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The Black Pete debate of 2018! Yes, the Dutchies are at it again

The debate always resurfaces, and each year in the Netherlands it seems to begin earlier and earlier. Here’s the latest in Zwarte Piet news.

A Facebook post was shared recently stating that the suspects in the trial about the highway blockade (during the national Sinterklaas arrival last year) were sentenced to prison. Heads up: this was fake news! 

The post (since removed) was posted on the page (which has over 32,000 likes) and was shared over 25,000 times in 23 hours. According to the post, the 34 suspects were sentenced to 18 months in prison. Turns out: this was a load of porky pies.

What’s the real story?

There is a real lawsuit: 34 people are suspected of blocking the A7 Highway so that 2 buses of anti-Zwarte Piet protesters couldn’t reach the national Sinterklaas arrival in Dokkum in November 2017.

But the trial against them – which started on Monday – is still ongoing. The Public Prosecutor hasn’t even given their sentences yet.

So, what’s in store for Zwarte Piet this year?

The Black Pete debate started up again when broadcaster NTR announced that only ‘Chimney Pete’ will be featured on the kids’ show Sinterklaasjournaal, giving the impression that there will be no actors with blackface.

A day later, however, a NTR spokesperson clarified that there will be Peter’s who are completely black because of how frequently they went down the chimney…

7 out of 8 cities in Noord-Brabant have since decided to welcome the “friendlier appearance” of Zwarte Piet; the actors will be covering their faces with brown makeup, instead of going with the ‘chimney soot’ look. The Sinterklaas committees in Helmond, Bergen op Zoom, Den Bosch, Eindhoven and Oss are not straying any further from tradition, they say, because they’ve already made him less black, more brown, and discarded the red lips and earrings. Tillburg have yet to make a decision.

In Roosendal and Breda, Pete will be “pitch-black” because that’s what the majority of their people want.

What a polava! Are you pro or anti Zwarte Piet? How about we start our own debate in the comments? 

Abigail Claire
Abigail Claire
Abbie, a writer from the UK, fell in love with the Netherlands when she was three years old. When she’s not spending her free time painting canals or playing the guitar, she’ll be off travelling somewhere (and probably getting lost).


  1. I advice anyone (whether pro- or anti-zwarte piet), to watch Paul Nielsen’s video on zwarte piet. Many people don’t understand the past of zwarte piet, including actual dutch people (no, he’s not black because of the chimney). Did you know the man who introduced zwarte piet in 1850 was against slavery? Did you know that saint nicholas actually bought slaves to save them? Did you know zwarte piet is partially based on Krampus and the black moors who enslaved Europeans and took them to Spain? I doubt most people would say yes, including Dutch people. I found most of these out today as well.
    I wouldn’t care if zwarte piet just had a few dark wipes on his face, so that it actually looks like someone who went through a chimney (there were also witte pieten in the 60’s, nobody just thought anything of it).
    It’s just that for a lot of Dutch people, it feels like our culture is being stripped away and that their identity is being attacked. To a lot of people, the city they’ve lived in for decades doesn’t even feel Dutch anymore. Sinterklaas for a lot of people, including myself, has always been a very joyful celebration that feels as nostalgic as christmas to english people. The zwarte piet debate therefore feels like a symptom of something much bigger, rather than that we don’t want to change zwarte piet. After all, zwarte piet and sinterklaas both have changed a lot during the years.

    • Hi Ilse,
      The debate is a symptom with a reminiscence of the old Bob Dylan “The Times They Are a-Changin” and we can all sit around the table and debate if we agree with these changes or not but they will and are happening. We can all educate ourselves on the history of Saint Nicholas and how it all started and there is nothing wrong with that at all but the problem starts when one completely ignores the history of slavery which one needs to study get a “true” grasp on this yearly situation in The Netherlands. It is complacent to ignore the roots of slavery and state that “our tradition” has nothing to do with slavery and you do not gain any ground with this mindset. Your culture and the culture on the planet is changing rapidly which means we are evolving into something new and it is change that frightens people and suggesting that your identity is being attacked is just an emotional response, I can imagine many people with dark skin feel the same this time of year and by simply removing black face paint, afro hair and gold earrings (stereotyping of slaves) does not seem like an unreasonable “compromise”. A tradition that divides is not healthy and that so many have grown up thinking it is “normal” I can understand completely why people feel so passionate about it.

      When people are divided, the only solution is agreement.
      John Hume

  2. Ok you Dutch had slavery, apartheid in South Africa and less well known, in Suriname, you told the Germans where to find Jewish-Dutch, had them killed and stole their assets, occupied other people’s territory in the Caribbean, North America, Afrika, New Zealand… Indonesia, willing to kill to get what you want. Your king has a black person kneeling for a white person on his car. You have black pete and want to keep him like you wanted to keep indonesia. Ok to all of that. We don’t blame you for who you are. But what I do not get, really do not get, is why you deny that you are racist! Admit it, own it and we can address it. Say: Yes we are the greatest racist on the face of they earth. There, self-acceptance. Now the healing can start. You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge.


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