Friday, 25 October 2013

Black Peter or Zwarte Piet - Netherlands and Racism

It is that time of the year again for the racist Sinterklaas /  Zwarte Piet 'festivities'. By popular demand from my Dutch readers, I am going to republish this every year. If you are Dutch and think Zwarte Piet is not racist, I can tell you that you should really take your time to educate yourself. Decent people do not seek to offend others, do the right thing!

Originally published *14/11/2012

I nearly had a minor heart attack in the supermarket (side story why is there only one major supermarket in Netherlands?). Anyway back to my heart attack, this was because a small group of children entered the supermarket in blackface! I could not believe my eyes! I actually thought I was in a twilight zone.

Apparently during Christmas it is perfectly acceptable and a tradition to dress up as 'Black Peter' or Zwarte Piet - here is the wiki page. This means wearing dark make up, an afro wig and dark red exaggerated lips. In essence the typical 'golliwog'. I plainly call it racist and quite shocking in this day and age by a country as progressive as Netherlands.

One Dutch man  tried to tell me that it was ok because the character 'Zwarte Piet' is actually only darker skinned because of falling through a chimney. I asked then why the afro?  ' Oh, it is just a tradition in Netherlands, don't be so sensitive.'

This is my response : I rarely care for debates about what  is racist and what isn't. I do think there is a problem when people think it is ok to dress their children in black face. I am not stupid, painting your skin black, wearing an afro and painting on red lips is not what you do to look like you have fallen out of a chimney. I do think there is a problem when people defend things that are plainly inappropriate for this day and age. There is a difference between not knowing any better and choosing not to know better.

All that said, Netherlands is a very racially progressive country. Having lived in several places I rank Netherlands quite high in terms of progression, second only to London, Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham. It is light years ahead of  places like Glasgow, Wales or Taunton. My hope is that the silly childishness of wanting to defend racist imagery as a tradition will end.

I know some of you are in Netherlands - what do you think about Zwarte Piet? Would you actually dress your child in blackface?

Ps - I was going to link an image with this article but it is offensive to my sensibilities and so it is not here:)


61 comments:

  1. I just moved to Switzerland from Chicago, and my first experience with the "Black face" thing was when my husband (He's white german) and I went to a club. I saw a man with black skinned make-up on his face and hands with his hair apparently fro'd out. I couldn't believe this! I was in shock. I've never experienced something like that. It made me so mad, but everyone around me was like "he doesn't mean anything by it" "its not like in the States." But its never okay. I don't care if he was doing it out of admiration. It still is and will forever be offensive!

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    1. Courtney - I also just moved to Northern Europe (Oslo, Norway) from Chicago and my husband (he's of Norwegian descent) experienced something similar!! It was super offensive and took everything behind my husband's blue eyes to hold it together.

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  2. I've heard of this before. I hope that you don't allow it to traumatize you. Lord knows I would of had a mini melt down lol

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  3. Thanks for the comments Courtney and Adriel. Interesting the Dutch guy said to me that the only people who react badly to this blackface are Brits and Americans. He is firmly in the junk section of my interractions.

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  4. I knew of the character but I DID NOT know that it was cool to dress up as the character. Wow!

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  5. Ahhh the sinterklaas conundrum!

    On the one hand you could choose to view it as an innocent childrens' festivity. As kids my sister and I loved sinterklaas and were oblivious to any of its racially charged elements. Indeed the history of the Netherlands is different from the US with the minstrel shows, civil rights movement etc. "Blackface" isn't really a "thing" here as it is in the US.

    HOWEVER, as an adult I definitely see the racism in this tradition. Especially since in the past Zwarte piet was portrayed as stupid and a boogey man who would take kids away if they were bad (these days he is portrayed in a more "politically corect" way).

    The fact that its a tradition for children is also problematic because it can breed ignorance. I remember a kid asking my mom "oh, if I wipe your skin will the black come off?" and I have darker skinned friends who would be called "zwarte piet". This makes it all the more irritating when these racist elements are denied. The reaction of that Dutch guy is pretty typical: "oh its harmless, don't be so sensitive", "its the soot from the chimey", SMH!!! This same denial is usually displayed regarding the use of the term "neger" for black people which is still very much accepted here (I always make a point to correct someone when they use that term in my presence). Same thing with snacks called moorkoppen (moor heads) and negerzoen (negro kiss, this name was actually abolished). I think this (chosen) obliviousness has to do with the fact that the history of slavery is barely taught in schools.

    All that being said, I don't think the zwarte piet tradition is going anywhere anytime soon. At least its better that he isn't portrayed as dumb anymore. But it would be nice if people here would acknowledge the shady background of this tradition.

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    1. To add to my comment above: I am Dutch and half black/white and NO I would NOT dress any potential future child of mine in black face. However I probably would continue to celebrate the Sinterklaas tradition.

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  6. "1845: Jan Schenkman writes Saint Nicholas and his Servant; Piet is described in this book as a page, and is depicted as a dark man wearing clothes associated with a moor." <-- Wiki straight up throws out that "he just fell through a chimney". How bizarre. I think you hit the issue on the head though; there's a difference between knowing not knowing any better and choosing not to know any better.

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  7. We (Brits & Americans) react badly to it because it is VERY OFFENSIVE. How would they like it if the rest of the world walked around dressed like senseless -hefty-busty-wooden shoe wearing-broken english dah speaking-promiscuous-milk maids??? That is still not even half as offensive as black face. Do they really understand the history of black face?? I get really annoyed when people brush of stuff like that and say you are being too sensitive. They are the ones being insensitive! They have grown up in their little bubble and have no understanding of what it means about facing prejudice or discrimination and can make light of such subjects or brush it under the table.

    I have never heard of this before until you mentioned it JC. It is really an eye opener of how backward some people/cultures in the so called developed world can be. it may be their tradition but some traditions in this time and age need to be binned!

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    1. as a dutch person i am very much offended by your decsription of us as hefty wooden shoe wearing milk maids. We must talk the next time you are in holland in the coffee shop or red light district

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  8. Holy crap! I'm shaking with anger right now! I'm German and I've never been to the Netherlands nor have I heard of Black Peter but if I would live there I would NEVR EVER allow my son to walk around like that! Traditions are a good thing but this is just unsulting and not acceptable.

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    1. "A politically correct world where everyone takes everyone else into account, offends no one and steps on no toes is a world without culture, humor, history and future."

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    2. Anon your quote appears to be a justification for being racist and insensitive. You can quote me here,

      'A world where people think before they speak, consider the feelings of others and where people live to ensure their own as well as others' happiness is the one I choose to live in. This world has cross-cultural appreciation, deep reflection, acknowledgement that some history should never repeat itself and a future where humans no longer seek conflict but work for enduring peace and harmony.'

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  9. I am dutch and I don't think y'all are getting the whole 'zwarte piet' or 'black pete' thing. Let me explain. In the Netherlands we celebrate 'Sinterklaas' or 'Saint Nickolas' right before chrismas. Sinterklaas has nothing to do with christmas, they're both two different holidays. When we celebrate Sinterklaas every year we celebrate this man coming from spain with his helpers. They give children presents just like Santa.
    The whole Sinterklaas tradition is based on some really really old story about a holy bishop and his helpers who apparently did good things for people.
    Anyway, my point is that we've been celebrating Sinterklaas for a loooooong long time, we did not come up with 'black pete' ourselves an we most certainly do not mean anything by it. I know it seems offensive, but there's just nothing offensive about it. I'm black and I have NEVER ever thought that black pete was something offensive. I'm sorry but I think that you guys are over reacting a little bit.

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    1. Since you are Dutch can you explain why people commonly say that Zwarte Piet fell out of chimney? Also if you are being honest wasn't this 'helper' technically a slave and not really a Spanish man?

      Final question, would you personally dress up as Zwarte Piet?

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    2. I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt because as you say this is a tradition that has been going on for many years. Most of the participants may not even know the history of "blackface", minstrel shows or slavery etc. I actually learned some of this history as an adult, not everything is taught in school.

      However, I do wonder: Why does the afro wig and the brightly colored red lips have to be part of the costume? After all, this character fell through a chimney, right? Why not put some streaks of black make-up on the face and leave it at that?

      The problem with "Zwarte Piet" is that it's a caricature. One that has it's roots in racist imagery where everything about black and brown peoples was exaggerated and made fun of: the jet-black face, the big frizzy hair and the fat lips. It is a combination of ALL these things that is offensive. "Zwarte Piet" plays into all the stereotypical depictions of black and brown peoples. At the very least it's culturally insensitive and shows a lack of cultural awareness. I think it's especially problematic for kids who are already growing up in a culture where there are few positive depictions of people of color.

      Interestingly enough, Jc also mentions the "golliwog" character which is a similar character that has appeared in children's literature. (There are similar ones such as "Little Black Sambo" and "Ufu and Mufu" which have provoked controversy in their own way). I urge you to think about this again, dig a little deeper, reach beneath the surface and ask yourself the question"is this really okay"?

      Sue

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    3. People either say that to have something to tell the kids when they ask why Zwarte Piet is black, or people just say it because they really don't know why Zwarte Piet is black, so they just go with the chimney story. Either way, it's nonsense, of course.
      I am not too familiar with the original Sinterklaas story, but as far as I know his helpers were actually helpers, not slaves. I guess you could compare these helpers to butlers. So they were not slaves back then, and they're not slaves now. They are helpers. Besides, Sinterklaas was a saint, and saints generally didn't own slaves.

      But I do understand where you're coming from when you find Zwarte Piet offensive. So I take back what I said: I don't think y'all are over reacting. Maybe I'm just one of the few people who's just not offended by Zwarte Piet.

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  10. I'm from Suriname (we were a colony of the Netherlands) and every year on the 5th of December its the same thing with "sinterklaas en zwartepiet".
    I kind off hate it because the "zwartepiet" is the slave of the "sinterklaas" and so on. Alot of people here wont talk about it as a form of racism but I think its of the highest grade.
    This year its the same story...pff we are praying for better days....

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  11. Wasn't it in the N'lands that theu had the N****r B***H article about Rihanna? I didn't think they were that racially progressive from what I had heard from black people that live there, its not a bad place, but black people even if born there are regarded as immigrants not black-dutch. Also, raising the issue of racism is always discarded as whining - is that the case. I'm really surprised about Wales and Glasgow, I thought they were really good! However, I've never been there. Were they really racist to you?

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  12. I personally do not think I would find it that offensive, since it is part of their countries tradition, but I may be to accepting in my attitude - unsure. I would be more angry if done in the UK, but countries do have different relationships with race. I wouldn't let my children do it, but I don't think it would make me mad

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  13. I've heard the N'lands is quite good when it comes to race, but the fact that you were so easily fobbed of, suggests that they prefer to sweep race under the carpet or ignore it as being overly sensitive

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    1. The truth is that in Netherlands to get a job in most fields where a degree is not required all that is mandatory is that you speak Dutch. This is a perfectly reasonable expectation in my view. The second thing is that when you walk around, most Dutch people will speak to you in Dutch. You are not presumed to be a foreigner just because of your skin colour. In all walks of life you will find minorities from Turks, Asian and Africans and they all are integrated knowing the language and culture of Netherlands. In my view, Netherlands is doing something right (Do I disagree with Zwarte Piet? Absolutely!)

      On Glasgow - I lived in Glasgow for two years, I found it to be one of the least integrated places that I have lived in. The first thing is the perception of skin colour. Unlike in London or Midlands where nobody assumes you to be anything....in Glasgow it is not uncommon for people to ask, 'Are you from Africa?' or 'Oh, are you from America?' It is funny to be in UK and have people who think that all black people come from either Africa or USA. However, it gets worse. Many Scottish people and firms are very nationalistic preferring Scottish products, Scottish employees, Scottish everything (when I say Scottish, I mean with a Scottish name and accent). Having an English accent is a real turn off to them, it would be better to be from Africa or America. It is so strange to be because I lived in la la land for so long thinking it is the 'United Kingdom' but you have to live in Scotland to know the level of dislike for England. So anyway the combination of nationalism and ignorance among many makes for a very non-integrated place. It is not uncommon to go to a place like Nando's and get it mostly full of Asian clientelle then to go down just a mile to another Nando's and find it full of Caucasian clientelle. It was weird like there was unspoken segregation.

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    2. I have started to recognise over the last few years that Wales, Ireland and Scotland still have big issues with England, far most dislike than I think most ENglish people are aware. My Welsh friend told me, "Welsh people hate the English, but the English don't know." A lot of discontent left over from colonialism etc. People associate discontent with these issues with more oppressed colonied (such as caribbean, india etc) but I've heard a lot of Welsh, scots etc say either the same thing or worse things that people from the more stereotypically oppressed colonies.

      I had some friends over from Trinidad who went to Scotland on holiday and were extremely surprised to hear pretty much the same somewhat negative things about England that you can hear in the Caribbean! They couldn't believe it because they thought all white, british people were sort of the same (apart from the Irish - which most caribbeans know had a rough time).


      I would love to go the N'lands one day but my family thinks it looks to cold and they said they can be cold in england, why pay to be cold somewhere else!? lol

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    3. Also, was Wales like Scotland in terms of their treatment of ethnics?

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    4. lol Wales was half and half. There are very many ignorant people on the streets. A little child on the train asked me if I could rub the colour off my skin...........yes in 2009!! I mean seriously Trisha was on TV for 10 years if not more! At workplaces where the education level is higher, you do not get such ignorance.

      Netherlands has way better weather than the whole of UK including nicer warmer places like Portsmouth or Cornwall. It has proper summers (25-30 degrees for 2-3 months) and it does not rain as much as it does in UK. Being close to UK, most Europeans do not rate the weather in Netherlands highly but coming from UK, I can say that it is definitely milder and nicer.

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  14. I am Dutch also and I can understand the points that are being made.

    We learn about this when we are toddlers though and to them there is nothing racial about it. It's about leaving drawings in your shoe and a carrot for the horse and getting special treats like pepernoten and presents. Sinterklaas rides his horse on the rooftops and the presents are brought down by Zwarte Piet through the chimney as he also picks up whatever is left downstairs.

    But to us, or me at least, it's like getting rid of Santa Claus and that's a big deal. How would everyone here feel if you were asked to get rid of that? I just find it a tough choice. Yes, I can see the racial issues, as an adult, but does that mean we have to get rid of an old tradition?
    I really don't know what the answer is to this.

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  15. I am Dutch also and I can understand the points that are being made.

    We learn about this when we are toddlers though and to them there is nothing racial about it. It's about leaving drawings in your shoe and a carrot for the horse and getting special treats like pepernoten and presents. Sinterklaas rides his horse on the rooftops and the presents are brought down by Zwarte Piet through the chimney as he also picks up whatever is left downstairs.

    But to us, or me at least, it's like getting rid of Santa Claus and that's a big deal. How would everyone here feel if you were asked to get rid of that? I just find it a tough choice. Yes, I can see the racial issues, as an adult, but does that mean we have to get rid of an old tradition?
    I really don't know what the answer is to this.

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  16. My husband is dutch and white, I am not dutch and black and I have spent a lot of time in Holland and I always felt "normal" there. Meaning no one gave me a second glance even when I was the only black person in the room. I never felt uncomfortable being black in that country. With that being said, I do find the piets offensive. There is nothing positive about the piets, in fact from what my husbands family told me they are very mischievous and they steal. I don't like them one bit. But I try to not be so uptight about it because like I said before I haven't ever felt racism from dutch people I do think for the most part they think its a "harmless' character. If you know what i mean

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    1. I know exactly what you mean! This is my issue with it. For a country so progressive which makes an effort to allow people to feel ok to be a part regardless of race, how can they possibly accept something so offensive? It makes no sense!

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    2. To be fair, I've never heard any stories from anyone ever about Zwarte piet stealing? it sounds very very strange to me, because I grew up with this tradition and lived in the Netherlands my entire life, and everyone I know has as a child experienced Zwarte Piet as a purely positive, friendly, funny person who also is way less scary than Sinterklaas.

      As a child I never even associated Zwarte Piet with black people, because to be fair children do honestly believe he's black because he climbs through chimneys. I do think it's racist now, but as a child I never gave it a second thought, and never had any negative thoughts about Zwarte Piet.

      I made a full post as well about how I think the tradition should change, because Dutch people are very reluctant towards change, and this has been discussed for ages. It's not a thing you can simply ban, it's way more complex than that.

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  17. jc,
    i share your outrage! its the same thing he in belgium with zwarte piet and sinterklaus. my husband is white and belgian and he gives the same tired excuses, its not racist, he's just dirty from the chimney blah, blah, blah... it annoys me to no end! i am american and black and while upon closer examination santa claus and his child labor/ elf helper/ slaves? are not terribly p.c. i still prefer to celebrate american style christmas! no zwarte piet costumes for our son! we did visit sint nicolaas last year after i made sure there would be no zwarte pieten there, but i don't think that strategy will continue, i think it has to be all or nothing and this year i want to try and eliiminate this tradition from our family entiirely! its just too distastefull, good luck in holland thisseason, those blackfaces wilbe popping up EVERYWHERE, uuugh!

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  18. Yup, I am from the Netherlands and it is a despicable display. I am always ashamed when someone asks me where I am from. Luckily, I am not the only one fighting against this racial festivity. There is a Facebookpage, where you can show your support in our fight!

    https://www.facebook.com/zwartepietisblackface

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  19. Thousands of Dutch object to the racist aspects of the tradition. The protests have been voiced since the sixties, at least, and Theo grow in number each year. Check out Zwarte Piet is Racisme on Facebook for a lively debate and by all means: join.

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  20. it's really NOT blackface. That's a big misunderstanding. If it was a racist thing, they wouldn't have made him a hero, now would they?

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    1. It IS black face Dyno. Please educate yourself on what black face is. It is a depiction in a caricature manner of black person by painting skin darker, large usually red lips and afro hair. It is very racist.

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  21. I've lived in Switzerland and France but I've never been aware of this tradition. It looks like I've had a lucky escape. I'm sorry that you've had this sort of encounter. It sounds completely surreal.

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  22. I've lived in France and Switzerland but I've been fortunate enough never to encounter something quite as surreal. I think you've taken it quite well. I think I'm still in shock.

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  23. This is not my comment but the comment of Dutch Black Gurl without the expletive!

    'i am a black girl born in Holland parents from the kolony.... used to zwarte pete... they never fought against it.. because we are already seen as trouble makers from curacao....... the knew generation is not staying quite anymore.. Dutch people love to believe they tolerant without overthinking there actions.

    i think because dutch people have big part in apartheid system over the world... its no coincedince ..in south african Afrikaans language has influence of dutch words.

    Dutch people are very educated on many topics and therefor take for granted they are on this subject tooo.

    its rare you find a dutch person admitting to talk kinda rascist. even if they say i hate maroccans.... Everybody is rascist sometimes. You have to know when you are.
    Here becauseof past kolonial guilt its culturalised to not EVER admit your doing something rascist.

    The politics after 9/11 havebeen very rascists... and half of the people vote for these partiess.....

    BLACK PETE IS RAscist ... and you bet cha our generation will stand up to it .. by boycotting.. children going to school. etc...

    THe tradition is a lovely party..and can easily persued by chimney strokes on al faces instead of afro ... blackface ..golden earrings etc

    KEEP YOU POSTED>> AND MAY I ADD IT HELPS TO GET THE HELP VAN UK AND US PEOPLE .. because its a mirror like why are the white people in uk and us finding it rascist and not WE.

    yes they usually say... we dont have that past. how in the world they can say that with centuries of slavery ..exicuted by the dutch tradition is MINDBLOWINGGG .. but also something im used to in this culture.

    SLAVERY IS NOT TAUGHT IN SCHOOL or acknowledged.. thats sooo long agoooo
    they say.

    THanks 4 your view .. trying to give you inside on Dutch 'zwarte piet" '

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  24. 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.

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  25. 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.

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  26. Here's a great article about the tradition and necessary changes. https://notyournanswriting.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/happy-blackface-season/#comment-277

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    1. I agree with that comment Amber, it is the black face which is racist to me. I am not bothered by anything else. I feel that wearing fun make up like a striped blue and yellow face or indeed a purple face would be fine. It is the costume that is racist, it is a mockery of black people.

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  27. After last year's celebrations of Sinterklaas/Black Peter at an international school a six year old girl (with beautiful brown skin) went home and told her parents that she and her little brother were naughty peters because they had dark skin. How many other children like her, have this perception of themselves because of Black Peter and his naughty helpers - whether they choose to voice it or not? Find me a person who can justify the 'harmless' celebration of Black Peter in this context.

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  28. Why we don't accept the double moral of dutch society, tolerance and racism live side by side in each corner of the streets. Simply as this, is we all think this problem solve! The dutch will never change this tradition and we will ever understand it, is a paradoxical situation.

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  29. Afro-Europe Blog has several articles talking about Zwarte Piet you may want to check out. This is what happens when cultures collide. I don't "agree" with the idea of a Zwarte Piet (I grew up in Germany with St. Nikolaus and his dark helper Krampus, which is essentially the same concept, but maybe a little scarier), but what can you do..it has a very long tradition in Europe. Is it "racist"..? Maybe in some ways yes considering European fears of all things "dark", but I think it really goes back to pre-christian traditions which often mixed with the relatively "newer" christian traditions once paganism began to be more fully stamped out in the Middle Ages/Rennaissance.

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    1. I am actually fine with Krampus. Krampus is depicted as a devil. I do find that some of the costumes are really extreme and scary for children. I do certainly see your point about fear of all things 'dark'. I do though think that the current depiction of Krampus is not a black person, perhaps in some senses the German culture has evolved to change it into a devil rather than a dark skinned person and take away the racist connotations.

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  30. I live in the Netherlands and I agree that Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet is very VERY racist. When you try to debate this with the Dutch, all they can come up with is 'it's tradition, it's for the children, they don’t see color (then why not stop painting the piets black?)' or 'Stop being so sensitive, if you don't like it, go back to your own country!’ (that’s pretty much their answer to any discussion they cannot win).

    I am not sure where in the Netherlands you have been, but I was born and raised here and I don't agree with your view of them being tolerant and progressive at ALL. But that's another discussion.

    Back to Sinterklaas. Zwarte Piet was a slave and a Moor (hence the blackface) and he was freed by Sinterklaas and as a thank you he chose to stay and help Sinterklaas (or at least, that’s the saying). That’s why zwarte piet is the one handing out presents and doing all the work and the white Sinterklaas just sits there and does nothing. Instead of the Dutch telling their kids the truth, they chose to lie and fabricated this ridiculous story that zwarte piet is a white guy who has been blackened by the ashes of the chimney.

    The funny part is that they can't even get their stories straight. They tell their children that zwarte piet is a white guy who's face has been blackened by the ashes of chimney, but yet his lips are thick and red and his clothes are colorful (they wear the typical cloths the Moors used to wear). Why didn’t that get blackened by the ashes as well? Also in a lot of depictions of zwarte piet, he’s painted BROWN, not black, but BROWN (like the skin of the Moors). I guess it was a magical chimney then that had brown ashes instead of black? And where did his kinky/curly hair come from all of a sudden? I guess it was the magic of the chimney again huh?

    Even in their Sinterklaas songs they sing ‘Sinterklaasje kom maar binnen met je knecht’ which translates into ‘Sinterklaas please come in with your servant/slave’. So if zwarte piet is just any old white guy, why the slave reference? In another one of their songs piet sings ‘Ook al ben ik zo zwart als roet, ik bedoel het toch goed’ which translates into ‘Even though I am black as night, I don’t mean any harm’. Why would you need to emphasize someone with black skin meaning no harm? Doesn’t that go without saying? But he’s still supposed to be just a white guy right? And these are all just cheerful and harmless songs right? Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuure.

    I remember when I was younger they used to depict zwarte piet as stupid and slow on their tvshows. Also they used to have zwarte piet speak with the typical accent people of Surinamese/Antilles decent (former Dutch colonies) speak Dutch. But yet zwarte piet is supposed to be a white guy right? Suuuuuuuuuuuuure.

    And to make it even worse, whenever this time of year comes around, the Dutch always, and I mean ALWAYS make jokes about people of Surinamese/Antilles or any black decent being the real zwarte pieten. It surprises me this hasn’t happened to you. It’s like they are proud that they used to have people of Surinamese/Antilles decent as slaves and they don’t want us to forget it either.

    I am Surinamese myself and I don’t know ANYONE of black decent (Surinamese/Antilles/Nigerian/Ghanaian) that celebrates this ‘holiday’ (unless of course they are adopted or have a white partner). This holiday is truly disgusting.

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    1. I have been wearing 'Zwarte Piet is Racisme' T-shirts all through December. It is a very disgusting thing that people actually said to you that you are the real zwarte pieten. It has not happened to me possibly because I wear the shirt, I am one of those people who needs to confront racism especially when it is so insidious.

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  31. I am a white american. Sometimes I think we are more offended by some of this stuff than those portrayed because racism is a huge part of our recent history, and still being fought. I think part of the issue is people never want to admit they were fooled. To believe one thing as a child and learn quite the opposite as an adult.

    I dont know why people can't admit parts of this if nothing else APPEAR racist. I'm certain there is a compromise. I have been doing a lot of research because I knew nothing about the culture. It would be ignorant of me to base an opinion of the Dutch tradition by using what I've known in my own culture.

    I have read that zwarte peit was the devil and forced to serve the saint, or they were mischievous, or even that they were there to dole out punishment because it would be wrong for a saint to do so.

    My own opinion is.... If you get rid of the wig, gold, total black face, and red lips, that would take the racism out. Just my own opinion based on that people don't view him in that light, but certainly portray him that way. Its like saying yes but shaking your head no. It sends mixed signals.

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    1. Totally agree with you - 'If you get rid of the wig, gold, total black face, and red lips, that would take the racism out'

      If zwarte piet had a blue face or purple face, it would be fine, but right now, the black face is a mockery and racist

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  32. It would be nice if you could do another item about this racist holiday. The dutch are still denying the racist origin of this 'holiday'. It sickens me.
    https://scontent-b-ams.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/994939_1425143604367625_1134555302_n.jpg
    This picture tells you everything you need to know about Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet

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  33. Thanks so much for this post! As was said in the other recent comment the discussion is still raging in the Netherlands about racist undertones of the whole holiday. It's getting *very* ugly, with all the pro-Piet people just telling the others to "get back to their own country". It's pretty impossible to reason with people like that.
    I'm a black woman and loathed zwarte Piet when I was a young girl. Kids would yell, look there goes zwarte Piet, when I walked by and I hated that so much. I wouldn't mind a bit if they got rid of Sinterklaas little 'helpers'.

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  34. Thanks so much for republishing this! The Dutch just keep on lying and lying. Because if they admit Zwarte Piet is a moorish slave, they will be admitting they have been lying to their children and the world for years and years. Anyone can see Zwarte Piet is a moorish slave and STILL they will make up excuses and start talking about something else. Like saying 'you know there are people dying of hunger and war everyday, we should focus on that instead of trying to ban Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet' or 'you know I have black neighbors who love Zwarte Piet'' or ''I'm in an interracial relationship and my partner loves this holiday. This holiday is for everyone''. Um no it's not! It never has been for everyone! And it has never been a positive holiday for dutch black people! Black dutch people who defend this disgusting holiday need to brush up on their history. The Dutch will do anything to masked their racism. They even have talked some black dutch people into defending Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet on national tv. They will do absolutely anything to hold on to their slave holiday. All of this speaks VOLUMES about their mentality which has NEVER changed. (off topic: you know the Dutch prime minister even said dutch black people need to stop talking about slavery, stop remembering it which we do every year and just forget it, that it's in the past, but they do remember the jews, the second world war and the Holocaust every year and nobody says anything about that. Hypocrites).

    I am Dutch and black and I absolutely HATE Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet. I always have. They keep saying ''the kids don't see color'' and they are absolutely right. Kids don't. All kids care about is presents and candy. So why isn't Zwarte Piet white? Why isn't he called White Peter? Why was he black in the first place? The majority of dutch children are white. So wouldn't they will be able to relate to white peter much better? And why isn't his hair straight? Where did his earrings come from? And why do his clothes look the way they do?

    What is stopping the Dutch from changing their disgustingly racist tradition? Could it be the fact that the ADULTS love painting their faces brown and love depicting slaves? Could it be the fact that ADULTS love calling black dutch people Zwarte Piet ''as a joke''? Could it be the fact that the ADULTS love depicting black skin as bad and harmful? Could it be the fact that the Dutch love putting the idea in their children's head from a young age that caucasians have their black helpers and servants? It's really sickening how far the Dutch will go to defend these 'festivities'. Their mentality is just despicable.

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  35. IT IS NOT RACIST! It is only racist because you want to believe it is a racist tradition!

    People in Belgium and the Netherlands feel uncomfortable with it that you call this a racist tradition and then say it is a white man or woman whom turned black due to the chimney. If you look to the true history of this Christian tradition you see that Sinterklaas/Saint Nicholas (he is a greek) saved childeren in several legends. He also saved (black) children from slavery! In medieval ages they turned the story around because good and bad play is an important role in the feast: good is rewarded, bad and evil are punished. Nowadays Saint black pete is a legend and a hero and has the same importance as Saint Nicholas! My best regards, a girl from Belgium ( no matter what color!)

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    1. I maintain that it is racist and offensive. I have no issue with whatever story you tell, I have an issue with a white person wearing an afro, black make up and exaggerated lips to pretend to be a black person. You should feel uncomfortable when I say it is racist......it was my intention to make you feel uncomfortable, disconcerted and to think again.

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    2. I am so glad a white person posted. This post is a perfect example of the garbage black dutch people have to deal with EVERY SINGLE YEAR. This holiday is and has always been racist. Black Peter is Sinterklaas' moorish slave. His stupid slave. Black Pete is not and has never been a hero. Everyone always laughed at how stupid and dumb he was. That is why they made him speak with a black accent. But ever since Dutch lies about the true history of this holiday have been exposed, ever since the lie about his skin color being a result of chimney ashes was exposed, all of a sudden, Black Pete is hero. He is quick, fast, witty, he lost his 'black accent' and now everyone wants be him, because he's just soooooo cool. All of a sudden, he's no longer the 'black speaking', dumbed-down slave of Sinterklaas, he is a friend and hero. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Stop your lies. I am truly SICK and TIRED them. TRULY!!! Like I said in my previous comment, caucasians will do absolutely ANYTHING to hold on to their slave holiday. It's disgusting. (excuse the caps lock, but I am just so tired of lies).

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  36. Hi, Jc!
    I'm sorry I didn't know about this tradition, it actually sounds offensive with these afro wigs and big mouths....they should have avoided to wear them, in my opinion, if this character was really just a person who had fallen from a chimney!

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  37. I'm a Dutch and black and trying to put myself in Dutch people shoes the only reason I can think of for them defending the festivities is that it is one of the only few festivities that is Dutch. When you remove all worldwide festivities, the Netherlands as a country is left with maybe 1 or 2 festivities that are specific to the country. Also people almost never seem to suggest making changes to black pete but more demand that the festivities be abolished, which makes people defensive.

    The Dilema: Sinterklaas is a festivity that is linked to the Patron Saint Nicholas. Just as Santa Claus is derived from Sinterklaas . For the Dutch abolishing Sinterklaas is the equivalent of abolishing Santa Clause, because even though they are celebrated differently they are the same Patron Saint who's purpose is the bring kids gifts. It seems that the Dutch take some pride that unlike U.S. in 1800 the Saint Nick story has not been screwed up with and changed into santa with riendeer and elves who live in north pole and celebrated on christmas instead of the anniversary of his death.

    As for why the pete's are black, historically they were black and the Dutch sincerely believe making pete white would be messing the story which as explained above they take so much pride in the fact that their version remained unchanged for so long.

    I'm really not against the holiday celebration even though I don't celebrate it. I do however think the method of celebrating it should change.

    I think it was a step in the right direction from the Dutch to change the story and say black pete is black due to the chimney and also change the skin color of the black pete from black to brown. So change is possible and it already has been happening, maybe not at the speed we wish but it is happening.

    So they changed the:
    Story - Slaves to Helpers & Black because of chimney
    Pete's skin color from black to brown

    now only thing is missing is to make the pete actually look like a Helper that came down a chimney so no:
    afro
    golding earning
    and no blackface

    Currently the U.N. will be forming a task force to determine if this Dutch festivities is racist. and already 2 million citizen have signed a petition that the festivity should not be abolished.

    On a personal note, I seem to get people's attention about the black face issue when I ask why Pete has red lips, afro'd hair and golden earrings. Those are questions that can not be brushed off with the chimney answer.

    The whole issue is that Dutch believe racism is intent and not perception

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    1. If the Dutch want to keep celebrating this holiday, they need to change everything about Black Pete.

      - Black Pete's skin needs to be white
      - Black Pete's hair needs to be straight and blond
      - Black Pete's lips should be white and thin
      - Black Pete's to stop wearing moorish clothing and jewelry
      - They need to banish the song 'ook al ben ik zo zwart als roet, ik bedoel het toch goed -> 'even though I am black as night, I don't mean any harm'. Can you imagine black people having a holiday where they paint their faces white and have black children wearing whiteface singing 'even though i am white as snow, I don't mean any harm'. And then we'd say, nooo White Pete's character is not negative, he is a HERO. How does that even make sense?
      - They need to banish that other song where they sing Sinterklaas, please come in with your servants.
      - He needs to be called White Pete

      But then if you look closely at the changed 'holiday', it would just be a bunch of caucasians handing out present. All the subliminal messages would be gone and that of course isn't very appealing to the Dutch. They love depicting slaves and putting the idea in their children heads from a very young age, caucasians have their helpers. Not just regular helpers though, they have their BLACK helpers. The intent is this 'holiday' has always been racism.

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  38. I am not familiar with this holiday, but from reading your post, I didn't collect anything racist out of what the Dutch are doing. What I gathered is your sensitivity to dressing up as black which was probably cultured in you by whatever nation you're from. America perhaps? It's no secret that blacks in the USA are incredibly racially sensitive, racially focused, and often see racism when it's not even there. You sound like a product of this in your post. Because dressing up as another race is in itself not an indication of racism (disliking that race or thinking less of them), I'm gonna say you need to come up with some more definitive proof that dressing up as Zwarte Piet is indeed done with the attitude and mindset that blacks are inferior beings. And to the poster above me, who commented on the song. I thought about the phrase, "Even though I am black as night, I don't mean any harm". What that implies could be misconstrued by racially sensitive people. Do you know exactly what it implies? Does it imply that if a person is black you should be afraid, or does it stem from something else that is not necessarily racially oriented, but may be rooted in something historical that has to do with Dutch and black interactions? You see my point, people? There's no reason why the sensitivity of blacks in America needs to carry over to other nations, especially when it starts impacting what people do if there was nothing wrong with what they were already doing. Either Zwarte Piet CLEARLY is portrayed as inferior BASED ON RACE ALONE, or he isn't. You can't make judgement calls that he is based on your sensitivities.

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    1. You comment is so full of stereotypes and ASSumptions (highlighting the ASS for you!).

      Stereotype : African Americans are incredibly racially sensitive
      Assumption : I must be American
      Fact: I am not African American. I am actually African (yep good old motherland stuff, scary huh!)

      Your general comment is based around the idea that 'black people are just too sensitive'. Perhaps, you need to consider that if you walk around thinking that one particular group is sensitive, maybe it is not the group but rather you who is insensitive. Think about it, for more than a second, if 100 people tell you something is offensive to them yet you being the lone voice (and not of the same race as those people) deem them to all be sensitive, there is something wrong with you.

      I am saying that it is 2013 and it is time people stopped dressing in blackface. It is steeped in a racist depiction of a black person.

      Naturally, if you are a decent person, you will listen and if you are not, you will continue down your path of righteous indignation.

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