Zwarte Piet is a throwback to slavery, says UN working party chief

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The head of the UN’s human rights committee said in an interview with television show EenVandaag that she would object to the character of Zwarte Piet if she lived in the Netherlands.

Verene Shepherd, who is Jamaican, said in the interview that the UN working group cannot understand why 'people in the Netherlands do not see this is a throwback to slavery and that in the 21st century this practice should stop.'

Last week it emerged the committee is looking into the Sinterklaas celebrations and the role of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) following complaints that it is racist.


‘As a black person, if I were living in the Netherlands I would object to it. As a member of the working group, I am obliged to do further investigation,' Shepherd said.

‘If we find out our information is wrong, we will change our position. But the information we have at the moment from the people of the Netherlands is that it is racist, a throwback to slavery and it should not happen.'

Every year the discussion flares up about the role of Zwarte Piet, played by a white person in black face make-up with a wig, red lips and gold earrings. This year protestors are trying to have the traditional Sinterklaas procession in Amsterdam banned because of the role of Zwarte Piet. This year's procession is expected to include 500 Zwarte Piets.

Meanwhile, research by opinion pollster Maurice de Hond shows 92% of the Dutch do not associate Zwarte Piet with slavery and 91% oppose any efforts to change his appearance. In Amsterdam, however, 65% oppose efforts to make Zwarte Piet less of a stereotype.



3 Comments To This Article

  • Sinterklaas posted:

    on 24th October 2013, 10:09:33 - Reply

    Please check your facts. The story of Zwarte Piet was written in 1850, check for any further explanations!!! I grew up in Holland and am very surprised by all the comments re Zwarte Piet. We loved him and Sinterklaas, no racism going on at all. [Edited by moderator]
  • Zwarte Piet posted:

    on 23rd October 2013, 23:03:53 - Reply

    It's an old Dutch tradition and I don't think it's anyone's business to change it. Especially not by someone who doesn't live in the Netherlands or isn't familiar with this tradition. Zwarte Piet is black because he has to deliver the presents for the children via the chimney which makes him black! It's got nothing to do with racism but if you do think it is... It's you and your problem and you should work that out yourself.
  • witsen posted:

    on 23rd October 2013, 22:17:14 - Reply

    The Black Pete tradition is indeed a throwback to the Dutch slave trade. There is no doubt about it. See the paintings of African child slaves in seventeenth century Holland, and the remarkable similarities between the way the child slaves were depicted and modern day "Black Petes" >