posted:
    @jinna, no, but Zwarte Piet is not dumb is he? He is sometimes a lot smarter then Sinterklaas and he is very beloved by children
  • 30th October 2013, 13:21:35 lelijkaard posted:
    and Zwarte Piet is not a slave, just because Sinterklaas is white you think Zwarte Piet is a slave? Who is racist now?
  • 1st November 2013, 00:09:17 Jef posted:
    So Halloween is connected with witches that use those spooky cauldrons and we all know that wtches were burned and they were just women. How does nobody question Halloween then??? The murdering of thousands of innocent women???

    Maybe Sint Nicolaas is the slave here btw... slave of religion
  • 9th November 2013, 02:15:17 steven posted:
    Zwarte piet isnt black himself, its because of the ash he gets on his face from climbing tru chimneys. If you think zwarte piet is racist youre either mis informed...and Understand this, IF zwarte piet will ever be gone because of this discussion, then santa's elves have to go too because that would be offensive to people with dwarf growth, AND santa's elves actually promote child labour. just think about that. [Edited by moderator]
  • 17th November 2013, 16:09:56 Joy posted:
    First of all, I have never seen any Zwarte Piet get off the steam ship from Spain in chains, so there goes the slavery theory. He could theoretically run off and request political asylum anytime he wanted (if he were a real person). Second, I prefer to think of Zwarte Piet as a symbolic figure for the conscience of a person. Sort of like Jiminy Cricket being the conscience of Pinocchio in the famous Walt Disney movie. Pinocchio representing the children in this case. Black and white have often been used to describe opposites; darkness and light , evil and good . The children are reminded that good behavior will be rewarded; bad behavior will have consequences. Seems like a great life lesson to me!
  • 17th November 2013, 20:57:36 Sander posted:
    The group of people that have 'issues' with Zwarte Piet is very small. Even among the Surinam and Antiliian people they are in the vast minority. In a recent poll, 97% of all people living in the Netherlands (including minorities) did not agree that Zwarte Piet is racist. A few hundred protest against Zwarte Piet while half a million visited the Sinterklaas-parades, supporting Zwarte Piet. This small group of people is to be considered a racist group of people because they make issues about the colour of the skin of Zwarte Piet while nobody else does. Their arguments have American roots: the 'black face minstrel'. Zwarte Piet may look like the same but is totally different. The Netherlands has no black face minstrel-past at all. Zwarte Piet has never been a slave either or the purpose to discriminate. There is not any historical proof for that at all, the contrary. In all the books, songs and movies Zwarte Piet has been portrayed and used as a figure we should respect and adore. So you could compare these people with jews complaining about a swastika on a hindu-temple. You can understand that they are shocked by the sight of the swastika, but to remove the swastika from a ancient hindustan temple is just as silly as 'removing' Zwarte Piet. The problem is not Zwarte Piet, it is the way some people interpret symbols. They should learn to live with it.
  • 24th November 2013, 10:36:21 Sarah posted:
    Sander the reason why the poll has 97 procent is because Surinam and Antillian people are in the minority in the Netherlands. That does not mean they are not against it! I am from Surinam as well and all of my family, friends, colleague are against it. It is wrong. It just does not feels right.

    Could you imagine how black kids feel when they where called Zwarte Piet all the time?

    Well I do!
  • 25th November 2013, 16:05:14 Ries posted:
    How can we solve the “problem” of Zwarte Piet? A difficult one. On the one hand, there are people who say it is a racist portrayal of black people and on the other hand, mostly the Dutch, who say it is just a black guy from Spain. And here lies the cultural problem. The Dutch are rather pragmatic and as such, wouldn’t really mind the color of Piet. The main reason for Piet being black (and with the red lips, etc.) is simply because it is a cheap method of hiding the “actor” underneath. Zwarte Piet should not be recognizable by children and are often played by (very recognizable) relatives. For Dutch people, the color and outfit has no link to racism or black people in general. Then again, we don’t like to offend people, so let’s look for a solution.

    But then comes the big question (for me that is). What color (or colors) should we give Piet? It can’t be yellow of course; red is out of the question as well. Blue perhaps? No, in the near future we might encounter aliens with that color, so let’s not offend our future friends. Keep him (or her!) white? Won’t do, all these white people may be offended to be portrayed as a helper as well. Let’s do rainbow colors (the gay community might not like this, but they may let us get away with it). Rainbow colors it is. Okay, it’s bit more expensive to apply (and the Dutch don’t like expensive) and might take a bit more time to apply (must be sure to have all colors evenly applied so that all colors are evenly visible, so not to offend any single color).

    Problem solved? Maybe, but for me (and many others) the mere idea of changing the color/outfit of a character like Piet is racist by itself. Political correctness is something I and many Dutch (as you all seem to know) are rather wary of.

    So here is the dilemma; changing the color of Piet might make other people happy, but would give me the bitter taste that all things black are somehow bad. Or keeping Piet black, giving me a status quo, but still being called racist.

    Although I meant to be slightly satirical I certainly don’t wish to offend anyone (and I know for sure that most Dutch would feel the same way). The bottom line is that what you see is in the eye of the beholder. Respect for everybody!
  • 26th November 2013, 03:09:58 Anneke posted:
    Exactly! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is racism......All those "zwartkijkers" who see a black face and can't see past that and so totally misinterpret a centuries old tradition celebrating compassion, generosity, charity and the innocence of childhood.
    Having grown up in The Netherlands I now cherish beautiful and warm memories of Sinterklaas Avond, and I feel really sorry for all those children who have their joy and happiness compromised by political correctness of outsiders. The suggestion to replace the Dutch Saint Nicholas by the current commercial version of Santa Claus is absolutely ridiculous for - let's face it - do we really want raise an obese figure to the status of a national beloved treasure and thereby also replace a historic fact base legend by a commercial figment. I think not!
  • 18th February 2014, 18:29:51 suzanna31 posted:
    The fact of the matter is it stems from a time when the enslavement of black people was considered acceptable in white society.

    Because something is tradition that does not mean it can't be wrong or offensive.

    E.g racial segregration was an integral part of American and South African society for decades . Does that mean it was not wrong at that point in time.

    Zwarte Pete is clearly a caricature of black people. If not why do you make so much effort to make sure you put on an afro wig and accentuate your lips and where that african gold ring in your ear. Why don't you just go as your white self and just paint your face black .

    He is santa's slave. Because you love your slave that doesn't make it.

    Because dutch children are ignorant about the history of slavery and it's impact on black people that doesn't make it okay to still be having these practices.

    I could remember going to Dutch class once where the teacher openly called the only black guy in the class Zwarte Pete and actually laughed not realising how rude she is being. He never came back to class.

    Sorry but often you dutch people are so offensive. You make racist jokes openly on the radio and television and think it is funny.

    You humour is distasteful. The problem is you have no religion. You society is Godless. As a result you don't question the impact of your behaviour on others.

    The only thing you are liberal and progressive in is your attitude toward sex. Nothing else. Even that sometimes is extremely offensive. For example i turned on dutch television at 11 pm one night to see a comedy show showing a woman shitting in a glass and you actually see the camera going right up to her ass hole. Seriously . That is so crude.

    Most of you just have no manners. You push people in the street,step on people's toes. You never say excuse me or sorry . You make assumptions about people based on their ethnicity. You have no table manners.

    I have had my own Dutch mother in-law ridicule my african features with my husband present. thinking she is being cute. She ridicule my naturally curvy features by asking her son if i am going to lose weight soon and I am not even fat at all. She ridiculed my natural hair saying it is fake and actually asking why I wouldn't consider straightening my hair.
    She is just such a nasty person. and her explanation is that she is dutch and didn't mean it that way.
    Up to this day she has never apologised to me for hurting my feelings. Her explanations is that " we want to love you". which basically means that I must change to suit her and her nasty ways for her to accept me. Such a B****.

    You like to say that you are direct and people don't like it. But there is a huge difference between being direct and being downright offensive and often that is what you are just plain offensive.

    You like to be direct with other cultures but when people are direct with you you hate it and mash the very ground they walk upon .

    You claim to be open minded society but you are not.

    Some of you are nice but most of you are the most vile, offensive, Godless people I have ever met on this earth. You think your culture is superior to everyone else.

    You know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. You have no sense of family life or values. You are interested in how much things cost and how you can manipulate people into giving you a bargain. Your culture is one of selfishness and do what you want.

    Your women behave like men because of the extreme equality of the sexes that is encouraged in your society. No wonder so many dutch men prefer to marry foreign women. Your women are crude, masculine and controlling.

    Sometimes I fear for my future children. I married a Dutch man that is very nice but there is no way I am bringing my children up as Dutch. My children will be well mannered and they will have religion in their soul.
    The only thing dutch i will teach my children is to have a good work ethic and be open to learning languages. Nothing else.

    I can even give one more example of your narrowmindedness. I was on holiday in Curacao. The dutch colony in the caribbean and a dutch person came up to me in the hotel automatically assuming that I was a local worker there because I was black and asked me for coffee and she was so arrogant about it too. She did not even apologise when I told her I don't work there. she just walked off mumbling something to her self.
    So damn rude.

    For those of you who say oh i cherish so many wonderful memories of Sinterklaas. You know what ? I think many people also cherish the times when slavery and segregration was allowed too. Because you benefited from something that is offensive that doesn't make it okay.

    You people need to start living in reality. The world is becoming a more and more global society. Stop thinking that everyone must revolve around you and your colonialistic archaeic values. Start opening up your mind a bit more. Bring some true spirituality and compassion back into your culture. Stop being so damn defensive all the time and so arrogant.
  • 15th October 2014, 16:22:32 Anti-zwarte piet posted:

    Zwarte piet (black pete) is racist) because it was


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