Zwarte Piet: They are not black, they have been through a Chimney

Oh yes, October has hit the Netherlands. So the sun is gone, a cold wind is blowing through the low lands and a good ol’ fashioned ‘Zwarte Piet = racism’ debate will spart in the Netherlands

The Shallow Man is an elegant but aged fossil. I’ve been around since the days when Madonna still made decent music, when Mick Jagger claimed that he wouldn’t continue performing once he reached the age of forty. I can recall a young boy who used to sing and dance with his four brothers, whose talent shone out even then. I remember when having a color television set was a sign of affluence and can also recall when it was considered the height of cutting edge and dangerous comedy for a group of white men to apply boot polish on their faces and perform as people of color. That was a long, long, long time ago, which brings me to the subject of this article.

Every November, The Shallow Man, a hero to some, an annoyance for others, is visited and emailed by dismayed Expats, who contact him in deep shock and ask: “Shallow Man, what in the name of Bob Marley is going on here in the Netherlands? I just went to lunch and was surrounded by a group of white guys blacked up, with curly wigs and red lips. Was that some kind of demonstration about slave labor or people smuggling from Africa?”

Being the courageous person that I am, I will break the conspiracy of silence that overcomes this country every November to December. I will risk the unrighteous fury of the collective hordes of weasels, who every year attempt in new and creative ways to justify the unjustifiable. Yes, the Shallow Man will invoke the spirit of Aretha and the late great Otis Redding and demand some R E S P E C T and dignity for people of color and damn the consequences. The things I do for my readers!



The Shallow Man is so incandescent with rage, that I will not even attempt to explain the annual Dutch celebration in too much detail. To summarize, quite simply an old man with a white beard arrives in the Netherlands every year together with his crew, a group of black faced, curly haired slaves who help him do his bidding. This event is huge here and is bigger than Christmas.


Zwarte Piet
Because what can go wrong when a man with a crucifix on his hat mingles with little children?


Institutionalized Black Face 

Albert Heijn, Blokker, Kruidvat and many other big Dutch chains happily participate in the annual institutionalized black face event that is Sinterklaas. Take a look at the photo below.


Zwarte Piet Black Pete
Hilarious, I’m white but I’m blacked up!!

The increasing globalization of the world has in recent years finally reached the Netherlands. This has led to some slightly embarrassed revisionism on the part of the Dutch about their annual Black Face Fest. Apparently, the reason why the faces of Sinterklaas’  helpers are black is due to them going down the chimney to deliver presents to good kids or beatings to naughty ones.

I’m sure that the image of people of color, carrying out a home invasion to beat kids hasn’t led to any racial trauma at all. But I digress. So if we are to believe the wise people of Dutch science, apparently if you start out white and blonde, sliding down a chimney will not only turn your skin black, but will give you bright red lips, and black curly hair. It will also affect the way you talk and give you a kind of mock Surinamese accent. It will make you jump around like an idiot and your eyes will roll as well.

The Shallow Man was never particularly good at physics, unless it involved a mirror, but I have to question the scientific credibility of this explanation.


It’s a Tradition, Hoor!

Whenever sensitive Expats such as myself question the annual let’s-black-up-and-be-jolly season, out come the weasels to defend the indefensible.



Common weasel words used to defend blacking up:

“It’s a tradition.”

– So was lynching in the deep south of the USA, luckily the tradition stopped.


“All the black kids in Holland love it.”

–  Yes of course, kids are kids and are too young to get offended and look forward to the presents.


“All the black people I know enjoy it.”

– The one black person you know and probably speak once a year to is humoring you and would prefer not to have that discussion when he knows your views.


“It’s a tradition.”

– Err, you said that already.


“If you don’t like it, you should go back to your own country.”

– Ah the rational argument of the desperate.


Zwarte Piet Has Nothing To Do with the American Tradition of Blackface

Absolutely not. I present the following Exhibits to the jury.


Exhibit 1A. Zwarte Piet

Black Pete

1B – Here’s some movie material


Exhibit 2. Black face American style from the 1930’s.

Black face Zwarte Piet


And of course, Mad Men, being both entertaining and outright racist:

Trick question. What do the two photos in Exhibits 1 and 2 have in common?  Enrich DutchReview in the comments section below!


Time To Put Up or Shut Up

I’ve heard many weasel- like attempts to justify the essential requirement to have hordes of white people wearing curly wigs, blacking up their faces and wearing bright red colour on their lips. None of them are even remotely credible. Like Lynching, wife beating, slavery and racial discrimination in general, Zwarte Piet is unacceptable and dehumanizes people of colour into figures of fun. Trying to cling onto some bull manure story about dressing up as the helpers of Sinterklaas is just nonsense.

If the Dutch are such sticklers for historical accuracy, why do I do not see Dutch people nailed to a cross at Easter time? Or chopping off their ears on Van Gogh’s birthday? The reason this pernicious and demeaning event continues every year is because people find it fun. Fun to black up. Fun to laugh at people blacked up, and it’s ok because just about everyone in this country finds it Gezellig (Pleasant) and Grappig (Fun). Why not just admit it and stop the pseudo-historical justification that has no moral grounding at all?


What do you think? Join the discussion!


*No morons in black face were hurt during the writing of this article.




  1. Bollocks…has nothing to do with rasism. Get your history and facts straight! Leave our culture and traditions in peace!

    And sorry for saying it but get a life!

  2. Thank you for your adding your two cents. This cultural ‘ tradition’ continues to baffle me and I freaking live here. In recent years it’s been finally starting to become slightly problematic, culminating in the Dutch reportage series Zwarte Piet and me . A good watch for some historical perspective. And it’s not as much a tradition as we want it to seem like. It only got popularized around the 1940’s of last century. It pisses me of how people can still defend Zwarte Piet without any clear logical argumentation. A friend of mine has a daughter of 3 and after seeing Zwarte Piet she started addressing black people that way…. Please explain to me how that is not racist 😛

    • It is not. That little girl doesn’t use zwarte piet as a curse word.

      There are also black people, who enjoy the Sinterklaas event including Zwarte Piet

      • Yes, and there are many black people who are really offended by it. Yet, we seem to like to ignore that fact.

  3. I admit that Sinterklaas is a fairly weird tradition, and leaves me feeling a bit uncomfortable as well. Even so, as foreigners it is probably not really clear for us what the actual Dutch perspective on this is. In my experience, the whole matter of skin color, as well as sexual tendency and related things, are treated as much less of a sensitive topic over here than, for example, in the US. I have yet to hear a Dutch person (of whatever skin color) openly claiming to be offended by this tradition, which, of course, does not mean there aren’t such people. Just try to really see how locals feel about this tradition before you judge it based on your country’s standards, because foreign immigrants who go around telling the people in their “new” country what they are all doing wrong are just wrong as well…

    • I have lived here my whole life and I’m offended while I’m not even black and I have some black friends who are plenty offended but don’t feel like discussing it constantly cause it always brings out the worst in Dutch.’ It’s a Dutch tradition. Ohh so you’re not Dutch then….’ I think a lot of black people have had enough of those stares, suspicions and arguments throughout their lifetime here to not want to have to defend ‘themselves’ constantly. For them it’s not just about Sinterklaas…

  4. So Martijn, you never had Sinterklaas and ZwartePiet visiting you when you were a child? If not, I’m sorry you missed out on a very nice child event. If yes, remember the feeling you had when you saw the presents. And to remind you the Zwarte Piet has a black coloured face as he came down the chimney. My sister’s husband is coming from Suriname and he has no problems with it at all. Been living here and in Suriname. Please leave this child tradition as it is and stop the discussion.

    • No, I will definitely not stop bringing it up. And I Did have SInterklaas visiting me when I was a child and I was horrified by zwarte Piet. of course this is a subjective experience. And I completely respect anyone who enjoyed it thurougly. But I think it’s blatant racism. Most of the world thinks so. Are other people so retarded to think that this fantastic ‘tradition’ (which I have already pointed out has not been one before the 1940’s) has it’s flaws. Changing some tiny details will not destroy this tradition and will not kill this fun day for children. If Zwarte Piet really came down the chimney make it look like that. Don’t cover him up completely, big ass earrings, give him red lips and curly hair. That’s not falling down a chimney, that’s black face. Next time I’ll ask my friend to jump through a chimney if she wants a perm, it appears to work wonders!

  5. Last time I checked, people back in the day used coal to heat their homes. Someone who went down the chimney would therefore NOT be white after the journey. Your lips would still be red because if you are smart, you will press them together to prevent any soot or dust into your mouth. If you are stupid, you would leave your mouth open and inhale all the dirt and die (or require hospitalization to clean out your lungs).
    Parents used to leave bits of soot and footprints by the chimney to make the story more accurate.
    Seriously! What is this world coming to????

    • Or just own up to dormant racism, replace some tiny details that will not kill the whole tradition of sinterklaas (children could care less) and get a life ;-)!

  6. Leave Sinterklaas alone, I was born and raised in the Netherlands and it is a great tradition. I now live in New Zealand and they only do Christmas over here. Here we got Father Christmas who gives the presents, he has got elves that help him, they are very small so if a child sees a small person on the street do you really think that child thinks he is one of Father Christmas helpers, I don’t think so.
    Zwarte Piet is just Sinterklaas helper and as a child I never thought for a minute that any dark or black person that I saw walking in the street was a Zwarte Piet it’s not just the colour of his face it is also the clothes that they wear.
    Sinterklaas rides his horse on the roofs of the houses, why don’t we get the animal welfare involved this could be cruelty to animals as he could fall of the roof specially when there is a bit of ice or snow on the roof,
    Let kids enjoy this time in there life’s as it is only a few years before they find out that het Sinterklaas feest is all make believe.
    Here is food for thought about 90% of woman buy Christmas presents for family and friends, they wrap the lot, clean the house up for the big day, do the groceries and cook a lovely meal and guess what FATHER Christmas get all the credit. Do you hear all those woman complaining NO they do it with love for there family and friends. The face of a child says it all either for Christmas or Sinterklaas when they think that person have left them some presents. Sinterklaas is a Dutch tradition keep it that way.

    • Why would you believe women only clean the house and wrap the lot?? single fathers? gay couples? stay-at-home dads? what are you talking about?? Could you please share that 90% statistic origin, because I declare shenanigans!! 😛

  7. Pathetic, Just because you as a “white” child had no problems with it when you were young, does not make it fine. When i was a child i was always referred to as Zwarte Piet, by children, parents, teachers, and officials alike. Open your eyes man, this is clearly racist. In France they also have Sint Nicolas and guess what?!! There are no such thing as Zwarte Piet !! This is just a ridiculous and racist Dutch side dish. That you do not wish to ban it is one thing, and i personally do not wish to talk about it, or try to change it. But to say that it is not racist, or okay because it is a childhood tradition when your experience of it has always been fine, is just bloody ignorance of the highest order. Just reminds me of the rhetoric used in slavery.

    • Seriously, I’m sorry that you had to go through that, but you’re attacking the wrong people. There is nothing inherently racist about Zwarte Piet. You should be angry at the people who wronged you, and leave a children’s holiday alone. Also bringing up slavery every time is really exhausting, and quite simply not fair. It’s pretty much an admission of weak arguments.

      • Although I would love to hear an argument from people wanting to ‘ protect the tradition’ (which is starting to sound a lot like tea party retoric) why it would be such a big hassle to then change a few things in Zwarte Piet looks. Could you please give me a reasonable and valid argument? No leave your hands of our tradition. This is not an argument, it’s a weakly positioned opinion based on fear and conservatism. And it’s not like this would be the first time the tradition changed. This happened before as well, like in the 1940’s. so it’s not like this has been going on forever the same way. It’s a very limited way of viewing history and finding the freedom to change things that are blatantly racist. And if it’s not a big deal, why is it such a big deal to change a few things?

        • It wouldn’t be such a big hassle, but the simple fact is that most Dutch people don’t see it as an issue. These controversies mostly get fuelled by American (or in this case, British) viewpoints. My point is that there is nothing inherently racist about a white person painting his face black, same as it is not inherently racist for a black person to whiten his face.

          • swhiteley, may I suggest that (assuming you are white) that you black up as per Zwarte Piet and then take a visit to Brixton or Hackney in London and solicit the feedback of the locals.

            I have never seen a black man “white up” with the exception of Eddie Murphy in coming to America.

          • Why would I do that? To give you the satisfaction of seeing me get stabbed?
            My point is that different things are acceptable in different areas.
            What you just said is the equivalent of asking a women to go unveiled to Saudi-Arabia and solicit the feedback from those locals. It would be perfectly acceptable here (in the Netherlands), but over there, not so much. And that is without saying which is preferable, it’s just cultural reality.

          • I would love to agree with you that different things are acceptable in different places and It has been largely accepted her for a while. But that can not be an excuse to refuse to reflect on our own cultural heritage and history. Saudi Arabia didn’t build an empire, forcing our rule unto other countries, ship a lot of people into slavery, importing them into their own country and thus forcing a much more multicultural society to come into existence. That cultural heritage makes this much more shameful to me then if another country would do this. Holland hasn’t been just the Dutch for a while now, with large Indonesian, Surinam, Jewish and Molokkon communities. And BTW in general race and gender are very different issues, so I wouldn’t go comparing apples with pears just yet . Or should I start making comparisons with how American Republicans think gay marriage is hurting tradition? two can play the unrelated game. It seems like an easy way out.

          • About Saudi-Arabia, they actually have slaves at this very moment. But that is another issue. Islam has/had his own complex history with slavery.

            I agree we should reflect on our own culture, there is nothing wrong with that. But that doesn’t mean we should change things because other people apply their cultural hiccups to our culture, that is not how it should go.
            If it should change, it has to be Dutch people wanting it changed. And that is mostly not the case at the moment.

          • True, that is it’s own horror show with it’s own merits.

            Personally I don’t find waiting for a majority to agree a good argument because just because a majority thinks something doesn’t make it best or right. Still I see more and more people starting to disagree (myself being one of them)

            What I do believe in is the constant act of reflection. But that is something a lot of people seem to be afraid of or want to ignore. And even acknowleding where Zwarte Piets modern look really comes from without having to change it would at least mean ‘facts’ wouldn’t be ignored or manipulated.

          • Then Victory shall be mine and all will be right in the world!!! hahaha, Only time will tell. Until the next duel my adversary! Have a nice weekend!

          • I would like to point out, that i am actually Dutch and hold a Dutch Nationality, I have just done my Bachelors in England, but currently doing my Masters in Utrecht. Now we have that out of the way. Your argument of tradition is weak. This argument that it is okay because it is a children festival is ridiculous, as many black children have to go through racial abuse during this period. What about those people? Or are you just going to say oooh i am sorry. Do you really think that this is a minor event, that just happened to happen to me? You cant be serious right?

          • You are trying to imply that Zwarte Piet encourages people to racially abuse you, and I’m telling you that there is no evidence for that.
            Racism exists, in countries with or without Zwarte Piet.

          • Except for the fact that i was racially abused with reference to Zwarte Piet? I am not sure if i should take your comment serious…your ignorant argument is quite unbelievable…

          • Can you actually read? I clearly said that YOU SHOULD BE ANGRY AT THOSE PEOPLE WHO WRONGED YOU. Those people who abused you are idiots for doing so, why not attack them?

            No, you’d rather use it as an excuse to label Zwarte Piet racist.
            It seems you people are obsessed with race. I don’t see you calling the elves that help Santa discriminatory because it offends little people.

          • Seriously, do you actually listen to yourself? These people would not randomly walk down the streets and be racist. It was solely this “event”, which they just like “YOU” did not find it offensive to label and call me as such. It is thus this event that is the cause and reason for the racial abuse i got. Now why do you think it is offensive for me? If you can accept that this was offensive surely LOGIC states that this event is racially offensive. Of course i am racially offended, i was racially abused because of this event, and can very assure you, that i am not the only one. It is this simple fact that you do not wish to acknowledge, no you wish to blame other factors, you blame all you want, in the end of it all, it starts with the offensive caricature. Damm, this is why i did not wish to get into this…

          • It is offensive, but that doesn’t make Zwarte PIet racist, it makes those people that called you Zwarte Piet racists, and somehow you don’t get that difference. Zwarte Piet is a black character that kids love, and is not mocked or laughed at, as you claim. Why are you filled with such hatred for a fictional character?

          • no need to paint face to get stabbed those areas of Simon’s beloved UK… just walk down the street as a white man and you will get stabbed. No wonder you left Simon…….

          • Well I’m Dutch, so I guess my viewpoint is invalid?? And this Dutch Tv show seems to have Dutch people seeing it as a problem And I have nothing against painting your face black just as people can paint it white. go ahead. knock yourself out. That doesn’t have to be racist. But that’s not what happens here. Zwarte Piet is made to look like a caricature of a negro from times when racism still existed and was widespread. But you are right. I do miss a black help in the kitchen, so maybe we should bring back that ‘tradition’ too or would that be too touchy??

          • I would appreciate it if you don’t put words in my mouth or misrepresent what I just typed. That would be most kind of you. That last sentence is not nice, but moving on.

            If you do miss you black help (your words – apparently you had a black servant), then maybe you are the closet racists who is overcompensating, who knows. I cannot look in your mind.

            I realise the fact that you are Dutch and that your opinion is valid. But again, you miss my point. My point is that MOST Dutch people seem to disagree with you. If this was actually an issue amongst the majority of Dutch people, this would have stopped already. But it has not. That is the reality today.
            Just in case you missed it: I am not saying every single person in the Netherlands is “pro-Zwarte Piet”.

          • Well that nuance is very much appreciated. And yes you seem to be right about that fact. But I think the tides are changing, I read and see more and more about this every year and the fact that this article is getting so much response already reveals a lot.

            I believe this is racist and I think that this traditionalism and conservatism at it’s worst without any valid argumentation backing it up. A majority of the people wants this is not a valid argument in my opinion (or should I bring up some WWII, Poll Pott and Stallin references?) it is stopping us from making some minor adjustments to Zwarte Piet, like we have already done throughout history. I think it’s petty and sad to keep defending it and ignoring the obvious connotations that it has.. Like traditions are everything and we will lose everything if we get with the times. Well guess what: ‘ De wereld draait door’ and nothing is static nor does it need to be. Change is not bad, it is not evil and it does not destroy everything you like or love. I will promise you that within a few years this will have gone completely mainstream and things will have changed! Because of fucking annoying bitchy people like me finally opening their mouths and speaking their minds.

          • Maybe you will be right, maybe not. Time will tell. I disagree with you about the fact that you believe that any white person applying black paint on their face is inherently malicious. Other than that, I perfectly understand your reasoning, and I think we pretty much agree on everything else.

          • Of course most Dutch people don’t see it as a problem, it is their holiday, isn’t it! So, there is not much to expect from the Dutch. How sad in fact

      • @swhiteley: Zwarte Piet is inherently racist… It portrays black people as silly and goofy, music-loving individuals that are fun to look at and mock. And they’re working under a white man’s direction and protection, because they’d be lost without him. It’s an entire collection of racist stereotypes in a single character.

        Personally, I see it as just another example of the Dutch’s denial:

        – “We’re not rude, we’re just honest” (the dutch aren’t particularly honest either : so much talking behind’s people back and fakeness too…)

        – “We’re tolerant” (try getting hired in NL as a black person, with equal qualifications and experience; or try being from any European country and enjoy facing condescending and idiotic remarks all day long)
        – “We’re open” (but “if it ain’t Dutch it ain’t much”; anything foreign is disdained.)

        Anytime you get proven wrong, you respond with “it’s just a saying/tradition”, “leave us alone, your country is worse because I heard [some random irrelevant stereotype] in the news”.

        Really tired of all the xenophobia, close-mindedness and racism in this country. I don’t know how you got a reputation of tolerant open-minded people, but it’s obviously undeserved.

        • Nobody mocks Zwarte Piet, at least not when I was a kid. You like him, and you don’t laugh at him you laugh with him. But it seems you made up your mind about those evil Dutch people. I never claimed Dutch people are open-minded saints, you assumed that (for some reason), but the malicious stereotype you are describing does not match my experience at all.

          “Anytime you get proven wrong, you respond with “it’s just a
          saying/tradition”, “leave us alone, your country is worse because I
          heard [some random irrelevant stereotype] in the news”. Maybe you should learn how to read.

        • “It portrays black people as silly and goofy, music-loving individuals that are fun to look at and mock.”

          Gasp, must ban all comedians!!!! Historically, a comedian is a white masculine invention made with hate and racism like math and underwear briefs. Mock funny black guy, racist. Mock funny white guy, compensation.

          • “– “We’re not rude, we’re just honest” (the dutch aren’t particularly honest either : so much talking behind’s people back and fakeness too…)”

            Buddy, every dutch person would honest tell you in a rude way that the statement you made here is biggest pile of rubbish made only by people who have no clue what a true dutch person is. (apologies have to act english 🙂 ). If dutch think you are a duffus ( sorry English censoring) they will call you a duffus. One thing I admire the most, is they are honest about their thoughts.

            That you are more focused on mocking people who are different than you demonstrates to me more about your honesty and that you are certainly not dutch.

            “– “We’re tolerant” (try getting hired in NL as a black person, with equal qualifications and experience; or try being from any European country and enjoy facing condescending and idiotic remarks all day long)”

            Dutch are quite tolerant folk considering they loathe people telling them how to do things, especially foreigners. You want a dutch mad, tell him he is doing his washing wrong and that English do it better.

            Try getting a job in Africa as a white guy, a nightmare I tell ye. Not denying there are people struggling because of true racism, but stop bringing the American politics into this.

            – “We’re open” (but “if it ain’t Dutch it ain’t much”; anything foreign is disdained.)
            Yes, as I said before if you want to be in the dutch black book just tell him he is doing it all wrong. Yes, Dutch are very open. About their opinions. They will speak their mind. Besides last I checked the time the Dutch were open to foreigners was when the Gestapo though it was fun to waltz through the door.

      • Dear Swhiteley (how appropriate), you don’t get it at all. This “children’s holiday” was invented by grown ups, where originally there was no Zwarte Piet involved. In 1935, when some countries were still colonies of the Netherlands, this caricature of Zwarte Piet was invented by the Dutch and incorporated into this so called “children’s holiday”. This children’s holiday was forced upon the colonies and they could not do or say anything about it. So, when the Dutch brought in this caricature of Zwarte Piet with a wig of a black afro and big red lips (this was the way a black man was represented by white people) at that moment in time, then, let’s be honest here, let’s not try to kid ourselves and make up all kinds of argumentations to defend the fact that this has EVERYTHING TO DO WITH RACISM. This has nothing to do with the white helper getting into a chimney and coming out of the chimney, because no actual chimney sweeper looks like that coming out. And of course bringing up slavery is an exhausting and weak argument for you, as it is weak of you to just brush it off like a weak argument, it makes it easier for you to ignore what’s really going on here.

        • Is my name racist too now? How typical. Anyway, you demonstrate knowing nothing about what you are talking about. The problem is that you don’t see what Zwarte Piet actually is: a fictional character.
          I find it funny how people think they can dictate how other people/nations should celebrate their folkloric festivities and expect them to comply with your PC madness.

          You don’t seem Dutch to me so how would you know what you’re talking about?

  8. Well said Frenske, Oh and Martijn this will get your blood pressure up here in New Zealand we have got the National Rugby team and they are called the
    All Blacks ( current holders of the World Cup). People like your self would say Oh my god that is so wrong. No it is a tradition, as years a go before cell phones, television and proper communication ( I am talking early 1900 ) a reporter mis heard the commentator who said All Backs and this reporter wrote in his column the All Blacks and that name stuck and there uniforms are all black as well. New Zealanders are very proud of their National Team and race has got nothing to do with the name. Zwarte Piet has nothing to do with Race either.

    • Hey Carmen, I know jack shit about New Zealand, so I’m not gonna comment on that, really depends on the context it happens in. Although Richard Dyer wrote some excellent research on whiteness, and how the way we think about colour reflects in how we think about race. 😛 But aside from that I would like to emphasize that race does have to do with zwarte piet. Or I will have to jump through a chimney myself to see if it gives me red lips, big earrings , curley hair and completely covers my face. O my god, that is such a coincidence, it looks a lot like the ‘ spotprenten van vroeger’. I’m not at all against humor and fun. And I don’t want to pretend like it’s the end of the world. But even if it’s not intended to be a black man, it comes across as that to children. If they start confusing random black people for zwarte piet, what does that really say about how we want them to see the world?

    • The ALL BLACKS?????? The Shallow Man, being a Rugby fan, has never witnessed a game of Rugby, where the players, don Curly wigs, red lipstick and powder their faces black. But then again perhaps I missed this incredible event. Please provide a link. There’s an old saying,’ when in a hole, stop digging.’

  9. Bakari, I just come back from a holiday in Holland and what I noticed most is that there are so many people from all walks of life and nationalities living together in harmony, Holland can be very proud of that as that doesn’t happen in to many countries in the world All these people from different countries no matter what colour celebrate their own traditions and believes in Holland and that is great they can do so but let the Dutch people celebrate their traditions and if you don’t like it you can always move that’s the great thing about Holland you got choices.

    • The Weasel words award goes to Carmen.

      From my article.
      Common Weasel like excuses used to defend Zware Piet.

      “If you don’t like it, you should go back to your own country.”

      From Weasel Commandant Carmen.

      “if you don’t like it you can always move that’s the great thing about Holland you got choices”

      As I predicted, the Weasels are out in force, trying to defend the indefensible.

    • Well Carmen I happen to hold a Dutch Nationality or is it because i am black, that i cant be dutch? Typical Ignorant comment.

  10. All, a minor but important clarification to my article. I have and am not advocating ending the Sinterklaas tradition. The Shallow Man has indeed celebrated Sinterklaas with friends and their children. What I find, disgraceful, is clinging on to blacking up white people as part of this “tradition”. Carmen, nice weasel words, but they don’t wash. Show me anywhere in the civilised world where white people, black themselves up and run around like idiots and it’s deemed as acceptable behavior.

    Comparisons with the Rugby team the All Blacks? LOL!!!! Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel for feeble excuses. I’ll update the article and add it to list of weasel words. Thank you

    • Argh, I promised myself I would never be one of those people getting into an arguement over the internet with people I will never meet but here I am…
      Being a Dutch woman who travels a lot I have had to explain our tradition on numerous occasions and you are right, no explanation is good enough because when you look at the basics it is a horribly outdated tradition based on believes that, luckily, are no longer relevant in the time we live in. Having said that, the tradition has developed over time and Piet is no longer the guy who “runs around like an idiot”. If you would pay close attention to the way he is being portrayed nowadays (mostly in television series and children’s cinema leading up to dec. 5) you would see that Sinterklaas’ team of Pieten is a well organised team that he could not do without. Think of Sinterklaas as the prime-minister and his Pieten as the Tweede Kamer. Without his team Sinterklaas would get nothing done and they are an essential part of dec. 5 being a succes. Each Piet has their own talent and value to the team and together they make sure every child gets their presents.
      The Netherlands has a long history of multiculturalism and being part of a mixed race family myself my experience is that the only reason why this tradition is a problem is because it is impossible to explain to outsiders. Most people don’t even think about the racism debate until a foreigner brings it up, because it simply isn’t an issue. That’s why they are unable to understand all the fuss or come up with a satisfying arguement. I think they really just haven’t thought about it. Not for lack of sensitivity or ignorance, but rather for a childlike kind of naive point of view where skincolour doesn’t determine who you are or what you are capable of. It is just what it is and nobody thinks Piet is stupid or scary or idiotic. He is what he is and just happened to be black because he always has been. Just like my auntie and cousins, big deal.
      Does this make any sense…?

      • Saskia, nice try, but as you said, no explanation is good enough. The fact that Zwarte Piet now has an IPAD and helps Sinterklaas, doesn’t get away from the fact that his role is subservient to his white master. There is no valid argument in the 21st century for white people to black themselves up. But, you at least were able to put across a reasonable defence.
        Respect for that.

        • Very amusing that you want a discussion (you ask people what they think) and then continue to proclaim that “There is no valid argument in the 21st century for white people to black themselves up.”

          I do hope you see the friction with these two statements.
          Why do want a discussion when nothing can change your mind? This is very similar to the way religious people deal with dogmatic challenges.

        • Maybe it’s not so much about finding an acceptable explaination, maybe it’s about trying to understand a custom in a culture you’re not part of. God knows i’ve struggled to understand why it’s ok to have maids in latin american countries that cook and clean but refuse to sit at the table with you for a cup of coffee. It’s obviously wrong but who am i to judge the cultural development of a culture i’m not part of?

          • Don’t you have maids in the Netherlands who are not allowed to sit at the table for a cup of coffee? what are you talking about, what is the comparison here?

        • I am Slovak, i lived in Holland a few years ago, I am living in Ireland now. I just wanted to add to this debate – in Slovakia, at the beginning of December – we have a tradition for kids too – father “Mikulas” (nicholaus, i guess) who is a saint (he is white) brings goodies to good kids. he is always accompanied by devil who is black – as if it is a while person who paints his face in black colour and wears black clothes and has horns and tail. he gives naughty children coal (in reality, all kids get goodies, it is more to scare them off during the year with the idea of getting coal from devil for being naughty).
          i never thought devil to represent a black person! mind you, growing up in communist Czechoslovakia behind iron curtain, there were not many foreigners or different races living, (we have roma gypsies and again, nobody ever made any connection between devil and roma gypsy) yet even when i grew up and started travelling and living abroad – I am not that familiar with Zwarte Piet in Holland, so i am not sure if this is a relevant comparison. I am just saying – there is another country where a white person pains their face black – mind you, as i said – they are also dressed in black and have horns and tail. the devil is not helper in this case, he is equal with “mikulas”.
          Neither am i saying it is a right tradition. i haven’t been living in Slovakia for years, so am not even sure it is still celebrated – i guess in smaller towns and villages.

    • Your article is a pathetic, culturally biased piece of drivel. Nowhere can I detect a valid argument.
      Talking about R E S P E C T, how about some respect for the people that celebrate this festivity? How about some respect for other people’s customs, regardless of how you feel about them?

      First of all, right of the bat you say that you -and I quote – “will not even attempt to explain the annual Dutch celebration in too much detail”. The truth is, you do not explain it at all, let alone give any details.

      “I’m sure that the image of people of color, carrying out a home invasion to beat kids hasn’t led to any racial trauma at all”. This sentence is such a gross deviation from the stories that are told about Zwarte Piet, that it is clear you have no objectivity at all.

      “So if we are to believe the wise people of Dutch science, apparently if
      you start out white and blonde, sliding down a chimney will not only
      turn your skin black, but will give you bright red lips, and black curly
      hair.” Again you demonstrate that you have no knowledge about this holiday, nor any intent to research the things you write about. Quite troublesome.

      “It will also affect the way you talk and give you a kind of mock Surinamese accent.” The mock-accent remark might actually be your only good point on this whole page.

      “It will make you jump around like an idiot and your eyes will roll as well.” Thank you for this (offensive) observation about people who try to entertain children and bring joy. I hope the moral high horse you’re sitting on is comfortable.

      What you write next is more nonsense, especially the part with the ‘exhibits’, even though that word is totally used improperly. Nice cultural bias by injecting American Blackface into this, nobody say that coming, very original!

      I was gonna say nice try, but I would be lying. This is a horrible try. You’re not even trying.

      • Nice feeding of the troll Switeley. I was hoping for a Godwin in this discourse, WW2 was brought up but nothing further. Its a way off yet. Vrolijk sinterklaasfeest!

  11. No morons in black face were hurt during the writing of this article.
    u are doing the thing u hate …. u just failed..

    • Denniee, I’m sure that your statement makes perfect sense, in at least one language, sadly not in English.

  12. ‘Blackface’ is an Amercain cultural thing in itself, you can’t project that on the Netherlands.

    As a dutchman myself I never thought of zwarte piet as a black man, a person originated from Afrika.

    Zwarte piet belongs to the realm of elfs, witches, dragons and stuff, a mythical being not referring to any real life being.

    ‘ But even if it’s not intended to be a black man, it comes across as that to children..’
    No it doesn’t, never did to me or other people I know.
    It’s only in grown up peoples minds, people who are obsessed by racial themes,
    where these thoughts pop up.

    • Plus, should zwarte piet actually do come across as a black man, wouldn’t that only lead to positive associations? Zwarte piet is an idol to a great many children, his arrival is very much anticipated – who doesn’t love the pepernoten, kruidnoten and other sugary goodness he tosses around homes and streets?

      • Tim, are you seriously saying that to be considered in a positive light, black people should be happy that every year lots of white people, paint their faces black? Oh dear.

        • You continue to demonstrate your lack of knowledge about this subject. Not to mention the fact that you just brush off the perfectly reasonable argument Tim provided.

    • Frans, well I guess that’s the end of the debate. I mean, if you and your friends don’t see it as a racial thing, well, that should be good enough for all of us.

      • Contrary to what you seem to believe, we don’t throw away cultural traditions because of some cultural remark by some lazy British wannabe-writer. What you deem racist is not our concern, is it?

          • That’s because it was not an attack, simply showing you how narrow-minded you are thinking at the moment.

            I find it funny that you don’t actually respond to my main objections to this
            article, but maybe that was to be expected, seeing how it’s written.

          • swhitely, how can you try and justify white people blacking up? Hiding behind culture is not good enough. Apartheid was part of the South African culture and most sane people didn’t think that was acceptable either. Blacking up is demeaning to people of color, no matter how much people like yourself attempt to spin it in a positive way.

          • How can you try and claim that you speak for people of colour? Context means everything. Of course I realise that black face is offensive for some people. But I’m trying to convey why most Dutch people don’t feel that way about Zwarte Piet.

            The way you try to marginalise their point of view is quite frankly, disturbing.

          • Im not trying to give you more ammunition, but Apartheid was actually a Dutch idea. Oops…! Not that that has anything to do with how Sinterklaas and his Pieten operate nowadays, as I have stated before. I think BB and Frans make valid points stating that the colour of Piet’s face is only a problem to those who cannot get passed looking at people in terms of race. Dammit, I got sucked in…!

            PS Being insulting, sarcastic or mean doesn’t make you more right, oh fair peoples of the interweb <3

          • South Africa was a Dutch colony until 1806. Apartheid became the official politics in 1948. There are 140 years and thousands of kilometers between the Dutch and the birth of apartheid. Just like Americans of British descent aren’t British, South Africans of Dutch descent aren’t Dutch.
            By the way, I am Dutch and I think ZP is a tradition that is long overdue for an overhaul. I am glad that at least we have an annual discussion about it in the Netherlands.

          • Mmm… I tend to think that if it wasn’t for Mr Jan van Riebeeck South Africa’s history would have been a bit different. But that’s a completely different discussion 🙂

    • @Frans: okay, history lesson. Zwarte Piet originated as an enslaved devil. Then he became a stupid moor, fitting every possible racial stereotype. And now he’s the chimney guy, except he’s still (obviously) disguised as a black guy, still following the white man’s (sinterklaas) orders, and still not too bright.

      But hey, mentioning any of this would go against the Dutch traditions of xenophobia, insensitivity and denial. I bet you’ll call this obvious display of racism another instance of the Dutch’s “brutal honesty”, “but hey, we don’t mean anything bad; we just don’t care that we offend and belittle offend people who aren’t like us”.

      • Let me first say that, as a Dutch person, I agree that Zwarte Piet is a strange tradition that nobody needs. Since everybody seems to agree that little children don’t really care about the contents of the festival as long as it involves presents and sweets, there might as well be some adaptations to it in order to remove all racial stereotypes.

        However, I find it disturbing that some of the comments on here which most strongly oppose Sinterklaas, such as the above one, themselves make use of heavy stereotyping.
        For example:
        ”mentioning any of this would go against the Dutch traditions of xenophobia, insensitivity and denial”. I’m sorry, but that is rude and offensive. If you have had any bad experiences in the Netherlands in these regards, then I am really sorry for that, but you can’t call xenophobia and insensitivity a Dutch (or any country’s) tradition and use that as an argument against stereotyping. That is simply bizarrely hypocritical.

        Again, I reiterate that I would embrace a change in the Sinterklaas festival that removes all elements that can be viewed as racist, but please practice what you preach and do not revert to culturally stereotyping Dutch people as intolerant or dishonest.
        There are (in)tolerant and (dis)honest people in every country. I know both really tolerant and really intolerant people inside and outside of the Netherlands. Nationality (or in simpler terms: the specific layout of one’s passport) has less to do with personality than some people seem to think.

        PS. Does anyone else feel as if Sinterklaas has lost major ground to Christmas in recent years?

    • Zwarte piet as a realm of elfs, witches, dragons and stuff?? I have never heard this much bullshit before, in which mythical story there’s a Zwarte piet? Don’t make me laugh and do not bullshit yourself. This was thought of by the Dutch in 1935 when the Dutch still had colonies overseas. And of course you and your friends do not see the racism, because ignorance is bliss.

  13. Zwarte Piet is possible in the Netherlands only because it is not a racist country. There are no racist connotations with this tradition. There are no slaves in the story. The only peope who get offended by the whole thing are the ones who think in terms of race. We don’t

    • Hey, I think I understand where you are coming from. I don’t think a lot of people consider it racist. I think a lot of people think it’s fine. And I do agree that Holland has had less history with visible racism (except performing the white man’s burden for centuries which was basically teaching white people were better and should rule supreme). But it’s not about those people. This is also not about someone painting himself black. This is about a caricature of how we used to view black men (very dark skintone, big earrings, acrobatics, exotic clothing, curly hair, red lips) and how we have no problem with using that old image up to this point in time, knowing full well that it might be hurtful and painful to some. I don’t think for many people it is racist. But I think for a lot of black people and people of other skin tones, and this is only from what I have gathered from friends (not want to generalize), is that there are ideas and connotations attached to Zwarte Piet as he is now, that are hurtful to them. And this is not and should not be a debate about if this is consciously racist because it is not, but about how it feels for those people.

      I don’t think Holland is racist, but we have quite a few kinks culturally when it comes to immigrants and dealing with people being different than the ‘norm’ . So I don’t think thinking in racist country or non racist country helps. It’s usually the subtle prejudices we have all within ourselves that we are either willing to look past and try to empathize with people who are different from us or we get stuck in a state of unwillingness to learn an be closed off and rust into our own steady held believes without wanting to check in. If only there is one person that is hurt or pained by this tradition (I personally think there are more) I am willing to reflect on our tradition and think about how someone with that skintone could feel if some child accidentally calls them Zwarte Piet. By it self it may not seem much, but left overs of racism (it doesn’t magically disappear over night) are in all those small things (women clutching their pursues, a girls glancing at you with fright, men feeling intimidated, a security guard giving you the stinker etc) that can fuck you up in the long run. Just putting myself in their shoes and weighing if I find our stubborn OCD when it comes to changing the details of our tradition and hurting a lot of people without even meaning to makes this an easy decision for me. Why the big fuss over changing tiny details that would truly make zwarte piet look like he came out of a chimney? If it doesn’t matter and it’s not racist to us, then why not just change it?

      • I think there’s a much bigger issue in the Netherlands. The Dutch society is very close-minded and normative, and quite intolerant despite its reputation (acquired from tolerating drugs and homosexuality, which, don’t get me wrong, is a good thing). Furthermore, it’s in complete denial about this, probably due to nationalism.

        Apart from sexual orientation, anyone different will be verbally attacked in person for whatever is safe to discuss without causing a major conflict, and criticized behind his back with common friends or colleagues for everything else. This is particularly unnerving for foreigners or immigrants, because:

        (a) by nature foreigners/immigrants are very different from the Dutch norm, meaning they get targeted much more.

        (b) they typically come from more emphatic societies in which you take into account people’s feelings when discussing something with them; and where it is frowned upon to spread negative information about people that you are in good terms with.

        PS: I’m aware of the typical defense “we’re not insensitive, we’re just more honest than you”, but let’s face it, the Dutch are not particularly honest either.

        • Tomq, I agree with you on those things. But in this particular discussion I want to try and understand the other side, so they in turn can try to understand me. I know these are problems of Dutch Culture and that we are pretty closed off because of our Verzuilings background. Bringing them up and shining light on them further polarizes opinion.This can help formulate opinion, so kuddos to Shallow man for bringing it up. But in a lot of instances it will only reiterate existing ones. And I do honestly believe that a lot of people don’t see it as racism. It shows and utter an complete lack of empathy with people who take offense and just devaluates there experience (just look the other way, it’s soo just your problem, maybe you should just leave etc. pfff). But it’s exactly because of our ‘ verzuiling’, our ‘polderpolitiek’ and our ‘doe maar normaal dan doe je al gek genoeg’ mentality that we have never had minorities fighting for their rights like in a lot of other countries. We briefly had feminism in the 1900’s and again in 1960’s but that is mostly i and was also widely frowned upon even up till this day. And usually government would smooth things over quick enough for social unrest to really take root. A great example of this is how gay marriage got written intro law. And without that visibility people cannot be educated and learn from those experiences, they don’t enter discourse. I get the same argumentation when it comes to gay rights.

          And it is extremely exhausting having to explain things every damn single time. It is just something a lot of people don’t understand and are unfamiliar with. it’s a way of thinking that you will not experience unless you are a minority in one way or the other. Unless you get discriminated in a lot of ways that might seem trivial and ridiculous to outsiders, but are really not. But for me it is not about understanding or not. It is about showing the willingness to understand and that is a lot more likely to be given if I show it myself as well.

          And a lot of countries still have their own issues with minorities. Especially Europe in a larger scheme of things is showing a lot of cultural retraction.I think things like that might come can go in waves. But it’s becoming an uphill battle because minorities can transnationally find each other now and become majorities that way and much more easier start to find their way to mainstream discourse to explain their stories and how they see things.. 🙂 So I’m hopeful.

          • Martijn, I like your argumentation even though I don’t agree with you about changing the details of Zwarte Piet’s outfit. Being a married gay (woman) myself I understand where you’re coming from. I also have a stepmother who’s black of colour, a black nephew and am myself part Indonesian. Thus, I should know enough about racism and being part of a minority. I also have two kids, and I once was a kid myself (no surprise there). I personally believe the Dutch are very much a non-racist bunch of people. I don’t think Zwarte Piet helped in that way, but he didn’t hurt our racial views either. I didn’t see him as being black when I was young just as Frans didn’t and when I finally did when I was grown up, it only had a positive effect. I also agree with Saskia that the role Zwarte Piet is playing nowadays is of a very different nature than described in the article above (helping Sinterklaas getting organized instead of being this harlequin fool). And I love the comment by Traveller who checked out the facts and protected the positive connotation almost all Dutchies have with Sinterklaas. So Saint Nicholas freed a slave who was so thankful by this gesture that he offered to stay and help the Saint getting his business done, and that the Canadians (who freed us) made the one helper turn into many. That’s such a great story, thanks for sharing that Traveller.

            I am sorry though that some (like Bakari Sidiki Sylla) have had negative experiences relating to Zwarte Piet, but there are many people that had harships in life because they were judged upon for being different than the norm. Negativity comes in many forms and an excuse to mock other people can always be found. Personally I could be offended that people in general think of gay women as being masculine (which I’m really not) and that the canal parade is displaying gay stereotyping in it’s most extreme form. But I don’t, it’s a cultural habit I find amusing, I can laugh about it just like straight people can.

            Anyway, I don’t see much reason in changing Zwarte Piet unless it made The Netherlands this racist nation, which I don’t believe we are. I honestly think that having Zwarte Piet in our culture has just the opposite effect. Sinterklaas in general has had a real positive effect on me, and it certainly didn’t hurt my racial views. I like to believe that it’s the same for many fellow Dutchmen.

            But it’s just my opinion, and I do think that many arguments made on behalf of the contra’s are valid too.

  14. If you dig into the history of Sinterklaas you see that Sinterklaas the Holy man bought free a slave, when the slave was a free man he was so thankful that he stayed with the holy man. Originally there was only 1 “zwarte piet” as we know them now. During world war 2, the Canadians who freed parts of Holland already experienced the tradition and because they wanted to give back to the children they all dressed up like zwarte piet, hence we have so many now. This tradition never started out as racism or discrimination merely the slave showed his appreciation to the holy man that gave back to other people. Yes traditions changed a little over the years but don’t they all? Then we can say Santa Claus is bad and racist against little people. If it bothers you look the other way.

    • But emancipation is always an uphill battle. It works that way for women, people with different skin tones, gay’s, transgenders, religious minorities, maybe even red heads and short people. It’s not just about getting your right to vote, marry and get equal pay. it’s about confronting people with prejudice, just like all of the minorities I just mentioned have to do as well with each other and by themselves. The prejudice can be big things, but it can also be tiny things and when you start to recognize them most of them relate to each other.

      Most damage we can do with the stories we tell and the fiction we write, they can influence our ideas on how think about the world and how we see others. We can always chose to let those stories change along with us instead of getting stuck in the past with those stories. Just some small changes would probably go along way and I don’t think it would hurt the tradition at all.. As long as gifts are involved I don’t think children care if it’s a giant golden orca with a oil fountain spraying out of it’s blow hole handing out the presents or if it’s a creepy old dude with a beard and a cape who wants young children to sit on his lap to judge their virtue :-P.

  15. Simon Ik heb net een paar andere artikel gelezen dat jij geschreven heb. Oh sorry you want us to write in English cause it is an English site. I read some of the other crap you been writing about, and to sum it up you don’t give a shit if Zwarte Piet is black green or yellow you just want to stir things up and whinge about the country and the people that live in Holland. I lived in a few different countries over my life time and you can find people like you everywhere in The word. They are called whinging Poms. Not only that, you are a short winching Pom.
    OMG a Whinging Pom with short mans disease this explains the crap that you write about.

    Good bye

    • Carmen, please provide me a copy of this incredible new App you have which can tell you the height of a person that writes something on the Internet. I don’t need an App to tell me that you are desperate to justify a racist and insulting tradition.

    • Carmen, it’s better that you stick to writing in English. Your first sentence which is allegedly in Dutch contains no fewer than three spelling mistakes. Dat is niet goed hoor!

      Tot Ziens also normally contains a space, but then what do I know? I’m just a cheeky foreigner.

  16. Some people are overly sensitive when it comes to Zwarte Piet, it’s a tradition with no discriminating agenda attached to it, so why bother?
    The same would apply if some idiot came complaining about Sinterklaas’ white beard.
    There was an issue with the cross on Sinterklaas’ hat, some people thought it should be removed because they were afraid that it might collide with islamist indoctrination that all christans are bad.

    Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet form together with the Christian Christmas (so not the commercial X-mas) and New Year the three main December feasts in the Netherlands and i think in Flanders as well, and that should stay that way for centuries to come.

  17. If one would follow your logic, one might argue that the KFC in The Hague is as bad as a Alabama cotton plantation. At the KFC everyone is also bl.. oops there I go again.

  18. Although the personage of Zware Piet is originally based on slaves, nowadays there’s no racial context whatsoever in the tradition of Sinterklaas. If you ban Zwarte Piet from the tradition, it will not only ruin the celebration towards children, but it will also disguise the truth from the Dutch role in the history of slavery.

    • Anna, how would not having white people blacked up, ruin Sinterklaas for kids? I’m not advocating removing or banning the Piets from the celebration. Simply stop having them blacking there faces and wearing the mock curly perm wigs. Why not simply be a “Piet” Kids really don’t care if Piet is black or yellow, they just want the fun and the presents. This “It’s a tradition” and “Think about the children” are just more weasel words for my list.

      • Maybe I should have explained that one a bit more. My mother used to work at a primary school where they introduced this whole purple-green-orange idea. Children up to the age of 8 deeply believe that Sinterklaas is real, rides his horse on the roofs and that Zwarte Piet delivers presents though the chimney. Still, this ‘colored’ Piets, as they are called (Dutch don’t use the word colored for black people), really decreased the credibility of Sinterklaas for most of the children, which I think is really sad. But the point I was trying to make, is that the Dutch were real bastards in the history of slavery (getting rich by deporting Africans to America), and by removing the black paint from the Piets, you don’t give this very black pages of history the recognition it deserves.

        Same goes for the reference to slavery on the golden carriage of the Dutch monarchs (which is actually very racist): Some people plead to remove these paintings, but to me that would be like burying the past as if it never happened.

        • Anna, do you really believe what you’ve written? I’ve never seen such a sad attempt at self-delusion. Even you don’t sound convinced. So we should have white people, painting themselves black, as a reminder of slavery? That’s pretty tasteless. Let the people who play the Piets, do it with their natural color. Explain to children, that there are no Zwarte Piets anymore because it’s offensive.

          Years ago in the deep south of the USA, it was normal to bring children along to watch black people being lynched, i.e. hung from trees. I’m sure the children were upset when the practice was stopped, however, I believe that it’s the responsibility of parents to teach their kids right from wrong, and Zwarte Piet is just plain wrong.

          • Simon, you still don’t get my point. 1. If you tell children that we stopped painting Zwarte Piet’s face, they will know the face was painted all the time so everything was a lie. 2. Zwarte Piet doesn’t symbolize a remembrance of slavery, but it’s wrong to the cover the history that a country has.

            And, you’re really putting this out of perspective (comparing Zwarte Piet with hanging black people in front of children, how did you even came up with that one?). I’ve learned from my parents that discrimination in any form is wrong. And you know what? They really mean that. I mean, if I would pronounce that I’m going to have a gay marriage with a black woman they would totally be ok with this as long as it makes me happy. They did exposed me to the tradition of Zwarte Piet as a kid. So now do you think they lacked their responsibility to teach me what is right and what is wrong? I think not.

            Oh, and you know what? As a kid I was actually disappointed that there would be not future ahead of me as Zwarte Piet because I’m white myself. Now isn’t that racist for those poor little white kiddies? 😉

          • Comparing lynching black people to the performance of a mythical black character shows how delusional you really are.

  19. Hmmm… I am trying to look at this objectively, because there is an element of truth in both sides of this argument. Very well stated Sebas. Sometimes people don’t realize the rules of debate are to support your position, but leave room for other positions to be heard, and then attack the point (not the person, or in the case of Tomq an entire nation, once you attack the person rather than the topic, you lost the debate).

    Personally, I agree with the majority of the points that Zwarte Piet is hugely racist, and if they started with blue or purple face paint for future generations, it should end the entire racist debate drama for generations to come, as I also could easily see it as more the ‘elf’ story if they wore any non-humanoid color of facepaint. (Btw, Santa’s elves are also treated a bit like slaves, but they are greenish, so less controversy pops up…and, strangely enough they never turn black when they go down a chimney, maybe the chimney’s are cleaner in USA? Actually, I thought Sint & the Piets knock on the door and leave presents in the entry way and shoes? When did the chimney come into play and what if you don’t have a chimney…hmmm mind is boggled now)

    I teach a unit on racism (American slavery to Obama) and happen to know that the history of Dutch involves loads of slave trade, including bringing/selling the first slaves to America, perhaps this is the basis for people being ‘offended’ by Zwarte Piets.

    Many Dutch people of this generation have no association with Zwarte Piet to racism or the Black human race, I get that, I realy do. However, many people will always see the fact that the characteristics are magnifying aspects of real persons of color, and given the history of the ‘Dutch slave trade’, I understand why many join the argument every year. To be honest, Shallow Man, I watch the arrival of Sint every year, and I am not offended. I think the horse is pretty, the kids are happy and wide-eyed, and as Saskia mentioned, the modern Zwarte Piets are well organized and intelligent.

    Hmmm…. Shallow Man, you know you are one of my favorite columnists, but, even I was a bit skiddish on your conclusion. You usually leave us on an upbeat note, letting us know it was ‘cheeky’…but comparing Zwarte Piet to lynching and wife beating was maybe, maybe a bit over the top. Just saying, maybe you unintentionally offended some folks. 🙂 Peace and Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. 🙂

  20. i knew Zwarte piet would be on the hit list…….. so predictable and so over done, when will some actually come with a new approach on tradition bashing……
    i know let’s cancel all Foot ball and other silly ball games where players get more money than some countries GDPt!!!

  21. I think this is one of the main reasons why people who get offended by Zwarte Piet won’t come out with their criticism, cause not that but you become subject of discussion. Its good to see how more and more people are standing up to not discuss zwarte piet, but discuss racism ( , and It’s not just about Zwarte Piet, It’s about something that is present in all of us that we need to be able to talk about without falling into a silence and political correctness of the 90’s and not in the xenophobia of the 00’s. I love that it’s finally getting the attention it deserves!

  22. Hello everyone,

    I have only read about half of the comments in the discussion and so perhaps my point might have already been mentioned – sorry about this in advance. I come from the Czech Republic and we have a similar tradition – Saint Nicolas (not to be confused with Christmas, this tradition occurs at the start of December). Saint Nicolas is known to be accompanied with an angel and a devil. The angel is in a white costume with wings and the devil is covered in black, face included. The devil figure has never been associated with race – his face is painted black because, as we tell the children, he has been in the pits of hell throwing coal into the fires and is therefore permanently dirty with ash.

    I completely agree with the fact that a tradition can be changed. I agree that it is definitely not correct if people paint their faces black, or white or yellow or red or even blue, with racial intentions. At the same time I agree that labeling a tradition completely racist only based on a foreigner’s view is rather narrow minded.
    It is totally legitimate that you might view it that way, after all you come from your own social climate, but from my own experience I have noticed that people in the United Kingdom tend to automatically associate everything with race. Perhaps this is a former empire complex (and do not be insulted! I mean this in a completely historical and natural way).

    So, even if it would appear racist in origin, the tradition of the devil portrayed as he is stems from pre-Christian Slav mythology, so definitely before the Scramble for Africa and Joseph Conrad’s contemporary and now racist description of ‘black devils’.
    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of course, I believe however that being afraid that something is racist although its origins are clearly not and thus it has never been seen that way by the people who practice this tradition (in my case the Czechs) implies an insecurity about actually being racist. This insecurity may not even be a conscious thought!

    Anyways that is all I wanted to share, that despite the politically correct view, it is possible to not have racist and malicious associations, so maybe in certain cases it is worth believing the people when they say that they are not trying to hide some disgusting, discriminatory truth. If it continues to insult you, and I mean this in a diplomatic way, I’m afraid that is your own problem, because there may be a lot of ways in which you are unknowingly insulting someone else.

    Thank you for the discussion and have a good day!

  23. I have a simple solution, black people should “White-it-up” and don a blonde wig and wave to the Zwarte piet, they should actually have a band and make it as loud as they can 😉

  24. Exactly, if you don’t like it, then go back to Britain, where everyone is oh-so-not-racist. As a partly dutch person I agree with Frans, never thought of him as a slave nor as a black person. These things are thought up by people like you. Your own sarcasm is duely annoying and quite hypocritical being a colonial from the Commonwealth. God save the queen.

  25. I wouldn’t mind making the tradition of ‘Zwarte Piet’ harder to mistake for racism. The intention of the tradition is not to ‘put down’ nor offend black people (at least not nowadays), so I don’t think it really is, but I can see why it can be seen as such and may be offensive because of it.

    Then again, people being offended is a very shaky indicator that something is wrong and should be stopped. Consider for instance homosexualism. A large part of the world population make no secret of the fact that is is offensive to them. And in Amsterdam, they can just walk the street hand in hand. How disrespectful!

    Also, the context matters a lot. What about films set in a historical past, depicting people taken from Africa to America to be brought into slavery. Is that offensive as well? It is depicting “black” people as slaves and usually they are depicted as less refined and dumber than white people in those films as well. Exactly the same arguments brought up here to be against this ‘black pete’ tradition.

  26. Both sides have a point. For the opponents of the tradition, it is about semiotics. There is psychic pain in seeing a stupid caricature of oneself (stupid is a value judgment by the way). For the proponents, the tradition has been claimed incomparable to minstrel-esque black-facing in US history whose motives are genuinely racist–we are talking of former US Southern society whose elders used Aristotelian teachings to justify slavery.

    My first impression of the Zwarte Piet is theatrics.They’re not wearing contemporary clothes. It is vaudeville. It isn’t real. It is based from a fairy-tale. I think it should have been acceptable if the traditionalists state their Peter is never about racism–that his face is coaled by entering those uber-dirty Chimneys. Let us not forget that beneath the make up is also a self-depracating caucasian.

    If I won’t be meta, the price of freedom is existence and tolerance of contradictions. It is natural that we all have different values and therefore can perceive hurt from traditions. However, entertaining that hurt could also violate Pluralism. I mean other countries have versions of Pete too, so Double-standard and a perceived destruction of nostalgic heritage is sensibly real–almost like attacking one’s belief system.

    Level-headedly, I personally think the practice is not intentionally racist because there is something Pavlovian about kids getting chocolates from a black Pete. I think satire or reductio ad absurdum might be necessary to enlighten the ignoble. For the sake of example, suppose our country-men of African-decent go out there in Zwarte Piet costumes sans the unnecessary coal make up; and hand-out clever propaganda instead of… chocolates?

  27. All I see is just bunch of smart-ass trying to ruin kids celebration. It was never a problem before, why make it a problem now? Jesus. Get a candy.

  28. My wife is Spanish. She’s offended because Zwarte Piet perpetuates the myth that Africa starts south of the Pyrenees since Spain is where he and Sinterklaas come from. I think Zwarte Piet should dress as a bullfighter and wear a really bad mustache for geographical accuracy.

  29. I know this is an old article but still love to give my 2 cents. It ain’t racist, even the whole argument that tries to point it as racist is flawed as can be. Which is essentially “There was black face in the US and that was to disparage black people, so any time at another place on earth someone paint’s their face black it MUST be racist”.

    That ain’t the case. To give an simple example, as someone who grew up deep in the bible belt here in Holland and where some extremist Christians still don’t trust black people near them (due to being “Cain’s sons” or something like that) I should have seen them as a kid as something bad, something I shouldn’t want to be if it actually was racist.
    Meanwhile in reality I was given tasks, as a sly way to get kids more into PE, in elementary school around Sinterklaas to “train for becoming a piet” to get a certificate to become a piet when you are 18. And I know for a fact that was dead normal for PE around that time of year (and probably still is). Even in my elementary school filled to the brim with both teachers and kids that toke the bible extremely serious (including the whole Cain and Able thing, bloody hell they didn’t even believe in the existence of dyslexia and autism because “the lord made everybody perfect”.
    Point being, for all intends and purposes Piet should have been shown as something unwanted if it was even associated with black people, yet they encouraged kids to become one.

    And the same goes for most kids, as it isn’t exactly uncommon to see kids dressed up as Zwarte piet.

    Not to mention you’d need to blind to even associate it with black people if you weren’t aware of the american “black face”. Because it doesn’t really look like a black person to begin with in the VAST majority of cases. First the obvious, no black person with such a deep black skin color has such bright red lips. Secondly you’d be hard pressed to find such deep colored black people walking around and third since when do black people have typical European facial features?

    Point being, without referencing other cultures (mainly american) thus without getting context outside of dutch culture its impossible to claim Zwarte piet is racist. It essentially boils down to “because X is racist Y is racist because it looks superficially similar”. Because at the end of the day what is exactly bad about being a jolly fun loving present giver that has a boss you love to work for?

  30. What progress has been made in three years. RTL have dropped blackface Piet’s and instead will show white people with streaks of soot to match the story of “he’s not black he’s been down a chimney”. Amsterdam will stop with the traditional Piets this year, and many other gemeentes are following suit. Jumbo, Hema and a number of other organisations no longer sell ZP packaged goods. Beautiful!


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