You know it’s that time of the year again in Holland, when you are greeted by some Dutch person on the street, whose face is painted completely black and is sporting an afro wig, bright red lips and a ridiculous clown-like costume.  What is possibly more strange than this very sight, is the fact that many Dutch person finds it a completely normal and acceptable occurrence.  Yes, most Dutch people like love their Zwarte Piets (Black Peter’s)!

Throughout November and early December the beloved Zwarte Piet icon is ubiquitous and can be found manically smiling away at every turn (grocery store flyers, posters, window displays, television commercials, wrapping paper, candy, and so on). The painted black face image is inescapable.

blackfaceMany western foreigners living or visiting Holland are horrified by such images. Why? Because they naturally conjure up the images of American Blackface: a theatrical practice of the 19th century which propagated racist stereotypes and the mockery of African slaves, and which, appropriately ceased to exist once the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s came into play. Thus the existence of a modern-day nationally-beloved Blackface icon can be associated and/or confused with the racist stereotypes and degrading propaganda of yesteryear.

Sinterklaas is said to have originated from St. Nicolaus, the Bishop of Mira, Turkey. According to the legend, he saved the town from starvation, revived 3 dead children, and offered gifts of dowries to poor girls. The roots of the Zware Piets however, are unclear. Some say these merry helpers are simply black in colour after having gone down the chimneys to deliver presents (really?). Others explain they are “hired helpers”, or simply dark “because they come from Spain”…

Regardless of the explanation, Zwarte Piet’s very presence annually ignites a heated debate amongst Dutch people, tourists, expats and the immigration communities of Holland. Is Zwarte Piet a harmless childhood tradition not worth debating? Or is it an archaic offensive character that no longer has a place in a multicultural society? We’ll keep our opinions to ourselves, but it’s up to YOU to decide!

Efforts to make Piets multi-coloured have been rejected by most "Piet purists"

Efforts to make Piets multi-coloured have been rejected by most “Piet purists”


421 Responses

  1. Wynanda jacoby

    zwarte Pieten were in fact Mooors. They did live in Spain since they are of Arab origin and they were darker than most Arabs.Yes traditions are nice and should remain. It has nothing to do with the civil rights movement of African Americans!!!!Check your history and yes Sinterklaas was from Turkey.

      • Stuff Dutch People Like

        it is important to always remember that in order to breed a culture of understanding, integration and equality, one must always consider the cultural perspectives and sensitivities of those other than their own. The Netherlands has a large (and growing) immigrant population, and many whom have spoken openly about taking offense to this particular tradition. Ultimately, it’s about embracing one’s own culture, but also acknowledging that the world (and the face of Holland) has changed.

      • Reggie

        What often surprises me is the Dutch people’s inability to anticipate how things are taken by others. “We didn’t mean any offence, so it’s your problem that you feel offended”, is not a very good attitude as global citizens. Piets’ problems are the act of caricaturing – not just the dark skin, but the afro hair, thick red lips, etc, are racial characteristics having been exaggerated – it’s a derogative to make vicious fun of certain groups of people. If somebody picks my racial characteristics and caricatured them, I would feel offended. “We didn’t mean any offence” doesn’t work, because I know there was a clear intention to offend me. In a similar manner, the Zwarte Pieten tradition needs to examine what it’s referring to. It’s difficult to discuss especially when children are having fun, and we all love them, but this tradition is teaching them that they can be excused of anything if they declare “no offence intended”. Dat kan niet?!

      • Cootje

        I agree that simply saying, we didn’t mean offence, is too easy. However in a way you can say it in this case. Seriously, I never ever saw Zwarte Piet as racist or anything, until I explained the tradition in England, and they thought it to be racist. Zwarte Piet is black, true, but he is also one of the most beloved traditional figures! Maybe I’m too narrow-minded and love Zwarte Piet too much, but I honestly can’t understand how anyone can be offended by Zwarte Piet. He’s just cool!

      • E B

        Anyone who defends this is delusional. The offense people feel for this image is real, visceral and should not be denied by claims of tradition. Wake up, Holland – the century turned while you were busy defining gezellig.

      • Dutchie Abroad

        The large immigrant population should not be offended by the tradition. They should accept it. Nobody is forced to celebrate Sinterklaas. Holland is a free country and also the traditions of other countries are accepted. That is the thing that SHOULDN’T change about Holland in this world that is getting less and less free.

      • Just another Dutch living abroad

        I agree with Dutchie abroad, it’s a tradition that we have, if immigrants feel offended by this, sorry to just say this but to bad.. how about a dutch blond girl wanting to be in a bikini on the beach in an Arabic country, she would be imprisoned because of there traditions/culture, so she just simply wouldn’t do that out of respect (and maybe a bit of fear)..
        we have our traditions in the Netherlands, respect those as we respect the traditions in other countries!

      • Fred

        Zwarte Piet isn’t offensive at all. Its a bit funny that the only humans who don’t think about racism/traditions etc are the ones who are under 8. They love the 5th December tradition.
        As soon as you know what the background is, you should actually stop arguing. Cos its got nothing to do with slavery and abusing people for their colour. Even now (iam in my 50’s) I like the tradition. Including black pete. How good does it feel to see children happy without the presence of any racial thoughts. 🙁 unfortunately its the grown ups who make an issue of it. Like with a lot of issues concerning skin colour/sex/religion etc. its just a lack of respect. Thinking that, what ever group you belong to, you are better. Pure egocentrism. The root of all evil. Not seeing that everybody is basically the same as yourself. You, who’s life time goal is to be happy in what ever you do. Just like everybody else. As far as iam concerned. Sinterklaas en zwarte Piet are one. They bring happiness to kids, and if the kids are happy, Iam happy. Its an old tradition. Its a bit like burning a doll on Guy Folks night (Bon Fire Night in the UK) Where adults and kids burning people on a pile of wood as a celebration that if you think different you should be burned!. I think its a weird tradition, But hey…. Those peoples are happy with it. And I know the feeling of wanting to be happy. Its almost like brits are humans like me. That’s why I respect them, and accepts their, sometimes, weird traditions.

    • Ignacio

      Sorry, are you saying that Spanish people are “darker than most arabs”? have you even seen a Spaniard in your whole life? Well, if this tradition is not meant to offend black people, seems that it can indeed be quite offensive for Spaniards! Anyway my fellow countrymen will for sure have a loud laugh when I tell them that those little black guys are supposed to represent us 😀

      • Stefan

        nope. It is refering to Moors. Maybe you should catch up a little on your own spanish history, Ignacio. Reggie. Considering its for kids. We do give it meaning as racist behaviour. Kids dont. (they are just awfully frightened by them, which you may want to debate anyway if “good behaviour” is rewarded bij a playstation 3 and “bad behaviour” needs to be punished by scary dark black guys). Anyways, we “adults” put a racist meaning to it, which is culturaly programmed. Its just for kids. Dont give more meaning to it then nescecarry (never know how to write that word…)

      • S

        Hi Ignacio, so you are offended by being associated with black people? Guess that’s the problem right there isn’t it?

      • MathieuLeCochon

        She wasn’t talking about Spanish people dude, she was speaking about Moors… Learn to read.

      • Patatje

        The black peters ( zwarte pieten ) were socalled slaves from Sinterklaas. In the early days they were african and called Moren. We tell our children tthat they are Spanish. Is it now clear to you? Don not interfear with our traditions..

      • marcellus35ac

        Black Peet should represent Moors that in the 14th Centure were living in the South of Spain, although this is a story made up by the Catholic church in a way to integrate Germanic rituals and believes into Catholic traditions. It was no coincidance though that they picked out the Moors, because they were their enemy at that time.

      • Natasja

        This is a tradition. It started centuries ago and you have to see it in the context of that – when the average blond blue eyed person in Holland had never seen someone with dark skin. It’s not racist…. it admires this exotic person…. it’s a positive not a negative. …. and only helps a positive image with Dutch children. It has so many positive associations for them. …

    • thammy24

      in response to what Cootje said. I agree!! I probably liked Zwarte Piet better than Sinterklaas lol.
      And I don’t have a problem with Sinterklaas being white? If anyone truly sees Africans as equal, then why would anyone have a problem with Zwarte Piet being black? He’s equal. He’s cool.

    • Ruud

      No, They aren’t Moors. To explain it we have to go back to the origin of the feast. A long time ago all people in the north-west of europe where forced to convert to christ. After some decades the church were worried about app people still having feasts for the old Gods (those Gods had a lot more feasts in the cold winterdays as the Christian church). So they looked for a saint who had his day just before all the feasts of the old Gods started to remember them they became Christian. Thats why Sinterklaas is a priest. Zwarte piet was a forestspirit who served Sinterklaas to show everyone the Christian church is stronger and Sinterklaas had only 1. So why is he Black? Very simple, because a white person becomes hard te recognise when he paints his face Black.
      So the origin of zwarte piet has nothing to do with real Black people. At that time the Moors were military stronger and were definately no slaves! It is true that Holland has a slavery past but we had zwarte piet before that. It has nothing to do with blackfaceing. In spain there are priests with a costume that looks like the one of kkk members. Does that mean those priests need to find aan other suit because it might offend someone?
      Santa has the Same origin as Sinterklaas. It was brought to protestant dutch to America. Becaus they were protestant they made Some adjustments. Santa couldn’t be a katholic priest of course so they gave him an other suit. Zwarte piet had to go because of the sentiments with Black people in the US.
      Can the Same be done in Holland? Maybe but as a dutchman I would hate to see him go. I always loved zware piet more than I did Sinterklaas because he is funny. I never associated him with Black people because he doesn’t look like them.

      • jane

        then why are they painted dark brown? the skin color of black people?? why??? The world wants to know why! But no one has the answer and everyone kees calling it an innocent childeren’s tradition….. Help me out here… why are they dark brown. Can’t they change that?????? No, because they do not care how others feel. It’s always and all about how the white Dutch folks feel. Remember.. the black people living there are also Dutch!! Don’t they deserve to have a fair innocent sinterklaas?????

      • marcellus35ac

        Think this is th best explanation about the whole issue in a long time and as close as to the facts as you can come. Having this said I do think we need to look at Black Peet and make him more acceptable for all Dutch people. Maybe black to really old tradions, with dirty faces instead of black, without the curly hair and red lips. Problem in this discussion is the fact that slavery and racism are dragged into the discussions and I am sure 99% of all Dutch people know this isn’t the fact and only in the minds of grownups.

      • Anne

        @ Jane: they became dark brown because that translated better on television.

      • llj2009

        Jane, the reason is that Black Pete is no longer black, is because in the early 20th century people wanted Black Pete to change and look less frightening. So they changed black for brown. Nowadays every city has it’s own color of brown. So for instance in my city, Vlaardingen, the Black Petes have a different color brown than the Black Petes in Schiedam, which is only seperated by a highway. Black Pete has been black for ages.

    • mantodistelle

      I remember as a child we used to build up a nativity scene. yes! I know this is not Dutch but … wait! On the 6th of January we also added the Three wise men and I remember that one of them was black. Because he came from Africa!! That sounded perfectly all right to me! and honestly still does. Both the Dutch black piet and our wise man are positive characters, they are not slaves, they are helpers, just as the elves of Father Xmas in the States, so where is the problem? I am sorry but sincerely sometimes Americans tend to be slightly paranoid about such issues.

      • Carolina

        Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar

    • Paul J. Zimmerman

      Indeed and in Spain there is a certain traditional aswel with costumes and stuff which has to do with the fact that the Moors were infact invading Spain like in the age of Sint nicolas so that might be an explination for why there are black ppl with Some kind of Fairly like clothing. Though the clothing more likely is used from the spanish army from the as we call it the “80 year long war” when the spaniards invaded the lower lands… anyways the biggest reason to paint the face black is offcourse the fact that your neighbeir won’t be recognized bringing your chilldren the gifts ! And even for kids Blue or red or yellow faces won’t be realy realistic now would it then? Anyways.
      Most dutch ppl would say if you don’t like it? You are free to leave the country.

  2. Wynanda jacoby

    further to my comment I did not spell Moors correctly but they came from Spain and the “ridiculous clownlike costume ” was in fact the way men dressed in that period when it was brought to Holland during the 80 year war they had with Spain 16th century.

    • Deurru

      Just a comment: I doubt there were any Moors in the Spanish armies that fought the Eighty Years´ War, as Moors, Jews and people of their ancestry were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs by the end of the 15th century.
      If Sinterklaas comes originally from Turkey, maybe they come from the people of African ancestry that did fought in the Ottoman armies?

      • Paul

        Just in the interest of historical accuracy, “Moors, Jews and people of their ancestry” were *not* expelled from Spain at the end of the 15th century. Moors and Jews who declined to become Christians were expelled. Those who were willing to change religion were not. There were therefore many (nominal) Christians “of their ancestry” (as you put it) in Spain right through this period. That was the main purpose of the Spanish Inquisition: to enforce religious conformity on those of Jewish and Moorish descent who had (nominally) accepted Christianity. There was a second major wave of expulsions of Moriscos (as those of Moorish descent were called) after 1598 – smack in the middle of the Eighty Years’ War – and some of these Moriscos from Spain, resettled in Morocco, co-operated with Dutch naval forces in attacks on Spanish shipping. They were an infrequent but much remarked presence in Rotterdam and other Dutch ports well into the 17th century.

  3. Rick

    Another fact to support the stereotype is that Zwarte Pieten are often considered to be dumb. They lose gifts and make foolish mistakes, all for the entertainment of the children.

    Even though it looks like an incredibly racist tradition, I have never ever noticed any racist remarks on the topic. No one gets hurt, no one is personally offended and the kids love it.

    A final remark that would be nice to point out that Sinterklaas is the original Santa Clause, you can see the similarities in the name. Dutch immigrants who moved to the US a long time ago took the Sinterklaas tradition with them and cherished it. Some things have changed over time of course, like the later celebration and the replacement of Zwarte Pieten with elves.

    • Vince

      Right, they replaced him with elves, because it was racist, and it derogatory to black people. End of discussion.

      • Jan

        Absolute bollocks mate, they are black because they crawl through the chimney to put the presents in the shoes of the children has absolutely NOTHING to do with racism a horrible word and often (ab)used to shut you up. its the newcomers that have the hangup about it they need to grow up and dont look at the past but the future, like the Germans, everybody knows what they have done in the past but that was then a whole different generation and we dont hold the new generation responsible for what their parents have done they just need to grow up and get on with it!. like with everything nowadays is classed as racist Blanke vla, neger zoen zwarte piet if you dont like our traditions dont come and live in our country i dont want to change for nobody especially if its unreasonable

      • Nils

        It’s quite rude to say “End of discussion.” like that.

        Certainly since there’s still a lot to be said on the subject:
        First of all, if zwarte piet is racist, elves are discriminating towards little people. Are they?
        Secondly, zwarte piet is black because he is supposed to depict a chimney cleaner, blackened by the ashes in there. HELL, they even have a “roe” which is basically a bundle of twigs tied together. Parents use this roe to scare their children (“Finish your pea or Zwarte Piet will come slap you with his roe!”) but in fact it used to be a tool used by chimney cleaners.

      • Floortje

        So having a Zwarte Piet as helpers is not okay, but having vertically challenged people is? That’s not racist? Get a grip. The Santa Claus/elves tradition is just as racist against little people.

      • Manon

        I’m sorry to say that you actually started another whole discussion when you think about your statment correctly. Elves could really be offensive to small people. So what you just said was that they replaced one offensive character with another.

      • PDtje

        If you listen to the old dutch child songs one would realize that the culture is a mixture of history… the “roet” would be coal in English. The Steamboat is a play on history as well. I was born on Sinterklaas and I absolutely love the Holiday.

      • David van Veen

        Id rather be a black guy in Holland than a black guy in the U.S

      • jane

        And that’s why the black dutch people should simply accept the fact that he is dark brown from the chimney??? HOw the hell do yyou explain the brown skin color they give the petes???

  4. Belonii

    Santa was a composite of two european holiday icons, Sinterklaas, a norwegian troll like creature with a red cloak… CocaCola company hired a lady to make a friendly man based on the two mentioned above, and thats how we got Saint Nicolas (Sint nicolaas-Sinterklaas) from the north pole (norway) with a red costume and raindeer… this is a basic recap of what you can find with google 🙂

  5. Anna

    Please don’t put the typical American ‘racist-recogniser’ on this lovely Dutch tradition. What Americans tend to forget, or perhaps not even know, is that we don’t have the same race-issues you do. We never had segregation, or the long slave history the US had, so traditionally black people are very much integrated in society, making our zwarte pieten no big deal.

    It’s not like there are no race issues here, but it’s definitely not the same as in America.

    • Stuff Dutch People Like

      Anna – thank you for assuming we are American (we are not) but will take it as a compliment 😉

      You are of course forgetting that the Dutch *do* very much indeed have a “long slave history” – and quite a shocking one at that!

      “Although slavery was illegal inside the Netherlands it flourished in the Dutch Empire, and helped support the economy.. By 1650 the Dutch had the pre-eminent slave trade in Europe. Historians agree that in all the Dutch shipped about 550,000 African slaves across the Atlantic, about 75,000 of whom died on board before reaching their destinations. ”

      That aside, it is important to always remember that in order to breed a culture of understanding, integration and equality, one must always consider the cultural perspectives and sensitivities of those other than their own. The Netherlands has a large (and growing) immigrant population, and many whom have spoken openly about taking offense to this particular tradition. Ultimately, it’s about embracing one’s own culture, but also acknowledging that the world (and the face of Holland) has changed.

      • Gido

        Well call it whatever you want but Zwarte Pieten is supposed to be something fun and cheerfull. It’s not meant to be negative or racist. And it’s not.

        Some of those people that take offense by this tradition are just human beings that like to accuse everyone from being a racist.

      • Tina

        Dear ‘Stuff Dutch People Like’, I found out today about this site and must say it brought laughter to my face, but when I came to this serious and long discussion, with you guys taking some political correct standing it brought a frown in my face, what should I, as a Dutch girl, than make of your website where you kind of mock the Dutch as a whole??? This is the same thing you ‘acuse’ us (the Dutch) of with the Pieten, only there the issue is more sensitive because it’s about coloured people???? Pls think about that before you make such serious comments. Keep it light I’d say : ))) so I can keep smiling (about my own folk and myself) with some healthy dose of self-sarcasm and self-ridicule…

      • Tina

        O dear, yes, and one more thing just came to mind, I actually learned as a child that they are black because they enter houses through the chimney to put presents in your shoe overnight, so NOT because they are of african (or similar) origin!!!!!

      • Wayne Smith

        It’s also true that it was Dutch clergy who introduced Apartheid to South Africa. And we all know how that turned out…

        As an American, I’d like to point out that while America is rather hyper-aware of race issues and perceived racism, it’s not because racism is still a widespread problem (witness our current president), but because we’ve largely emerged from our racist past, and are more sensitive to the feelings of our non-white citizens.

      • ablabius

        After WWII Dutch culture was intentionally subdued, partly because it is basically germanic and the nazis kind of ruined that for us, but mostly out of commercial interest: A rebuilding continent that wanted to model its economy on ‘American-style’ mass production had need of a mass market without too much differences and inconsistencies. Never mind the political drive to homogenize the population in order to form a strong supernation-state (which the nazis should also have spoiled for us, but apparently didn`t).
        The last few decades have seen a resurgence of cultural awareness, and with the unification of Europe and a large influx of immigrants (European and non-European) that all seem to have a stronger cultural identity than we ourselves have, the need is felt to strengthen that.
        Having a strong cultural identity also strengthens believes, convictions and resolves. It makes a person mentally stronger, and right now native Dutch feel uprooted and misplaced in their own country, abandoned by their politicians (who have their eyes firmly set on a European career) and intimidated by wave after wave of different immigrants and refugees whose cultural oddities we are supposed to respect, never mind that these cultures more often than not clash with each other rather than with ours, that Turks and Kurds are assassinating each other, that Bosnians and Serbs have to be kept apart, that Moroccans and Molukkans are fighting a war in the streets of our towns, and that Pakistani fathers drop their sons at school with a gun in their bags to shoot the boy that has been looking at his sister. And we`re just not respectful enough to let them.

        Anybody suggesting that the Dutch give up what little remains of their cultural heritage, because they find their distorted interpretation of Dutch traditions to be offensive, is in for a ‘direct’ response.

        It`s all very nice for expats – including Dutch expats – to consider themselves global citizens, indigenous people are just that: indigenous people who never asked to be ‘thrust up into the flow of nations’.

        On topic: Black Peter is not just Sinterklaas` little helper. He is the original bogeyman who would whip naughty children with a bundle of twigs and put the really bad ones in his knapsack to eat at home. (Good children would simply join in the festivities and receive presents.) He is simply black because he – as any self respecting bad example would – never washes his face. The costume he wears today is early modern European, not Moorish, and certainly not medieval Moorish. And if he got black by sliding down chimneys, his costume wouldn`t be quite as colourful. Also, there is only one Black Peter, not twenty, not fourhundred, just one.
        All the confusion is caused in part by the catholic church, which has had since the middle ages a policy of rooting out paganism by substituting local gods with christian saints, pagan rites and observances with christian rites and observances, and pagan holidays with christian holidays. The childrens` holiday which involved Black Peter had to be made into a christian holiday and so the church introduced the celebration of Saint Nicolaos. For another part, the original Black Peter has degenerated into a cheery fellow with bright clothes and a (black) clown`s wig because we don`t like to frighten our children with bogeymen anymore.

        Off topic again, about the Dutch` long history of slavery: Considering that one in two sailors who went to the East Indies never made it back alive, 75,000 out of 550,000 Africans crossing the Atlantic doesn`t sound that shocking. In fact, the Dutch were very well aware that slaves made a higher price if they were still alive when they reached their destination, and living conditions on Dutch slavers were markedly better than on those of other nations. Besides, this single quote doesn`t do justice to the length of our history of slavery. I once had a conversation with a Jamaican coworker of African descent (I am myself a Dutch Caribbean of Frisian descent, and we got along quite well, partly because of our shared heritage, but mostly because we were surrounded by Bosnians who had managed to harass most of the other non-Bosnians out of the work-place) in which he indicated that the Dutch should not use the word neger (negro) because that was not what they called themselves, to which I responded that I never had assumed that people in Africa spoke Dutch. You know what I mean, he said, it denotes us as slaves. No, I replied, it simply means ‘black’ – from the Latin – and it refers to the colour of your hair (NOT skincolour, HAIR. Show me one blackskinned individual and I will show you a lawsuit from HASBRO, because apparently their D&D has cornered the market on black skinned races. The most common nickname in the Netherlands is ‘Rooie’ : Red. Europeans tend to identify each other by there hair colour.) Then I asked him if he knew where the word slaaf came from. Just a word, he wagered. No, I said, it`s what they called themselves. You see, my people have been selling Slaven (Slavic people from Eastern Europe) in such quantities since the early middle ages, that other folk started to think it was the Frisian word for unfree.

        The contribution of the slave-trade to the Dutch economy is usually overrated. Although they made a few families very rich, the colonies weren`t really that economically successful. The Dutch Golden Age was heralded by a shift in climate that brought the herring to Dutch shores from the Scandinavian ones where they used to hang out, thus promoting Dutch fishery and with that Dutch shipbuilding (Frisians, an early viking people who had long since domineered trade on the North Sea, were already among the best shipwrights of their time) and seamanship, leading to an impressive trade fleet that was larger (and better armed) than the rest of Europe`s trade fleets combined. And although the Indies were very prestigious, the journey was also very dangerous. For the most part, the Dutch simply monopolized the trade on the Baltic Sea, and that golden Ukrainian commodity: wheat! (And wood and furs and let`s not forget Swedish pig-iron and ‘stockfish’.) Not everybody can afford to put salt (from the West Indies) and pepper (from the East Indies) on their meat, heckm few people could afford meat when the Golden Age started. But everybody ate bread. (Dutch wheat is ill-suited for making bread. Wheat is only grown as cattle-fodder. Original Dutch bread is made of rye.)

    • EAM

      Anna, as a Black person from a former (?) Dutch colony living in the Netherlands I can assure you that there are race issues here. The difference between the Netherlands and the US is that in the US stating one’s race isn’t out of the ordinary. Here, race issues are cleverly disguised as “ethnic” or “cultural” issues. Even though there’s no strict segregation in society, there exist a well-defined binary (“witte” vs. “zwarte” as regards schools for instance). Also people are classified as “Autochtoon” and “Allochtoon” – even though I am a Dutch citizen by birth I am still classified as a, mind you, “Non-Western Allochtoon” just because my roots lie in Caribbean.

      And as for the “so traditionally black people are very much integrated in society” I’d have to say that is a load of steaming BS. See, integration to me translates as your seeing it not a problem to send your kids to a school with predominantly “Allochtoon” kids. Integration is seeing equal representation in politics of Black people. Do you know how many of the 150 members of the “Tweede Kamer” are “Allochtoon”? Integration means that Black people are not seen as “single issue” people; it means that our opinions are not viewed as “subjective” while white Dutch people’s opinions are viewed as “objective”. Integration means that temp agencies don’t honour the requests of companies when these companies have a “whites only” policy, and that they report these companies.

      Integration to you apparently means “joining in the celebrations of Sinterklaas” or eating Speculaas and wearing orange during Koninginnedag. There are many Black people who don’t love Zwarte Piet but are too afraid to speak out against it, because of the violent reactions.

      • Diana

        HERE HERE!
        as a Black person from a former (?) Dutch colony living in the Netherlands I so agree with you. Thank you for breaking it down.

      • Eva

        I can assure you, that not only many Black people don’t love Zwarte Piet, but also many white don’t like it at all!

      • Remi

        No one is arguing that there are no race issues in the Netherlands! But I can’t see how your argument that they *do* exist, has anything to do with Zwarte Piet.
        Indeed, many black people may not love Zwarte Piet. However, as a Dutch person who grew up here, I can assure you, and all those who think Zwarte Piet is racist, Dutch children are raised with this tradition when they are very young and do not see Zwarte Piet as a slave, subordinate or anything less. It’s a character. He can be awesome; some of them can do acrobatics, or have other cool skills and they’re always happy. Children also dress up like them (more than Sinterklaas) because they’re cool. Children don’t associate Zwarte Piet with race. Just like no child associates Bert and Ernie with a gay couple (although they are two men living together all their lives; I’ve read the concerns about this too).
        These associations only begin when adults start to over-think the background of simple children stories. By then they’ll have enough life experience of their own to evaluate the truth behind the story.

      • ablabius

        EAM, having been born in the Dutch Caribbean, I myself am considered to be a non-native, as will my children be, despite the fact that not only do I have the Dutch nationalityand the appropriate skin colour, but I can name the very tribe I am descended from. The law that defines us as such is supposed to work in our favour, it is literally called Wet ter Bevordering van Gelijkbehandeling van Allochtonen (Law to Promote Equal Oppertunities for Non-Natives) but it was passed in the days that Janmaat first started about ‘sending them back’ and it does feel like getting your name on the Jew list, doesn`t it?

        But as I have tried to explain above, there really is no race issue with Black Peter, although I agree the current costume and make up combo is tasteless. If people playing Zwarte Piet would just put a few smears of whatever on their faces, like they used to, instead of professional make up, and showed their natural hair instead of those silly wigs, a lot of misunderstanding could be avoided.
        There is a ‘clash of cultural identity’ gpoing on, but it is catholic identity vs ancient/pagan Dutch identity, not native Dutch identity vs ‘New Dutch’ identity.

        Also, he`s the bogeyman. You`re not supposed to like him. 😉

      • Kim

        I agree with you that there are serious racial issues in The Netherlands. I don’t like the whole ‘We are so tolerant mentality’. So you TOLERATE other ethnicities? Wow! But I also don’t think people should attack a tradition that has been there for hundreds of years. you don’t have to celebrate it, but at least respect the fact that it’s a part of the country’s culture. If another country had a festivity that included black people dressed like white people, it would not offend me in the slightest.

      • Mike Brakenhoff

        What violent reactions? Are you living in your own little world? If you talk to a Dutch person about this, they will go into discussion with you. If someone went violent on you, they must be insane to do so over such a trivial thing.

      • Ettienne

        You guys keep mentioning that Apartheid is a Dutch word, as if that somehow implicates the Netherlands (a country that was a staunch opponent of Apartheid). It is in fact an Afrikaans word (the Dutch dialect spoken in South Africa).

        Please read up on your history guys. It was the British government of 1905 (the Conservative Party) that introduced Apartheid to South Africa. They issued the General Pass Regulations Act of 1905. This law stipulated: 1) non-whites can’t live with whites, 2) non-whites need passes to move around and 3) non-whites cannot vote. They ran this system until 1948 when the Boer nationalists took over.

        English speakers referred to these laws as “the segregation laws” and the Afrikaans speakers referred to these laws as “die apartheidswette/ the apartheid laws”: apartheid being the Afrikaans word for “Segregation”. The Afrikaners didn’t create Apartheid, they merely named it in their own language.

        I think it is a rather cheap way of shifting the blame by focusing on who came up with the word, rather than who came up with the system itself. The fascists who took over the apartheid system in 1948 spoke mostly Afrikaans, that doesn’t make Apartheid an Afrikaans thing. There were English and Afrikaans South Africans supporting it and there were English and Afrikaans South Africans who were against it. Making this an issue of language, is completely ignoring the real culprits who began it all.

      • Dutch White male, 28jrs old.

        @EAM; This is spot on! Also, I guess problems with race in Holland, and the difficulty of accepting them, lead to these aggressive reactions, on both ‘sides’, of the discussion. I feel like use a pretty silly discussion as a projection screen, in order to discus the current racial tension, which is very real and very massive. …..As for pete, just make him different colours and be done with it. I’ve loved him black, I’m sure I’ll love him multicolored.

    • Chad B.

      What proponents of Zwarte Piet refuse to understand is that you cannot dictate what is offensive in the ken of another person. It is a fact that Zwarte Piet was born out of the Netherlands’ involvement in the slave trade, hence the similarities between American blackface and other racist institutions like the Gollywog. Where Zwarte Piet proponents contradict their argument lies in the fact that the myth was changed in the 1960s when Black people from lands that were occupied by the Dutch started to migrate to the Netherlands. This is an admission of wrongdoing. Sorry, you can justify it however you’d like, but it is an anachronistic practice that truly has no place in a multicultural society.

      As for your belief that there are no race problems in the Netherlands, that is fallacious. I have lived here for two years and the issues abound. The worst thing about race issues in the Netherlands is that no one can put emotions aside to create any intellectual discourse. At least in the US we talk about these problems. The Dutch are not the most inclusive group of people and expect immigrants to assimilate and except their way of life wholeheartedly. When they don’t, they become “allochtoonen,” or unwanted foreigners. Dutch people that tell you they are not racist, ask them how they feel about Moroccans.

      • Tina

        Chad, I grew up in the Netherlands, lived in USA, Germany and am now in Eastern Europe, have seen my share of cultures and know that you can find as*oles anywhere but that you can never generalize people as a whole even if a large part of them behaves in a certain way. When I grew up, in my school I was in class with Turks, Maroccans, Saoudi Arabi and Chinese kids, probably more but it was not an issue then. We happily celebrated Sinterklaas every year and never shouted zwarte piet at a black kid, that would have been funny because there was (and in my believe still isn’t) a connection to be made. Besides that, Pieten are black (in the tradition) because they ride the chimney a lot… I’m not saying there are no race issues in the Netherlands at the moment but the way you are venting your opinion here is not helping in a positive way, you just provoke agressiveness and if you are so righteous than you could maybe try to understand that not all Dutch people are the same either.. besides that I think this is not the right place for these discussions, as I hope the intention of this blog is to mock the Dutch in a light and funny way… not to open political discussions of which we have so many all over the place…

      • Chris

        On your first: What opponents seem to refuse to understand is that not everybody cares about offending people. I loved zwarte piet as a kid, and ill pass on the tradition to my kids (if “American race-complaining” hasnt seeped into our society by then)

        On your second one: What is wrong with expecting immigrants to learn the language, customs and values of the country they inhabit?

      • Nils

        “It is a fact that Zwarte Piet was born out of the Netherlands’ involvement in the slave trade”

        No. No it is not. This is something you have made up, and are now stating as a fact. But it isn’t at all true.

      • marleen

        I fully understand that this can be very offensive to someone. I don’t know much about the subject, but I believe it is very well possible that zwarte piet was originially intended to be a black slave helper. Hoewever, never as a kid, have I ever associated zwarte piet with ‘black people’, Again I say, I know it can be very offensive, but dutch people simply do not associate zwarte piet with black people. And I personally think it would be a real shame to change such a long-standing tradition, because it is unmeantly offensive.

        As for the immigration and integration problem; I don’t think you can even remotely compare the netherlands (or any european country for that matter) with the US. The US is a nation conisting of immigrants, if you ask a US citizen where they are from, they answer a whole variety of different nationalities, from all around the world. Whereas my roots stay within an area of about 100 square kilometres. I’m not saying there is not an immigration problem in Holland, because I think there is a huge problem. But I believe they are, for the most part, incomparable with racial problems in the US

      • zootalaws

        Sorry, but that’s complete poppycock, Chad.

        The current helper iteration of Zwatre Piet came from an 1850 book, St. Nikolaas en zijn knecht, by Jan Schenkman. That was the first time such a helper had appeared. Before 1850 Saint Nicholas operated by himself or in the companionship of a devil. Having triumphed over evil, it was said that on Saint Nicholas Eve the devil was shackled and made his slave.. In Schenkman’s picture book he introduced new elements like the steamboat from Spain, Black Piet with bag and roe, driving from St. over the rooftops and throwing parcels through the chimneys. There was no history of this prior to this book being published.

    • Tessa

      Anna, in fact Holland was one of the last countries that banished slavery. But most of the black people who live here are from Suriname, and those people grew up with Sinterklaas as wel, thus no harm is done.

      • Diana

        Are you SERIOUS?! Do you even know what you are talking about. Have you not noticed (that is if you live in Holland) that the people protesting this farce are mostly Surinamese. Seriously?! no harm done? No harm to whom

      • zootalaws

        Where do you think the black Surinamese came from, Tessa? Descendants of Amerinds?

        No, they were Dutch slaves in spice plantations on the South American tropical coast. As a point of interest, slavery in Surinam (Dutch Guinea) was abolished in the 1860s, the last slave was freed in 1873.

    • Deurru

      I love how Dutch people just bend history and present theirs as one of a country that didn´t do any harm and was human rights-abiding, while the rest of the nations were enslaving the world.
      LEARN about your own history, and about your own present. As a foreigner who has lived in the Netherlands, I do assure you your country has indeed race and nationality issues.

      • Kim

        Diana, how nice of you to call our cherished, centuries old tradition a farce.

  6. Karen

    As we were having a conversation (in America) about family holiday traditions, my mother (Dutch) proudly announced to all, “Well, in Holland, our Santa Claus has TWO black peters!!” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

  7. michelle

    The zwarte piet was black because they used to go down the chimney to bring kids their kids.. its pretty ignorant to say otherwise or doubt it. This website is pretty much offensive to dutch people, there are funny things but sometimes you just cross the line. And you say you are not american but you make allot of comparisons from an american point of view. Like the names. Names are normally not translated so the names are perfectly fine if americans took the time to learn how to pronounce them. you dont hear dutch people call dick, dik which is a stupid name in both languages. I like this website and i do have a sense of humor but like you said , we’re direct and try and tell what we think

    • Amaranta

      It’s funny how the post above says “we’re direct and tell what we think” (which is true), but at the same time can’t handle the fact that the writer(s) of SDPL are also direct and say what they think – and are damn funny about it. Michelle should be proud that the authors are so well ingeburgerd ;-).

      • Bernjan

        🙂 That’s the whole point, we are direct and so we argue much.

      • PDtje

        Amaranta I don’t think the problem is with directness. The problem lies with the lack of accuracy. Although some things are funny, truth matters to dutch people. That is why we are so blunt and don’t pussy foot around issues.

    • Chad B.

      Yet, the Netherlands is the most Americanized of all European countries. Also, the Zwarte Piet story you are referring to is the propaganda you guys tell to your children to hide the slavery origins. Stop lying to your children.

      Also, for a group of people that claim to be “direct” (read: rude), the Dutch surely cannot take any criticism or humor directed at them. Ease up…

      • Jan Mulder

        I think Germany is, in fact….or America is Germanized… anyway, exept for the language thera are too much similarities, like in the way they leave their hotelrooms, after they checked out… if they are a big dirty mess, it is either an american or a german that used that room. What about racism, I am dutch born and out of the NL for some time now (about 20 years) but stayed some 8 months a few years ago and I didn´t like what the NL are becoming… i.e. racist, xenofobic, islamofobic, greedy, harsh against the lower working class people, killing the spirit of the leftist volksbuurten with their capitalistic “values”… I didn´t like it at all. Now Zwarte Piet is some obscure story no-one really knows it origin of, Why not accept it like the 7 dwarfs in Cinderella (not making fun of genetic deformation) or The ugly guy in the beauty and the beast…. a fairytale played out for children… nothing more nothing less…. Is that fair?

      • Lisa

        Yes, it might be true that we are the most Americanized of all European countries, but actually, I don’t know because I haven’t been in America yet.

        And about the propaganda of Zwarte Piet, I really think you’re so wrong there, because we celebrate it as a feast of well, being together and ‘gezelligheid’. Us hiding the slavery? Personally, I don’t think so, considering the fact that I learned a LOT about it on primary and secondary school, and yes, also about the big influence of the Dutch in it. As I remember Sinterklaas from my childhood, it was by far the most enjoyable feast of the year and Sinterklaas wouldn’t be Sinterklaas without the Zwarte Pieten.

        Last thing, about the directness, yes, you’re true about us not liking it, I don’t like it either at first, but then I realize that’s just their opinion, and everybody should be allowed to make it public. I maybe also adapt, and improve, after these opinions, which, I think, is a good thing.

      • draske

        Propaganda ? No. People going through the chimney’s are black in the face.
        Blackening of the face is still even visible in the culture of Sinterklaas where kinds getting a blackened face to represent zwarte piet in a similar fashion.–dit-is-een-nederlandse-traditie-als-sinterklaas-wordt-gevi.html
        I can imagine the sensitivity about the subject. And I do studied my history and know about the slave trade. There is no way you can talk anything good about that. And kids are teached at school about out history.
        But I can also say that the intention is not there to offend anyone. As I kid I really enjoyed the tradition and I accepted zwarte piet as being black, just like that some of my school mates had a color.

    • erlikIgnacio

      “We are direct and tell what we think, but when a foreigner tells stuff we don’t like about the Netherlands, it’s offensive and… why doesn’t he just leave?”

      Quite a typical Dutch reaction. At least my experience since I live here. For me it’s not a problem, I always make fun of it 🙂

    • Alex

      I love how people say Zwarte Piet has been down the chimney when somehow his clothes are clean leaving only his face and hands black… The image portrayed is clearly a very bad stereotype of a black man albeit in stupid clothes. Also what gets me is that it is always white people who play Zwarte Piet; never a black person. To say that young children never make the connection between racism and the blacking up of faces is besides the point when parents (who are fully aware of the possible connection) allow and encourage their children!

      • Richard

        There are black people who play zwarte piet. In the current Sinterklaas Journal one of the reporters is coloured and in the Zwarte pieten house.
        I never saw Zwarte Pieten as being a racist thing until I saw the similarities between zwarte piet and blackface.
        People are right that the Dutch are not as open minded as they would claim. However racism seems to be in every ethnic group, black people not excluded unfortunately. I have black friends and make jokes on them and they make jokes on me being white, all in good spirit. Pieten are part of Sinterklaas in are part of our tradition.

        Are there any suggestions on how to make them non offensive?

      • Geek

        Alex, i’m Dutch and i really don’t care what kind of colour the Peters have, but please check a bit more about the subject that is, black people playing zwarte piet. In Southern American countries like Suriname and Curacao the black people living there have always dressed up as zwarte piet aswell. So please check the facts before you say that it’s always white people dressing up as zwarte piet.

  8. anoniem

    this brings back memories from my childhood
    i was always the one who was Zwarte piet
    due to the fact i was black ( from East Africa)

    but it didnt bother me at all i always loved Sinterklaas
    lots of presents and pepernoten YUM

  9. Folco de Jong

    Actually, Sinterklaas has probably evolved from the Germanic god Wodan, who rode his six legged white horse Sleipnir through the air accompanied by two ravens.

    As happened with many heathen holidays, it was thought easier to replace them with christian symbols, ie. a bishop with his slaves, than banish them completely.

    That’s the reason Sinterklaas rides on his white horse on the roofs.

    • Jeroen

      Wow. Didn’t know that, Folco. Thx for the insight. Interesting!

    • mlafeber

      You’re absolutely right. With Christmas, we used to celebrate that the days were getting longer, after the sun was ‘dead’ for three days. Many symbols, like the one you mentioned, stem from astrology and later mythology.

      • anonymous

        Huginn and Muninn, two black ravens who (like zwarte pieten) listen at the chimneys so they can tell Wodan about the good or bad deeds done by the residents

    • Jeroen

      Exactly. Also a funny detail is that this blog correctly says: “..a theatrical practice of the 19th century which propagated racist stereotypes and the mockery of African slaves, and which, appropriately ceased to exist once the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s came into play.”

      This happened way earlier already in Europe, as it did in the USA. Rosa Parks only died recently… Its way more fresh there, and I think that Americans are trying to ‘over compensate’ now for their ‘apartheid’ that they had for such a long time.

      I read an interview once with a black female comedian (American) living in Europe. She was offended that here people would point her out in a group that besides her consists of white people as ‘the black girl’, and in the USA they would refer to her clothes, eye colour, or her hairstyle. She described the Dutch way as a rude and racist way of saying who’s it about.

      I think thats hypocrite. I think the offended part has mostly to do with trying to see racism everywhere, which has to do with the more recent apartheid in the USA. In Belgium they also have sinterklaas, and also Germans are not offended by it. Dutch people that are originally from Surinam or the Dutch Antilles are also not offended by it.

      • Ano

        Americans are trying to compensate for THEIR ‘appartheid’?
        Jesus Christ, I’m ashamed to be Dutch when I read these posts.
        How is ‘Appartheid’ something Americans made up. How stupid are you?
        Appartheid is something created by Dutch people that went to South Africa.
        Go read about topics before you open your ignorant mouth about it.

        ‘Dutch people that are originally from Surinam or the Dutch Antilles are also not offended by it.’
        This is also just ignorance in it’s purest form. Are you blind or deaf?

      • CBD

        1) I am a Dutch woman originally from Surinam and I do object to Zwarte Piet in his present form, with his present looks. I think that it is simply sad how folks fool themselves by claiming that that Zwarte Piet is not a caricature of a black person and also how people keep coming up with the black skin (and afro and no-thin lips!)-from-the-chimney-soot lie.
        2) And in response to “In Belgium they also have sinterklaas, and also Germans are not offended by it.”, this is what I’ve read on Metafilter:
        I was hanging out with my mom today. She’s 83, Belgian, and has been in the U.S for about 50 years. She has great judgement, so I asked her if she thought this was racist. “Oh course it’s racist! Of course!”, she said. “I didn’t know it at the time, I don’t think anyone did, but it was and is racist. Why do you ask?”
        I told her about this discussion, and she was so shocked that this was still a tradition that she thought I was joking, and it took a few minutes to convince her it continues to this day.
        So, just a data point that it’s possible to grow up with this as a benign tradition and independently decide for yourself that it may not be so benign after all.
        posted by Room 641-A at 3:29 PM on November 15, 2012 [11 favorites]
        I hope that those Dutch (or Belgian or German) people who don’t have that insight yet, will gain it soon!

  10. Anna

    Whatever the origins of the Zwarte Pieten it’s not meant to be insulting. If people nowadays still take offence to it, it’s because of what they believe the origin was. I just think that spoils a fun and innocent children’s event, people should look beyond their nose and not judge so fast (or at least not judge merely from their own point of view but also have regards to the meaning behind it and how it’s perceived in the Netherlands itself). To children there’s acutally a great difference between Zwarte Piet and someone who has dark skin because Zwarte Piet is ashblack, has very red lips and wears a ‘funny’ costume. They very well know the difference thus adults should certainly be able to distinguish them. Even though Pieten often act silly (and lose presents) anyone can understand this is not because dark people are considered dumb but is to entertain the children and it makes for great new Sinterklaas story every year (on tv). There is no racist message in this children’s story (anymore) unless people intentionally give it one. Also Zwarte Pieten are not thought of as less than anyone else (they’re maybe even liked more because they have candy and bring gifts).

    It may be a somewhat strange tradition but it gives great joy and brings people together, I would say it doesn’t have bad influences (except maybe consumerism).

    • Anna

      (I understand due to racism the whole Zwarte Pieten issue is rather sensitive but with “adult-questions” any children’s story can be ruined. The fact is children are a lot more innocent and honest and would not infer racism from the story unless adults bring that into the mix).

      • gio

        I was called zwarte piet, my father was, my brothers were, now my sons are….and they dont like it….bord voor je kop?

    • Chad B.

      It is hilarious to me that you are an adult arguing this issue from the point of a child. People have said they are offended, but for whatever reason, Zwarte Piet proponents refuse to hear them out. Nice way to welcome people.

      • Daan

        Everyone can find a reason to be offended. That is just really childish. Grow up and let our children have fun. It is a great honour to be Zwarte Piet, Sinterklaas’ helper, making a lot of children (and also older people) happy.

      • Corine

        Well, I must (as a white dutch woman) agree with Anna, I remember that as a child I didn’t see Zwarte Piet a black person, but just as Zwarte Piet. After all, if you paint a white person black it doesn’t become a black person, he becomes Zwarte Piet, I think even children realise that somehow. Moreover, even coloured children are painted black when they dress up as Zwarte Piet.
        I’ll be the last person to state that the Netherlands don’t have problems, but I think there are far more important issues than Zwarte Piet.

    • Tina

      Anna, you vented exactly my opinion on this (long and very serious) discussion.. When I was growing up (with lots of different races in my school-class) in the Netherlands, I never made a connection with black people, zwarte piet is just zwarte piet. And this has nothing to do with trying to argue an issue from the view of a child (@Chad B.) it’s just that it’s still like that for me and also for the children I know that like Sinterklaas and his pieten. So, even when I read the comments of the anti-pieten folk here, yes, I do give it some thought, I don’t just write it off but it immediately brings to mind this; should white people be offended because clowns are only white?? I mean, I do not make any association between myself and caucasion clowns because I darn well know there is none to make. Same for the pieten and any ‘coloured’ people. Just because we have a few silly pieten running around a few weeks a year does NOT mean we think coloured people are dumb.

      • Hidde Caquis

        Really like your replies. And here’s another smart intelligent comparison (about the clowns).

  11. Adriana

    For ‘whites’ it might not be racist (duuh) but there are a lot of people in the Netherlands from Suriname and The Dutch Antilles who do take offence.

    The danger is you influence the subconscious of children, zwarte piet has dark skin and he is the servant of the white sinterklaas. That is the message ‘white’ kids will unconsciously remember, we are conditioning them to think ‘dark’ people are inferieur and they are there to serve us. We see the white man on his horse en his black servants walk beside him, the black servants do all the hard work.

    I’m sorry to say this but I’ve never felt the Dutch were genuine in their acceptance of other ethnicities. It’s a fake tolerance! Looking at the history of the Dutch I must say that the Dutch were one of the most racist nations. Deep in their hart I know for a fact they would rather see all non-native Dutch gone out of their country. It’s just in their nature..they can’t help it. They can not even see racism while it’s happening in front of their own eyes.

    • Jeroen

      Wow Adriana, I have never in my whole life heard such a harsh comment as yours. I’d love to have a face-to-face conversation with u about this. But let’s stick to this medium. A couple of things: the Dutch people u’re refering to are the people voting extreme right. That’s one in 6 perhaps? That’s a lot! But 5 in 6 dón’t think that way. So I actually feel quite offended that u says these things about what’s happening ‘deep inside my heart’. Those voters indeed would like to have a 100% white nation (although they’re afraid to say it out loud. But this opinion is not Dutch, it’s European (Belgium, France, Switserland, Norway, Italy, etc.).
      The Dutch history indeed has many black pages, a lot of them filled with slavery. And this should be taught much more in schools. ‘Our Golden Age’ wasn’t as golden as we think. But again, this was not just a Dutch phenomenon. (Not that that makes it right or anything.)
      More importantly, I think ur observation on Zwarte Piet is rather narrow minded. The only message u see is children would learn that ‘blacks’ are inferieur. Why wouldn’t they learn that ‘blacks’ are friendly, kind and fun? Because that’s what Zwarte Piet is. On a personal note, as a child I have never made the link between Zwarte Piet and black people. For me Zwarte Piet was something like a fairy tale figure that does not exist in real society. But that’s just me.
      I wish everyone well. Love, love, love!!!

      • cloggy

        Zwarte Piet also is not ordered around by Sinterklaas.
        As a kid It never occur to me that zwarte Piet was inferior to Sinterklaas.
        The old man needed helpers not slaves. (kids perspective people)
        To sit on Sinterklaas his lap was way more scary than my playful friend Zwarte Piet.
        I didn’t even dare looking at Sinterklaas ! Scary old man.

    • Frank

      Hey Adriana,
      Curious to know what your nationality is and for example religion. Pretty sure your ancestors have some corpses hidden in their closet. As what Jeroen said before, zwarte Piet is a nice guy nowadays. Kids believe in Sinterklaas untill they are about 10 years old, after that they see it is all made up and have enough time to grow up and now what real life is about. Bad role models/parenting creates rasism, not a childrens tale like Sinterklaas.

    • Bist

      “Deep in their hart I know for a fact they would rather see all non-native Dutch gone out of their country. It’s just in their nature..they can’t help it.”
      You’re accusing an entire country of being racist… Isn’t that, uhm, racist?

    • berglopenFrank

      Children aren’t born racist….they maybe become by their surroundings….I have a lot of Curacao colleges and they all celebrate Sinterklaas and don’t think; Hey this is racist.
      No we are not a country of racist…..just a few ignorant people.

    • Martin

      I live in Suriname.. and you know what they celebrate here every year in December, Adriana? Yep… Sinterklaas. And yes, he has Zwarte Pieten with him and all (most black) kids at the schools where Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten show up, love it!!

      • ablabius

        I once saw a black Sinterklaas with white men in tow on Curaçao in the middle of summer!
        And then my mother told me, no, that`s just the bishop.


      • John

        This is THE biggest lie EVER. I have lived more than 30 years in Suriname and no one knows Sinterklaas there. Its à dutch tradition and sinds 1975 (Independe) we stoppen this nonsense.

    • Oranjada

      If you typed your comment from The Netherlands, then it means you’re ok enough to live, work and share your opinions with this “racist” people. Kinda hypocritical of you, if you ask me. I mean, if I would feel disciminated and offended, I’d get the first plane back to my home country. And I do mean that, since I’m not from here.

      Even though my culture shock is not over yet, I have immense respect for the Dutch working people(majority) because, for a “racist” people, they sustain a lot of “vluchtelingen” and unemployed black people, straight out of their pocket, every month!!

      And when I travel by OV I see a lot of harmony out there and friends or colleagues who don’t judge by skin color, but by Quality and Character. *hint hint nudge nudge*

      • Ignacio

        Another super-typical Dutch reaction whenever somebody express a negative opinion on the Netherlands: “don’t be a hypocrit, just leave!”. No, let’s get things straight, there are no masochists here (well, there might be some, but that’s not the point :)). If a foreigner lives here, it’s because the balance is positive. But, hey, does it mean that every feature of the Netherlands is positive? No. And since this is a free country (point for NL!) we can speak our minds out.

        When foreigners come to Spain they always complain about our stupid timetables. Guess what, at first everybody was taking a piss on them and telling them to stay in Norway or wherever they came from if they liked their timetables better. When Spaniards started to emigrate in-masse in the last years (a process that started even before the crisis broke in) and saw the benefits of a more rational timetable, the public opinion in Spain started to shift to the point that the 2 major candidates to last general election even agreed on a TV debate that they would like to pass laws to enforce the companies have more “European” working timetables.

        Moral of the story: when you see many foreigners complaining about something, first of all don’t think that they don’t like living in your country. Don’t assume foreigners are masochists by nature. Second, don’t ever answer with the stupid “why don’t you just leave”. And third, maybe give it a thought. You have your ways of doing stuff, fine, it doesn’t mean that other people can’t have different ways of doing the same stuff! and sometimes, they might be better (or not).

      • ablabius

        Darnit, Ignacio, that would take all the fun out of working in Spain. 🙁

    • Dragonfly

      As a native Dutch, I am sad to hear this.
      The pitfall in your argumentation comes from this sentence “zwarte piet has dark skin”. While people not native to the Netherlands may perceive it as such, this is in fact coot that clings to the piet’s face as he climbs through the chimney to deliver presents. It is not skin, it is paint!

      I have grown up with this tradition, but have never associated Zwarte piet with black people until this issue was brought up in recent years. I believe many fellow Dutch share this experience. The Dutch simply do not realize this may be offensive to people of other cultures.

      I think you’re also generalizing here. Black people are our servants? Of course not! That is not the message Sinterklaas conveys to me. Children associate Zwarte piet with candy, fun and acrobatics.

      If this tradition is so truly offensive and if it truly teaches a bad message towards children, then I agree that the black paint should be discarded. But Sinterklaas is ingrained in our culture. It would be the same as people saying that Thanksgiving is offensive (it is not). But expecting a beloved tradition to change because of this is nigh impossible, especially since you are dealing with something many Dutch are sentimental about and never intended any harm with.

      I’d like to apologize to anyone who feels offended by this tradition, and ask them to realize that in no way is it meant to insult any other cultures. In recent years the Dutch have grown intolerant of other cultures, something we will have to fix.

      But instead of focusing on such a beloved holiday, may we focus on issues that are true cause for concern such as the growing intolerance for gay people and the intolerance towards muslims?

    • Hidde Caquis

      Lol. So we are all the same? Identical in the deepst of our hearts? It’s in our very nature? So all of us are, by nature, and in our hearts, racists. And here I am, thinking that part of racism consists of the mistake of judging people by the prejudices/stereotypes you have of group, and forgetting to see the individual…

    • Kim

      Ow and that’s not racist, is it not? To paint all Dutch people with the same brush like that? Get real.

    • Lisa

      I just want to say that if Sinterklaas were black and the Zwarte Pieten were white, I, as a white Dutch woman, would not be offended.

  12. Anna

    With all do respect I don’t know any person who would say yeah look at Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet that shows how it really should be, even racists don’t use that children’s story as an example. Like I said before: children know the difference between e.g. someone from Suriname and Zwarte Piet. The way children view it a “Zwarte Piet” is something completely different from all the humans they know, it might as well be a big teddy bear in funny clothes (or elves). And when they’re older they’re told what the truth is and everyone understands that the Piets only act silly because it’s fun for the children, not because darker people are actually dumber or deserve less. The only way children would learn a racist lesson from this children’s story is if adult’s give it a racist motive.
    No one denies that very bad things have been done in our past but we can’t change that (I’m guessing you’re referring to the slave-trade and the colonisation) but I can not at all relate to the picture you’re painting of the current Dutch population.

    “Deep in their hart I know for a fact they would rather see all non-native Dutch gone out of their country. It’s just in their nature..they can’t help it.”

    As to the first point: “I know for a fact”, I wonder how you verified that “fact”. I think that idea is based on “onderbuikgevoelens” (negative gutfeelings). That is exactly the same thing racists base their ideas and arguments on (“but I just know all black people are…”), and those are equally void.
    Also what you state is simply not true for the majority of the Dutch people. Maybe in practice ideas haven’t always worked out well but there were (and still are) a lot of good intentions.
    As to the second point: it appears you say all white Dutch people are dumb and can’t think for themselves. Seems as if you lump us all together, that shows great short-sightedness and that too happens to be the case with racism. We’re not that dumb that we can not think for ourselves, nature doesn’t determine everything.
    Sure there are racists in the Netherlands, as there are in any society. Sure the (political) climate is becoming more and more harsh with Wilders, but the majority does not support him. I would say the racists are the minority and if you have other experiences ask yourself if the people you have bad experiences with are representative of all the Dutch people.

    All I want to say is ideas based on negative gutfeelings, short-sightedness and pessimism are never a good thing, that goes for everyone.

  13. T

    wow adriana, did you have a bad experience? I’m dutch and have really always seen the zwarte pietjes as good persons cause they are helping an old man. It has nothing to do with race for children. And also, all dutch are racist in their harts? Haha wtf.
    My best friends in basisschool were from surinam and africa(their parents) and now I’m traveling through asia with my best friend for years, she is from malasia. My sister in law is also half-surinaams. And this kind of blends you can find everywhere un holland. So again, wtf? Not saying that there isn’t racism at all, but be realistic.

    • Femia Cools

      Really, the Zwarte Piet has nothing to do with racism. One cannot judge customs of an other culture with perceptions from ones own culture and background.
      The Sinterklaas festivity is based on different, and very old, customs at the end of the year, from all over Europe.
      The white and black represent also the dark ending of the year and the coming of light after that. Also it has some elements of the cleansing at the end of the year, and mocking bad habits. (The helpers carry bags to catch naughty children, or wips or canes).
      Sinterklaas comes to many countries in Europe. In some places he rides a donkey and his helpers can be red haired brutes, devils (with black masks) or angels.
      Through the years, Sinterklaas has changed and the celebration is influenced greatly by the Roman Catholic church, that started the shoe ritual: the young mass servants left their shoes in the church and found them the next morning, filled with presents.
      The dress of Zwarte Piet is the dress that was common in the old days. Nothing silly about that! Today the Swiss guards of the Vatican still wear them. Look here:

  14. Leslie

    Ah well, it may be racist to those who fully understand the history behind the ‘zwarte pieten’, but children don’t see it that way. The only thing I remember was that I was seriously afraid of Sinterklaas and his helpers.;) Don’t know if you are familiar with some books for children in the Netherlands, like ‘Jip en Janneke’? They are very old fashioned about the role of female and male. But as a child you don’t pick that up, until you read it again when your older. My parents say that children cannot yet make such nuances in real life, that’s why it’s put this way.

  15. Ellen

    There have been enough explanations about the history behind the Zwarte Pieten. They bring lots of joy and fun and there’s not a dutch child who compares the Zwarte Piet with a slave and there’s not a parent who will teach them such nonsens. Zwarte Pieten are the nice and funny assistents of Sinterklaas, they are much beter gymnasts than the old Sinterklaas and in that way superior. If the people who have joined us from abroad throughout the years don’t like them, well, look the other way I would say or join our party.
    We loved our “negerzoenen” and because of the protests simular to those of (racial themes) the name is forbidden (yes, really!!) and are called “zoenen” now. What a pity, by the way, the “zoenen” are still black (chocolate…)

  16. Me

    First of all: I love the celebration of Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet.
    I’m Dutch with roots in Suriname and Indonesia and it does not bother me at all that Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) is who he is and acts the way he acts: it’s just good fun.

    I would like to comment on Ellen and the negerzoenen story: it turned out that there was no (racial) protest against the original name. The so called racial complaints where made up by the marketing department of the company who produced it. They have made public apologies for the fact of selling a fake story to the media about these so called racial complaints. They just wanted attention for the new product name and came up with this ‘marketing stunt’. Some bad marketing department if you ask me..

    Anyway, I hope Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet are here to stay 😉

  17. Nynke

    I think I just pissed myself laughing…. Of course Zwarte Piet is totally racist (my mum tried to hide that fact by telling us that his face was black with soot; and the poor versions of Zwarte Piet at our school just had their faces painted black with shoe polish – picture a sorta black face with lily white ears). So my dear fellow Dutchies, don’t get your knickers in a twist when somebody suggests that this tradition is completely ridiculous and right out insulting. But in my eyes, that is what is so freaking funny about it. Everyone except for most Dutch people can see that holding on to Zwarte Piet is just as bad as telling your neighbour from the Suriname to go pick you some cotton…….no disrespect meant…

    • acolade

      If you’re going to try and be technical it can’t even be racism since Zwarte Pieten aren’t a race. They actualy consist of various races who paint their faces black (i.e. pitch black) and hardly anyone links that to a person with darker skin. You can even turn it around and say that people who think it’s offensive are racists themselves by comparing a Zwarte Piet (a clown with silly outfit) with a regular person who happens to have darker skin…

    • Ju

      This is exactly what makes Dutch people respond so strongly: any adult with a brain can tell there’s at least a racist connotation, if nothing more. But this stems from a past that we’re not proud of, and most of us don’t want to be racists. So we gloss it over with other stories, in order to keer things ‘gezellig’. I resent being called a racist, but if this is truly hurting people, we can change this. It’s also a triadition that things must, and always do change 🙂

      • Skaffa

        To me that doesn’t even make sense. If we’re not proud of the past and don’t want to be racist we would just change it. But the fact is we do not see Sinterklaas as racist and are proud of the tradition. Just because you feel offended doesn’t make you right. But just because you mean no offense doesn’t make you right either. Or in other words; Just because you see racism somewhere doesn’t mean it is racist. It is not intended as racism but you take it that way and that is the very reason that makes it racist and therefore offensive. Things become offensive because people view it as such. So we are to change because after so many years of never being racist people are now starting to view it as such? To me racism is intentionally treating people of a certain race as lesser whether it be in rules, words, etc.

        An effective comparison as to how I view the current situation:
        I happen to be someone with a speech impediment.
        I see Porky Pig on the Looney Tunes. I think to myself: “What is this? He has a speech impediment and he’s a pig?? This is discrimination towards everyone with a speech impediment! This causes our kids to think everyone with a speech impediment is a pig!!”

        The truth and fact here is that Porky Pig is a pig who happens to have a speech impediment, it does not represent people with a speech impediment as a whole.

        I see Zwarte Piet on the tv. I think to myself: “What is this? He has a black skin color and he is a helper to a white old man?? This is racism towards everyone with a dark skin color! This causes our kids to think everyone with a dark skin color is a helper to the white man! (And therefore unequal).”

        The truth and fact here is that Zwarte Piet is a helper who happens to have a dark skin color, he does not represent people with a dark skin color as a whole (and then you can still debate whether it is due to riding chimneys or if it’s the actual skin color which should already nullify the idea that it is racism because the very idea that this is still up to debate means it is certainly not intended racism so therefore subjective rather than objective racism. This means it is racism in the eyes of the perceiver and not racism in the eyes of the ones who partake in the tradition).

        Another comparison: A man in a public place is talking about God, just philosophizing with another man. A woman hears this, walks up to him and says: “Would you mind not using the word God because I am religious and it offends me.” The man replies: “No I will not because I do not mean to offend you and the word God has a very different meaning to me than to you which means we are probably not talking about the same God anyway.” The woman, visibly agitated replied: “But to me the name God can only refer to one God and that God is my God.” The man simply replied: “But not to me. To me God is just a synonym for a deity and that is how I intend to use that word.”

        A man in a public place is playing as Zwarte Piet, just entertaining some kids. A woman hears this, walks up to him and says: “Would you mind not playing as Zwarte Piet because I have a dark skin and it offends me.” The man replies: “No I will not because I do not mean to offend you and Zwarte Piet has a very different meaning to me than to you which means we are probably not talking about the same thing anyway.” The woman, visibly agitated replied: “But to me Zwarte Piet can only refer to one thing and that is a man of dark skin color.” The man simply replied: “But not to me. To me Zwarte Piet is just part of a tradition, I like that tradition and so I intend to partake in that tradition.”

      • Fee Berry

        You know… a mature country leaves behind those traditions which offend people. I thought the Netherlands was such an open and accepting country… until I actually went there. Tradition isn’t an excuse – expecially since it isn’t that old as a tradition anyway. That children love it isn’t an excuse. But I’ve given up on talking to anyone Dutch about it… they don’t listen or care. They have their opinion about it, and nothing anyone from any other country – or even their own – says about it is going to change their opinion. It’s bigotry, pure and simple.

  18. Carien

    After reading all the comments above, I’ve just two things to say. First of all who is bring up the discussion every year? The black people coming from abroad, the black people who grew up in Holland, the white people from abroad or the white people who grew up in Holland. Secondly, outside of that Zwarte Piet is a different kind of thing, i wouldn’t even call him human. Zwarte Piet is Zwarte Piet.

  19. Sabaï

    When I was a kid I didn’t see Zwarte Piet as a black person. (Even though I’m coloured myself). He’s just black because of the chimney dust. Well, that’s what my parents told me. So, I believed that because it’s all part of the mystery. And I love the idea that Zwarte Piet could squeeze himself though the narrow pipe.
    So, I agree. There’s no need to start this discussion about racism every year. Zwarte Piet is just Zwarte Piet. And we all love him.

  20. Erika

    No intention to go into the racism subject, but indeed Zwarte Piet is the part of the tradition that shocks foreigners and is considered innocent and normal by the Dutch.
    Funny thing, you cannot be black to dress as Zwarte Piet, you should be white and paint your face.
    But after some time living here, foreigners end up understanding that it’s not related with any discriminative issue, Dutch people do not discriminate races, only cultures.

    • YannemanRobinson

      Heh, I once did see an actual black person being dressed up as Zwarte Piet. And I must say that he had the most fun of them all because he didn’t have to worry about his make-up messing up =P
      And well… there was that one time during ‘Sinterklaas’ that I heard a little kid (3 years old or so) was calling a random black person Zwarte Piet. the mother was embarrassed to the core, but the black guy just thought it was funny xD

    • Corine

      Actually, you don’t need to be white, to paint your face black, coloured or black people paint themselves black as well. Btw, ever noticed that he doesn’t have a gender either. Women/girls who play Zwarte Piet do not become Zwarte Petra or something like that. Zwarte Piet is just Zwarte Piet.

  21. Eefje

    No one really knows where they came from, maybe st. nicholas just had black servants. anyway, it’s not intended racially, zwarte pieten aren’t seen as black people as in the race. Everyone I know really did hear as a child that they got black from the soot in the chimneys.
    And americans can go about it being racist all they want, you do not mess with Sinterklaas.

  22. mike

    apart from all the conflicting comments above. (of which only half i read;))
    this is what i believe where the zwarte pieten came from.
    saint nicholas saved a village etcetc as in one of the first posts.
    as a result a moor (them being quite black) gratefull of this, swore to help him (he mightve been a slave but i rather think he “volunteered”. with this he brought along his entire family..
    nicholas being perfectly white was unable to remember (or pronounce?) any of their names and just called them al piet.

    the story that they are black from the soot climbing up and down the chimney is i believe our excuse to continue our tradition and try and cover up any racially discutable points out of our national holiday

  23. mike

    also i believe that this tradition is more likely to stimulate racial tolerance rather than racism..

    • acolade

      Excellent point! Reminds me of when they tried to have coloured Pieten a few years ago. So there were Red, Green, Yellow and Blue Pieten.. there was a collective outrage (from all different kinds of communities) saying how ridiculous that idea was. The year after they were back to their normal, black selves : )

  24. Eefje

    I always think about how the kids react to Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is stately, he’s old and dignified and although he has a sense of humour, he’s not jolly. Kids are intimidated by Sinterklaas. Zwarte Piet however, is a joker, he does funny things to makes people laugh, kids can relate to him. Sinterklaas being the boss doesn’t mean Zwarte Piet is stupid and has no, or less, value. He’s the relate-able one. When november comes and the intocht is happening, see how many of the watching children dress up as Zwarte Piet and how many dress up as Sinterklaas. Kids really love Zwarte Piet.

    Of course we should not discount that the history of the legend is full of race issues. Just look at Zwarte Piet in the Dutch dictionary, there are several negative meanings. You’ll find none for Sinterklaas. But I feel we should watch the children for whom this is all real and see what lessons they take away from it. I haven’t seen any kid respond to a Zwarte Piet badly because of their colour. I myself remember fondly the Zwarte Pieten from when I was a little exited child.

  25. Paulien

    Zwarte Pieten were Moors. They came from Africa. As my dad LIKES to explain it to the kids when he plays Sinterklaas and they ask him where they come from, is that they were inspired by his teachings and followed him.
    Or they were just his servants (or, o noes, slaves?!?!)
    Still, Zwarte Pieten are part of one of the best Dutch traditions in my opinion. They are like clowns, but unlike clowns, kids LOVE them! Well… some kids are scared shitless, but hey. Clowns are wat more scary!

    Also, Zwarte Pieten may be portrayed as dumb, but Sinterklaas himself often isn’t that smart either. That’s what makes it even more brilliant.

  26. Marc

    Funny I haven’t seen this mentioned yet. As far as I know, the origin of Zwarte Piet has nothing to do with coloured people or chimneys. Originally (and I’m talking roughly 400 to 500 years ago when this tradition started) Sinterklaas, being the holy man he was, came round the houses with a devil on a chain. This of course to show the superiority of the church over Satan and his minions. The devil, coming from hell, would be schorched black by the hellfire. He was played by a man made black with soot being dragged around on an actual chain by Sinterklaas. Later on, this was found to be not very child-friendly and Zwarte Piet was changed into his then ‘less offensive’ person of coloured skin. Later on still even this was deemed offensive and the story about becoming black from the chimney soot was brought in. However, just look at old pictures showing ‘moriaantjes’ and you’ll see his origins.
    That said, there’s definitely very little trace left of the inferior coloured person, as Zwarte Piet nowadays takes care of almost everything related to Sinterklaas. In fact, Sinterklaas himself has become little more than the spokesman, with Zwarte Piet taking care of the making and distribution of the presents, the keeping and updating of Sinterklaas’ big book of names and even comforting all the kids that are scared by the old, serious and severe bearded man in a dress 🙂

    • ablabius

      Zwarte Piet is older – under various names – than Sinterklaas, but you are mostly right. The catholic church used him to show christian superiority over the heathen ways. They may have portrayed him as a devil scorched by fire, but the Gehenna type of hell was a Judaic invention. Norse-German Helheim was a bitterly cold place. Zwarte Piet was simply a bogeyman to scare little children into obedience.

    • hidh

      I was told by a Croatian (yes, they celebrate it there too, and in Austria) that St Nicholas’ helper over there is indeed some kind of devilish figure who sneaks around the house rattling a chain and making other noises to scare the kids (google for: Krampus). In this case, Zwarte Piet might have originated as some sort of underworldly figure that was “tamed” by Sinterklaas in an early Christian “Good triumphs over Evil” sort of way.
      But there are also reverse interpretations of Zwarte Piet’s origins as a warrior of Wodan/Odin who painted himself black in order to be scarier when *fighting* the forces of the underworld, like here:
      Clearly though, it was the re-interpretation as Zwarte Piet of these origins in the 19th century Netherlands (earlier pictures and stories of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands do not mention any helpers) that gave him the stereotypical “black” features of that time and which are now causing controversy.

  27. Marijke

    When i was young, i always wanted to be a zwarte piet when i grew up! And i know there are a lot of ‘white’ kids who have the same ambition. I cant’s imagine anything racist in zwarte pieten! I’m a teacher now (not a zwarte piet, to bad!). In my class i have 10 kids, where 1 has dutch parents. The rest of the kids is mostly marocan or turkisch. But they all!! love sinterklaas and zwarte piet.

    • Fee Berry

      If you aren’t aware that children in your care and control will be trying to please you and will therefore conform to your ideal reaction to Zwarte Piet, then you can’t have thought very much about schooling from a child’s viewpoint. It is pretty much impossible for you to find out what they *really* think by asking them yourself… your fervent approval of the Zwarte Piet will certainly make it an unacceptable impossible thing for your pupils to say that they dislike it.

      • A Dutch Girl

        Being a Dutch person living in America at the moment, I have often been annoyed with the oversensitiveness to race issues here. I do not stand alone in this, there are plenty of Americans here who agree with me, though also plenty who disagree. As with all politically correct things, anti-racism has gone a little too far, and lost its perspective.
        When I went to Louisiana here, I met REAL racism. I met a woman who fainted when Obama was first elected, because he’s black. I heard racist jokes with an edge to it. I heard people say New Orleans had so much trouble after Katrina because their mayor was black. I heard the word ‘nigger’ used not as a joke, not as a friendly word, but as a derogatory description of black people. THAT is racism.
        I was APPALLED when I read in the newspaper, months ago now, that our stance on Zwarte Piet was dubbed as: “de blanke racist heeft gesproken.” (trans. the white racist has spoken). The white racist? Really? Naturally, in this world, only white people are racist, because that statement in itself isn’t racist. Ah, so, because I never associated the joker that Zwarte Piet is with black people, I am racist? Or is it all those people who saw Zwarte Piet and thought instantly that it imitated a black person that is racist? Because of course a person with face painted black in a funny suit would be a black person.
        Where is the time that people had THICK SKIN? Today we live in a time where everyone is a victim of something, and the victim always has the last say, because we protect the victim, and who the victim is, is predetermined. It can never be the white, middle aged man.
        Lastly, I am offended that you judge an entire people based on the little knowledge you have of it all. Because living in a country does NOT make you understand a country. Truly, get off your high horse.

      • qeri0n

        You’re probably right in all things that you state but somewhere there is more to it. White people (like me and I think you as well) have rarely been discriminated negativily because of the colour of our skin, others probably are, not to mention the apartheid etc. So indeed, those people don’t have a thick skin when it comes to discrimination based on skin colour but they might have a whole history of why they react the way they react (stories of parents/grandparents and own experiences)

  28. Furby

    I’d say that modern Sinterklaas-events are race-related, but not racist. The modern day Zwarte Piet is just a fun children’s character, who would not be seen as problematic if he was an elf or a talking animal. The tradition was racist in a certain way up to the 60s or 70s I think, but while the judgment of people based on the colour of their skin is wrong, you have to realize that most dutch hadn’t seen black people ever. My grandfather told me that the first time he saw a black man, was when the Canadians rolled into town during the second world war. It wasn’t mentioned in the conversation, but I can well imagine that he didn’t see another one until some twenty years later. In most communities outside of large urban centres, there simply wasn’t anyone who could take offense at the tradition. The direct racism seen in America with the Jim Crow laws and slavery was never a part of Dutch culture, or European culture at large, because there simply wasn’t a large group of other-coloured inhabitants (though of course other groups, like Gypsies and Jews were singled out). Up until very recent, European countries were very homogenic in race. I think that the dynamic between Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten changed immensely when coloured people started to come into the country and people started to realise that the way the holiday was celebrated could be offensive to them. The modern day Sinterklaasviering is a continuation of a once racist tradition in a form that is adapted to be as least racist as possible, while retaining our national cultural heritage. It is very difficult to keep one’s own cultural heritage, while trying to not be offensive to people with other backgrounds. So I’d say Sinterklaas isn’t inherently racist, but it isn’t a totally innocent tradition either.

  29. Barbara Backer-Gray

    When I was young I absolutely didn’t think of Zwarte Piet as a black person. Of course he was black, but it was fictional, like someone mentioned earlier.

    No, we Dutch have no racist intentions when it comes to Zwarte Piet. But the Dutch are also not at all politically correct like for instance Americans are. This can be good and bad. It can be good in that we aren’t so race-obsessed and wondering with everything whether it will offend black people, which, taken to extremes, can be racist in itself, since it means you are always still pigeonholing people as being of a race.

    The bad thing about not being politically correct is that we do tend to be less aware of things that are pretty obvious to others. Such as the fact that Zwarte Piet is Sinterklaas’s servant and that in illustrations especially he looks quite clownesque. The question is: is something only racist if you consciously intend it to be racist, or can something be racist even if the people doing it are not conscious of doing anything wrong? Just because someone says he’s not a racist, doesn’t make it so. Just because someone doesn’t mean to offend, doesn’t mean something can’t be offensive.

    I also understand people getting defensive, though, because Sinterklaas is a longstanding tradition and because Zwarte Piet is a mixture of a Moorish sailor and the dark shadows of Norse mythology and just being black from the chimney soot, and it has no connections to American blackface. And we just love everything about Sinterklaas. It’s a much more elaborate tradition than Santa Claus and we’re proud of it and protective of it.

    Living in America, I am now ambivalent about Sinterklaas. I always loved it; I was even a Zwarte Piet for the official televison arrival of Sinterklaas once when I was sixteen. If I still lived in Holland (or the Netherlands) I would probably celebrate it with my children with abandon and think nothing of it. But now I live in America and there’s no way I would teach my kids about Zwarte Piet here, because it’s associated with blackface, which does have very strong racist connotations. Yet if I were in Holland around December 5, I would walk around the shopping areas thinking “he, gezellig…”

    • Rachel

      This is an old thread but I feel compelled to reply anyway. I’m an American living in Belgium and when I first arrived I felt that I was experiencing a very tolerant culture, just overall. I was shocked to see Zwarte Piet around Christmas time because it went against my first impressions and I felt it was racist. I think I understand now that it’s less about tolerance and more about a certain level of sensitivity. The Dutch/Flemish communities that I have found myself emmersed in do not place emphasis on race. People are people. They say it like it is. PC Shmee Cee. I respect that and I think the Western view can be overly sensitive. Just my own opinion. (As a Westerner and sort of by-stander to this debate) What I learn from a Dutch influence is just see people for who they are, their intentions, their character. For someone to see Zwarte Piet as racist is perhaps an overly critical judgement in it’s own way. Anyway, Zwarte Piet seems to be a fun and nice character regardless about what we determine him to be – or symbolize – based on outward appearance.

  30. Kiki

    I don’t care what the origin is…. all cultures have a skeleton in the closet. It is obvious that not even the Dutch are too sure about the origin of Zwarte Piet though. Is he a black Moore? Is he an African slave rescued by Saint Nicholas? Is he a chimney sweep who hasn’t bothered to have a wash? It seems no one is quite sure however the cartoon caricatures my mother in law sends me every year to enable her grand children to celebrate says one thing. The typical stereotypical image of a black person with ridiculously huge red lips, big buggy eyes etc. was thrown out as offensive by the rest of the world, but the Dutch still think its ok. I am struggling to understand.

    • teddy1975

      Oh, the serious Piet researchers are quite well aware what Piet is, he is a Moor, a Blackamoor, a Negro, or whatever you want to call those dark skinned people native on the other side of the Sahara. There is no indication that he is a Moor in the original, strict sense.He is just a blackperson, just like Uncle Remus, Uncle Tom, War Machine, Lucas Cage and so on.. Origin unknown, which reminds us of slavery.
      African, to be more specic Ethiopian, slave, liberated by Saint Nicholas? Nice one, and it has to be granted that St. Nicholas does free slaves or a slave in at least one “authentic” legend, and saves other people from the same in other legends. However the one about a legend which is sufficiently racialized to tell or suggest the slave concerned is dark skinned is a pseudo-legend, which seems 120 years YOUNGER than the character itself, with other words an origin story written for a long established character, just one of the many.
      Nevertheless, the established function of Saint Nicholas in combination with somebody belonging to the race abused in slavery in the colonies seems to suggest a possible abolitionist origin. Personally I don’t think that there is a direct link between the devil and Piet, though I do not exclude an indirect one. It is of course quite possible that black people serving in Amsterdam inspired the character one way or another, or it could be inspired by people who used the blackface merely as a mask for the celebrations.

      Now, you have to understand that Schenkman’s book is a Sinterklaas nexus, it used many things which were already part of the tradition as he knew itand new things and did not tell us which was which: The steamer, the arrival before the feast, the use of his book and the threat of putting chilsdren in the bag were new, Spain and the black companion were thought to be new too, but it seems they did exist already, on the other hand the horse, the throwing of food, the shoe and the singing were clearly “old”elements used. The dignity of St.Nicholas was in itself an old element, but new when seen against the then current background. Even though Pieter was pre-existent we have the character now, because Schenkman decide to use it. The big lips are indeed often strangely overdone in drawings, certainly as the current Zwarte Piet blackface usually makes the lips very red, but does not enlarge them…

  31. LucMartin

    I love how a very Dutch attitude always comes up in this discussion; “it’s normal, you just have to get used to it”. You can’t argue with that.

    I’ve lived in Holland with my (Dutch) wife for 8 years and this same argument beats me down whenever i express concerns over any of the subjects raised by the authors of this site – Birthday congratulations, three kisses (or not), circle parties, second christmas day, etc etc. I have found that simply not getting involved with Sinterklaas and his slaves is not enough, especially now i have a 11 month old baby. I may need to leave the country (which is after all, what they want).

    • Noorriejj

      Those are just our traditions.. When you are in Rome, do like the Romans do… Or at least find a middle way.. I live abroad now too and had to change and let go some of my traditions and make space for ways things are done here… That’s just how it is when you decide to move to another country…

    • Vanja

      I’m Dutch and I hate the three kisses, why can’t it just be 1 or two! I hate circle parties even more. I usually make a game (opgestaan plaatsje vergaan) out of it, whenever some one leaves their seat. There’s nothing wrong with second Christmas day unless it’s spend in an Ikea or a ‘meubelboulevard’ 🙂 and it’s a great day for ‘uitbuiken’

  32. Jessy

    When u were six years old, what do you know about slaves and Africa?


      • @KolonialeKnecht

        When u were six, would you say “no” to a man in a Nazi suit that gives out candy & presents?
        NO. You would take the candy and smile.
        But your parents do not. And they háve to teach children the difference between what is wrong and what is right.

        Zwarte Piet is a Moor/African/Surinamese/ servant who has been máde into a servant. And we do not like to see thát history played out every year, again and again.

        You do not find it racism? Okay. But seek for emphathy with those who are offended and ask yourself: why is it SO important that zwarte piet the servant, stays black. That is racist by itself.

  33. gerhardusvanwilgen

    There will be a public discussion in Amsterdam,

    What bothers me most about this topic is that the feelings of a many black people in the Netherlands are being discarded as being not important. After their forefathers and mothers were forced into slavery and forced in to christianity, they’re not even allowed to voice their opinion? That to me is proof that “The Dutch” – whatever that means, haven’t learned much the last 2000 years. Right now with this ridiculous government they have the need to turn around and try to look at the future and not worry about preserving the colonial past, because that is what this is about.

    • Noorriejj

      Some friends of mine, whom are black as you call it, get recognized as Zwarte Piet by kids during this time of the year.. They think it is adorable and not offending.. To speak in their words; You and I were not responsible for what happened many years ago. And that is true, it doesn’t mean we have to ignore it, but it doesn’t mean that we have to link everything too it. It would be better if we would stop supporting America in everything they do. We live now and in the nearby future.. Not in the past and unfortunately things can’t be undone..

      • Vanja

        You and I were not responsible for what happened many years ago.
        I agree. Whenever someone brings up stuff that my ancestors have done, I tune out. I am only responsible for my own actions.

    • Chris

      Colonial past what? This is just something magical i shared with my family, similar to american santaklaus.

  34. Noorriejj

    As far as I’m concerned it does not become racist to kids until you start learning them it is racist… As mentioned earlier, kids love the tradition and see and feel no harm in it.. However, “older” people who one day loved Sinterklaas & de pieten ow so much now have to preach how racist this whole tradition is.. I find it hypocritical… Leave traditions as they are… And not to mention that Santa is based on Sinterklaas… so should he then dissapear too?… No will be the answer just because Coca Cola decided to use elves instead of Zwarte pieten..

    • @KolonialeKnecht

      Kids love ánything involved with candy and presents: for them it is okay if Black Pete becomes “Keesje” with a suite form Volendam on. It is people like you who stop progress by holding on to racist memorabilia.

      BTW: black people are not 1 group, and just as white people have different opinions (some dó find zwarte piet racist) so do black people have different opinions. Do not use that to diminish the discussion about racism and Dutch Colonial past.

      You defend the black pete like defending a dike that is flooded with water. Let it go! He will survive with a silver/golden/purple face. Let it go.

      • Elodie

        So you’re trying to fight this by attacking with a stereotype? Way to prove a point. Your comment would’ve been a lot more believable if you’d have left the dikes out. Now you’ve just ruined it.

    • Chilito

      Am glad you brought up the elves of Santa. Since this discussion has started about Zwarte Piet and whether or not it is racist, and should be changed, I have been thinking about Santa. Do any of the people that are against Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet feel that Santa and his elves should be abolished because they are discriminating little people? Doesn’t it seem strange that they get distressed about Zwarte Piet and can completely disregard that Santa’s helpers are usually portrayed as midgets?

      Probably not, because that is not who they are, they are Santa’s helpers, make children’s toys and stuff we love them for it.

      That same feeling is how many Dutch people view Zwarte Piet, we don’t associate him with a black person, he is just Zwarte Piet, just as Santa’s elves are Santa’s elves and not little people being ridiculed.

  35. Ted

    Everyone here seems to be talking about zwarte piet and racism. BUT what about the pedophile aspect? After all Sinterklaas is a catholic bishop 😉

  36. Elodie

    I’m Dutch myself, and I think Zwarte Piet, just belongs in our culture.
    it’s nothing against the people with a darker collour of skin, and I think it may even be a complement. Zwarte piet is a lot nicer to watch than this boring old sint that may make you think of your grandfather…

    • Origanum

      AND He is SOOO cool! He can just do everything. Always trolling around and doing stuff nobody actually is allowed to do, but he can do it always! Like jumping on tables, and climbing on stuff. He makes the people laugh because of the things he does. He does things where little children only can dream of! Zwarte Piet is AWESOME

  37. STCP

    I haven’t read all the replies but I always learned that Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet were a Christian version of the God Odin/Wodan and his black Raven. Zwarte Piet is black because of these ravens and people turned a black person into what they knew of a coloured personat some time …

    Just like Noorriejj says: we as grown ups make it racism, I think children see Zwarte Piet just as Zwarte Piet and nothing else.

  38. Zwarte Piet

    Maybe we shouldn’t think by every single thing that everyone is trying to discriminate another race. Stop putting yourself in a box and feel left out. Not everything happens because someone is “black or white, blond, brunettes, red, bald, Marokaan or Turkish, Surinaams, handicapped, short or to tall, fat, have big tits, small tits, tiny weeners, big feets, gay or hetro drive a BMW or a Volkswagen”. We all sometimes get ‘discriminated’. Grow up! The society isn’t like that anymore. We don’t invent a Holliday to discriminate. And let the discriminated then join us by celebrating that. Yeah, right.. of course. It’s just a couple days in the darker days of the year (is darker days also discriminating and french frites?) where we and te kids get some joy of someone who’s acting stupid. (Sinterklaas and zwarte Piet both are). OMG are we discriminating old men from the Katholic church of being stupid. You don’t hear them do you?

    I completely get that maybe people with a dark colored skin (politically correct?) think this is offensive the first time they see this. I’m truly sorry for that. But put yourself together and see where its all about. Racism exist because discussions like this and our history. It is there cause people even think of there is a possibility that we are discriminating. It not happens as common as everyone wants to believe.

    Only the ones who never thought about zwarte Piet as racism, can honestly say that he’s/she’s not a racist. Because he/she doesn’t see difference in skin colors and that this is an issue because people could be joking on black people, it doesn’t come up in this person. It’s just some one who’s painted black. But if it was red or green it could be the same. Especially kids think this way. Not even mentioning its from the chimney as told nowadays. So if you combine zwarte piet with racism, your a racist yourself.

    In a couple of thousand years al our genes are mixed up and there will be only one race left. I wish this was now so everybody stops complaining and being racists. To bad that they still exist. But racism that’s not where this holiday is about.

    • Jolene

      That’s how I feel about it too – connecting the fact that Zwarte Piet has a black-painted face to making fun of black people is indeed thinking in terms of races and creating racism. I never associated Zwarte Piet with black people as a kid and I never did until discussions came up a few years ago.
      Should I be offended every time that a blonde, caucasian female is characterized as slutty and stupid (as in almost all Hollywood comedies)? No, because I don’t associate myself with that person at all.

  39. Richard

    Here’s a racist comment for you all…
    No one ever likes what I say anyway.
    Being born and bred in the Netherlands I’ve seen my share of prime examples for people who are ingeburgerd. And I’ve also seen my share of people who are not, and refuse to.
    I moved to the USA about 5 years ago and due to the fact that certain things are different, I’ve had to adjust my mentality. (Ie accept the fact that my kids havbe to pledge allegiance to the flag at the start of each schoolday and parents have to before say, a play performed by kids).
    I can’t stand the fact that there are people working in retail who barely speak English.

    So as for my racist comment: if you go to a new country you had better accept their ways and traditions, else you better get out.

    Like I said no one will like it and disagree, but guess what? When people come into your house and startrearranging furniture you don’t like that either, so why would you go to their house and tell them how to live.
    So in the end, unless you were born in the netherlands you really should not be in this discussion. By that I mean if you are black and take offense then the only way I will take your points seriously is if you did not move to NL by choice.

    • Anna

      Why would you begin your argument with “Here’s a racist comment for you all…No one ever likes what I say anyway.” ?! Not really a great way to get your point being taken serioulsy, you yourself already saying it’s gonna be racist.

      There is actually a lot of people born in the Netherlands who have the Dutch nationality and always have had (maybe their parents too and their grandparents too) but who have diffierent ethnic backgrounds and could take offence to it. So to come back to your example, it’s their livingroom too..

      Also, just because you’re not born somewhere, or moved there freely, doesn’t mean you have to keep out of discussions or just accept everything (if you follow that argument then nothing can be said about human rights violations in say China, or discrimination of women in certain countries, because it’s their tradition). Moving somewhere does not mean you have to agree with everything or aren’t allowed to comment, you may approve of a lot of things in a country, which is why you move there, but there’s always going to be something you don’t approve of. It’s not a one package deal; “live here and you have to accept EVERYTHING”. It being a tradition is not a valid argument on its own. The fact that it is not meant as racism (anymore) and not associated with racism by a lot of people (and certainly the children) is.

      • Richard

        I suppose in a sense you are right Anna, my statement doesn’t really work in all situations. But we are not talking about genocide, female ccircumcision(don’t know the correct word) or (child) slave labor.
        We are talking about zwarte piet, a harmless tradition that only bothers those that pretend slavery still exists in their world. None of these people have gone through such hardships themselves. Because as far as my eyes can see, the ones that have gone through true segregation are not even bothered by it that much. As soon as I gety a chance to tqqlk face to face with someone on this matter with someoone who knows true racism by lliving through it will I take it seriously.
        You see, I see too many white people complaining about this matter when it doesn’t even affect them. Then I see so many black people celebrating sinterklaas becauuse they don’t see it as a big deal.
        And mind you, its only the adullts making a big deal of it, the kids don’t have a clue. And with proper parenting it is never an issue. One is not born into racism, it is taught. So just make sure our kids know the difference and everything is fine.
        Like I said somewhere else, if you get rid of the “black guys” helping sinterklaas, you might as well get rid of the “midgets” helping santa.

    • Bartezz

      I agree completely Richard!!! I am Dutch but have had the luxury to travel a lot in my relatively young life and lived on three different continents. I pledged allegiance to the Stars and Stripes on every school assembly, I didn’t order the steak when in India, wasn’t offended by the swastikas on Buddhist temples in Thailand, covered myself in Malaysia eventhough it was boiling hot outside, didn’t laugh at a Maori doing his ritual dance in which a lot tongue was visible…. etc etc.` When in Rome do as the Romans, or at least accept the Roman way! If you can’t accept then piss off! No one was forcing me to travel/live in these countries. And no one is forcing any one to live in the Netherlands. (I always wondered why a lot of war/political refugees seem to find their way to the most wealthy countries in the world in stead of the nearest safe country if their true objective is to escape a war or prosecution)

      Back on the slavery topic, not only Africans were a victim of slavery, so were South Americans, Asians, and Europeans. And unless the slavery took place recently (last 75 years or so) you don’t hear most people about it any more. But some people seem unable to let go of this and keep referring to it. Eventhough they haven’t experienced it themselves because it was hundreds of years a go. Most Dutch youngsters don’t even know who Adolf Hitler is anymore (not a good thing but that’s another topic) Let alone they still being upset with the oppression, rape, slavery and murder of their grandparents.

      And by the way, slavery wasn’t a racial thing either. The slaves the Dutch b(r)ought from Africa weren’t picked because of their color. They were brought from Africa because they were widely available and sold for cheap by other African tribes rounding up the weaker tribes!

      And to conclude, as Marc wrote Zwarte Piet probably evolved from the black devil that Sinterklaas had on a chain. And never was a slave. That’s also why untill WW2 Sinterklaas only had 1 Zwarte Piet, there simply was only one black devil te represent. IF Zwarte Piet was to represent a black human being then most likely this would be a Moor. Moors were no slaves! Instead they ruled over Spain and rounded up Europeans as their slaves! This is were some people believe the story comes from that Zwarte Piet will take children back to Spain if they’re bad!

      • Barbara Backer-Gray

        I’ve lived in America for seventeen years now, and I have always refused to pledge allegiance to the flag. I try to explain why not when people ask, and most of the time they don’t understand, but I have a right to my opinions. I pay taxes here like everyone else. I feel that it’s perfectly fine for outsiders to bring up the Zwarte Piet issue and start a discussion. I always thought that the reply to any criticism “If you don’t like it, why don’t you go back to where you came from” was a stupid American closed-minded remark, and I’m kind of shocked to see Dutch people saying pretty much the same thing here. If you live in a country, for whatever reason, you have a right to your opinion about it.

  40. Peter

    I am a native Dutch guy, and I have always enjoyed the Sinterklaasfeest. I grew up with it, and personally, I am perfectly fine with it. I know that we used to celebrate it as an innocent Dutch tradition, without any negative references to slavery or black inferiority whatsoever. Although I have my suspicions as to where it comes from, I don´t know the real origin for a fact (as it largely based on fiction rather than fact), so I won´t jump into assumption. I can only say that this feast does not in any way actively encouraged kids into believing that black men are inferior, or that slavery is justified. I have never met a single person in the Netherlands who believes that this is the case because this tradition has taught them so.

    And as a kid I would have cared less if the henchmen of Sinterklaas were by tradition dressed up as Martians, windmills or strawberry cheesecakes. However, tradition has it that they are dressed up as black men in silly clownish cloths. Changing a tradition is never accepted lightly, especially in a country which already has a very limited amount of traditions.

    On the other hand, I do recognize that (and that’s I think what most of my fellow countrymen tend to forget), although for me there may be no racial stem in this feast for us, others who did not grow up with it may view at it differently. There is no such thing as ‘this is how it is’, there is always a ´how it is viewed upon’ aspect tot it. I do however feel that many outsiders tend to condemn the feast at first glance, without knowing the details of the meaning of the feast. I personally wouldn’t mind changing this part of tradition, although it may be a shock for kids now.

    @Chad, you stated: “Also, the Zwarte Piet story you are referring to is the propaganda you guys tell to your children to hide the slavery origins. Stop lying to your children.”.
    Imo, you’re viewing it a bit too simple. You must understand that the whole magic of the Sinterklaasfeest is based upon a white lie to children that Sinterklaas (a man who is many hundreds of years old, who is rewarding children with presents if they behave properly, along with the threat that they are punished if they don’t) really exists. When the kids are about 6 years in age, they learn that Sinterklaas doesn´t really exist. You can’t stop lying about just one aspect of it, because that means you would have to deny your the kids the whole feast of Sinterklaas altogether. The only solution is to change the feast as a nation. Until that happens, I´d rather tell my kids a white lie.

    Please mind: many discussions are already going on about it. One of the recent initiatives is about ‘Rainbow Piets’: painting faces in bright colors (red, blue, yellow, green, etc.), explaining to the kids that ‘the boat sailed through a rainbow’, and that is how all of the Piets got different colours. But again, it is difficult to change a tradition.

  41. Anne

    Is there any way one could just leave it a country’s tradition as it is…no one gets hurt or offended?? And please do not involve the US in this…I have livedin the US for 20 years, there is hardly any knowledge nor integration or even interest for foreign holidays…none would be accepted here, so just leave the holidays with the countries where they came from – if and when it is time to change I am sure that will happen.

  42. Minihopeless, MN

    Culture permeates every level of the lived human experience – from our day-to-day interactions with others to how we approach knowledge, behavior, and feelings. Culture profoundly influences the process of formulation and interpretation. However, despite the influence, the claim of different interpretation and custom has to be examined across domains of historic developments, and much less on the influence and feeling of modern standpoints.

    Use of the race argument, in either direction, is much more prevalent in domains with social or economic inequality and inequitable standards. I believe that Holland certainly doesn’t meet the criteria. I suggest giving the deeply rooted opinions regarding the Sinterklaas helpers’ ethnicity views a rest, because the racist conclusions or undertones are factually inaccurate.

    As a matter of fact, nowhere other than in the US are racial issues more prevalent and ethnic differences still a groundswell of discontent often manifested in provocation, protest, unrest, and disobedience. To alleviate the ethnic disparity and become more fully inclusive as one, a good start would be to drop the “Africa-American” ethnic identifier.

    With that said, let respect each other for who we are and what we stand for.

  43. Arjen

    Apparantly, and this forum shows it, it is hard for us Dutchies to take criticism on a national tradition so well-loved. That is a shame, because self reflection is important, especially when people feel hurt.

    To react on some previous comments: I am convinced that most adults in the Netherlands are aware of our sad history with slavery, and also that they understand this is linked to Black Petes, being the helpers of an old white man. If we differ, it is about the consequences this should have for the tradition.

    In that regard, two factors kept the tradition as it is:
    1) We see no harm in it. Black petes are loved! They are seen as hero’s by children (many of whom want to be Black pete’s when they are young). Children are often a bit afraid of Sinterklaas, a stern and strict old man by reputation and behavior, who knows if you behaved well all year. In contrast, they adore Black Pete’s, because they are always happy, always smiling and always friendly. It is hard to see for us Dutchies how blacks could be seen as negative, inferior etcetera. (on an abstract, rational level, we can see the possibility, but our experience is different)
    2) We were all raised with it. When you have such fond childhood memories about this tradition, you do not want to change it. Sinterklaas is a children’s party, it is about family and love, all very positive notions, our substitute for the way people celebrate Christmas in the USA. It is hard to change such a tradition. It might feel like betraying your childhood, your parents (because if you change it: did they do anything wrong?) and deprive your children of what you had as a child. This is not to say this is correct or right, is it just how it feels.

  44. Ron

    Mind-blowing. Merry Christmas, everyone. I don’t know the origin of the saying, and can’t be bothered to look it up, but what ever happened to “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”? Being an American with a bit of Dutch ancestry, among many others, I am sick to my death of hearing charges of racism at every turn of the road. I forgot to send my census form in last year, so I was honored by a personal visit from a census taker. I answered his questions civilly, and accurately to the best of my ability. When he got to the end of the questions and asked about my race, I told him with a perfectly straight face I was “Native American”. Now, I’m aware that in the bureaucracy that is taken to mean “Amerind, or American Indian or whatever the correct term for the people that were on this continent before Europeans came here is, but I was born here, my parents, grandparents, and all but one set of great-grandparents were born here. I AM, in the strictest sense, a native American. If I move to another country, how would I be entitled to expect those native to that country to immediately embrace myself and my culture and conform to my social standards at every turn? The ancient wisdom is always the most reliable. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
    Joyeux Noël à tous

  45. Roberta

    Ok folks, I am an American and have lived in the Netherlands for almost 40 years. Obviously, I LIKE living here. (Even though lately, the trend to the right has had me worrying. However, I am worrying about the self-same trend in many countries. USA included.) The ENTIRE Zwarte Piet issue has infuriated me since the day I set eyes upon him. Granted, being a woman of color, I certainly have some baggage about white people running around in blackface, and I do not even attempt to disguise it. The argument that Americans have a different ( and skewed in Dutch eyes) view of this Dutch custom, and should not foist their opinions upon the pure- intentioned, and non-racist Dutch people and their beloved tradition is one I have heard over and over. It still smacks of a disingenious negation of where and how this custom originated. The arguments supporting it’s continued celebration in this form indicates a racism that is so deep-seated as to boggle the mind. They don’t even know ,or care, that Zwarte Piet is racist because 1) it started before there were any black people in the Netherlands, and 2) even the Surinamers accept it. *eyeroll* . So, if Surinamners accept it, that means that it is not racist? Excuse me, but, I don’t care what country you originate from, to make a stereoype (and stereotype it is = blackface, afro wig, big red lips) out of an individual no matter WHAT race is distasteful. To suggest that if you don’t “like” zwarte Piet, you should leave, is risable. This is a great country with many great people. On the subject of Zwarte Piet? They have dug in their heels. No one is going to tell “them” that their tradition is racist and that’s that. Typical of the oh-so-brutally “honest” dialogue. However, It’s only honest if it’s on the “other” foot

  46. ellis

    isnt it weird that the young children dont see the black peters as a racial issue whatsoever and look forward to this holiday all year long because its fun and exciting, its only grown ups who make it a problem, I understand that some who are not familiar with this holiday might think of it as offensive but hey that is not the intention no harm is intended but I do think it stay since it is a tradition, dont like it dont celebrate it were not forcing anyone into approving or liking. I for one think thanksgiving is a weird holiday seeing its history but hey I dont care I dont celebrate thanksgiving and the americans seem to enjoy it so why bother making it a big deal…

  47. Dirk

    Interesting that some posters say that The Netherlands is the most Americanized country in Europe. This if factually untrue.
    American culture is influenced more by Dutch culture than any other culture. For starters, The Netherlands and the USA are the only two Calvinistic countries in the world. Religion has a profound impact on values of a society. There are many more facets of American culture that come straight from The Netherlands, from how casual Americans are, even to words like ‘Yankee’ (referred to Dutch Americans) and Dollar (Daalder).

  48. Albert

    I have had one time a conversation with a Congolese guy about this, who had been jailed about the fact that he had hit someone with a metal jerrycan, because the question was asked “If he shouldn’t be upon the roofs”. He was judged being in the right about the racism, however he shouldn’t have knocked this guy his teeh out. The Congolese guy himself (and the judge) was cool about the “zwarte piet” thing itself, not by the way he was adressed. The judge wasn’t cool about the dental work (for taking his place in punishing (but I guess the judge had no choise else but snigger)).
    As an “umuzungu” (white man) I can look every black person straight in the eye about it in reference to the history, even when I do not know all the details about the dirt. At least, I take it as light as when I am adressed in the streets of Kigali as “umuzungu” and hear from a child “Umuzungu! Faranga!”.
    Otherwise I can start calling my wife “person” instead of wife .. and she won’t be able anymore to call me “umuzungu”.

  49. Miriam

    I think the reason that the Dutch get so defensive about this, is because they never saw it in a racist way.

    The points I discuss are:
    – psychological influence by childhood pictures
    – servitude? Pieten are nobodies slave.
    – culture shock isn’t new. But trying to change another because he has a different culture, is wrong.
    – There is no benefit in changing, only more hate.

    Pictures in our childhood do change the way we vies things.
    To me the history of it doesn’t matter. Even if it was once offensive, and racist, it’s not ment like that anymore. Though I do believe, that childhood pictures can influence, I think Zwarte Piet has many more positive connotations then bad ones. That is to say, I believe that woman’s constant insecurity is partially to thank to the constant flow of images of inhumanely thin or sexy women. But following that logic, seeing Black Piet as an example of black people, they would be funny, generous, agile, happy & smiling, giving presents, helping an old dude, etc. The idea that kids get this influence is a little far-fetched, but not impossible. Although 90% of the people here say they never saw the link between Zwarte Piet and black people, it’s not out of the question.

    But the idea that Black Piet is portraying servitude is rediculous. He does not do it against his will, in fact everybody who discoveres that Sinterklaas isn’t real wants to be Zwarte Piet. He is not forced to, he is not being hurt, he does not do more then he can or then he wishes… In fact in the whole day-to-day world in a Dutch society, the idea of slavery is so very banned from sight (to a point where we ignore it, shame on us) I don’t think the idea of servitude of slavery even comes to mind anymore. It’ll be seen as teamwork, a friendship, boss/employee or similar thing.

    Never was there a culture shock before. Oh wait, yes there were.
    The idea of foreigners coming into the Netherlands, seeing this and feeling shocked. It’s called a culture shock. If I go to countries where men walk in the street, whipping themselves on the back untill they bleed, because they’re sinners, yes I’ll be shocked. But will I try to change it? They’ve obviously been brain-washed by somebody, but well…. It’s their life. The idea that a national celibration should surcomb to the culture shock of others is quite a straining thought. It would give rise to other changes, changes that I can make in another because I feel shocked and offended by them. Any cultural symbol, ritual of celibration is open to discussion because other people don’t like it. In the end, the world will be a bland mass. And you’d think that’s farfetched, but changing the yearly celibration of an entire nation, for many of us more important then Christmas, well, that’s how far this idea is taking us. The fact that another feels shocked is simply because he wasn’t raised there, or he wouldn’t be shocked. So what is the whole point? Change another because you disagree? Come on, most wars are about that, let’s not go there.

    Change for the better? Nope.
    The example, given earlier about the Spanish time-tables, there was actually a benefit for the Spanish. What is the factual benefit here? I can give you reasons why it’s a bad idea to change it, but no reasons why it’s a beneficial idea. If you were to change this, say by dressing up as a black piet punishable, what will happen is that those who came up with that idea will be hated for changing a happy thing into something problematic. And probably, black people are going to blamed for it – they would be the ones ‘insulted’ after all. So you’re going to create more hate. If mothing else, let that convince you that changing this ritual is a bad idea.

  50. Dutchie in the US

    Interesting discussion this. I wanted to react to something Anne wrote:
    “I have livedin the US for 20 years, there is hardly any knowledge nor integration or even interest for foreign holidays…none would be accepted here,”

    Just wondering where you think Santa Claus himself comes from? 😉 I can think of others right off the bat too, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year. There are also many foreign holidays that are celebrated by ethnic groups that Americans, at least in our area, happily participate in. We have celebrated Sinterklaas here every one of the 28 years I’ve live here. When our kids were younger we took several American families along with us to the local celebration complete with Zwarte Pieten (and one year rainbow Pieten).
    What someone else above wrote sticks with me, though. Several black people have spoken out against the tradition in these comments and yet their concerns were poopoo’d by several. If there is one thing I’ve learned while living in this American multicultural society it’s that I may find something quite “normal”, when someone from another culture may take great offense to that same thing. Taking their concerns into consideration is important, IMO.

  51. janneke

    A black face, which could (wrongly) be explained as a consequence of the chimney, is one thing. Huge red lips and afro (and I once saw a golden ring in a nose) is a whole other thing! And I don’t think “white” Dutch people should decide that that is not offensive… they are not the ones potentially offended.

  52. janneke

    Good point read earlier… if you insist on Zwarte Piet remaining black, why is that?

  53. Victor

    I tried to explain the racial issue with Zwarte Piet to my sons of 4 and 6. They just seemed to care about the presents and their wish list. I’m so ashamed of their childish ignorance. They really don’t understand that their parents make up this show to celebrate Dutch slavery history and raise them with a racial bias.

    • Susan

      Oh come on, Victor, I hope you are being sarcastic here? So you tell me I’m making up a show to celebrate Dutch slavery history and raise them with a racial bias? We are living in Malaysia, our children play with children from all over the world – from India, Japan, Korea – oh yes, and even some white kids, sorry about that!
      Yes, I can see how Zwarte Piet could be offensive. Really. But then again: I am pretty sure (and you can also read it in the comments above) that no Dutch parent will tell his or her children that Zwarte Pieten are dumb or that all black people actually should be our slaves, because we used to do that 300 years ago.
      As to the question: why keep him/her black? Don’t know. They did try a few years back, but the idea didn’t really catch on. And I can’t remember a lot of people cheering about how happy they were that Piet was finally literally coloured. Maybe it would have worked if all the people who are now so offended made a little bit more noise then. Maybe they thought: well, if it doesn’t matter we’ll just stick to the way we’ve always done it.’
      Maybe it’s this one thing: we are only a small country. The rest of the world is so much bigger. We speak English, we eat French croissants and Italian pasta, we go to Spain with our caravans… There’s only a few things that make us really Dutch: Oranje, drop… and Sinterklaas!

      • Stefan

        I think yes, he was making a joke… sssttt. 😉 dont forget koninginnedag!!! 🙂

      • Pim

        Ah yes, Dutch sracasm, perhaps that should be on the list.

  54. Bram Scire

    Zwarte Pieten are responsible for the distribution of the gifts. Now how do they come into your house? The answer is very simple, through the chimney. That’s why the children always put their shoes in front of the fireplace. As many of you undoubtedly know, A chimney is tremendously dirty and full of soot. Once a Zwarte Piet has gone through a chimney with the presents, he’s as black as ebony due to the soon that covers his whole body.
    The final question is, why are their clothes not dirty? well, at night, when the Zwarte Pieten do their most important work, their costumes are dirty, that’s why nobody ever sees them. The next day, all the clothes have been washed by a so called Was-Piet (Washing-Piet). However, the other Zwarte Pieten are way to busy to clean themselves and that’s the whole story.

  55. Thaily

    According to the oldest accounts, Zwarte Piet (single, not plural) wasn’t even human.
    Zwarte Piet was a small, black demon who was defeated by Sinterklaas (him being a saint and all) and he forced the demon to come with him and help him do good; punishing bad children by smacking them with a bundle of sticks (roe) and giving gifts to good children.

    Sure, black people influenced the legend, but to suggest the current depiction of Zwarte Piet is malicious or harmful is ridiculous.I’m Dutch and was raised with Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, I always thought the Pieten were way cooler than Sinterklaas; the character is mischievous and playful and ultimately fair in his judgment, rewarding good people and punishing the bad. Even character flaws, such as being forgetful or clumsy, only serve to make the character relatable by -all- people.

    It certainly did NOT make me look down on coloured people; in our cultural perspective, coloured people and Zwarte Pieten are two entirely different entities.

  56. Jort

    “And I don’t think “white” Dutch people should decide that that is not offensive… they are not the ones potentially offended.” There is the true question of this issue. Is zwarte piet offensive or not. We could argue that since it is the darkskinned dutch that can feel insulted by this, it is their call whether zwarte piet is insulting or not. Given the above reaction I would say it is felt as an insult in a lot of cases and thus zwarte piet is an insult.
    On the otherside it could be argued that an insult is something intentional, i.e. an expression is only insulting if it is meant as an insult. Then we would have to decide whether zwarte piet is meant as an insult, which I think is nowadays simply not true and consequently zwarte piet is not an insult.

  57. Waalbert

    Easy talking as a white man but where lies the problem?
    If its really that insulting to see a group of white people dressing up as black guys and behave a bit silly, perhaps it is your own perception of black people in general. If they don’t mean to offend, why take offense in the first place.
    To me someone who has a problem with Black Pete is racist himself, they are the ones who aparently see a connection between behaviour and skin color, I’ve never made that connection anyways.

    And why change the tradition? Wouldn’t it be much nicer if people stop relating stuff to someones race?

  58. Paul

    What bothers me most about this discussion is that some of you seem to use it as a pretense to generalize about the Dutch and present them as a bunch of racists.

    The discussion whether Zwarte Pieten (please use the correct plural ;-)) have a racist component or not is one worth having, obviously. In an increasingly multicultural and multiracial country such practices may be offensive. However, it is important to understand that not everyone is going to react cheerfully when you tell them that one of their main traditions is in fact evil. That has nothing to do with the fact that ‘the Dutch’ are not open to criticism; it simply originates in the fact that traditions are a contentious issue. Nowhere, not in a single country in the world, will people readily give up something they cherish.

    Thus, it would be very nice if the opponents of Zwarte Pieten tried to understand that it is going to take some time for things to change. And they could do so without uttering stereotypical, discriminatory, generalized comments about more than 16 million individuals.

  59. Lisette

    I am dutch and as a little kid, when I still believed in Sinterklaas, I also believed Piet was this black of sliding down the chimneys as was told to me and never for one moment I comparised the Pieten with black people.
    However, when my niece was little she asked a black woman for pepernoten so apparently the confusion can be made. Is that offensive?
    It certainly wasn’t meant offensive by my niece and most propably ( I might hope) neither by all the other little childeren who might have made the comparison.
    If black people feel offended by it I wouldn’t mind if we made it a purple Piet or what ever color.
    A lot of the black people I know and who I asked don’t feel offended by it. One of my friends said that he just chooses to believe the chimney story because he can’t be bothered by all this negativity.
    I admire him for this. I can’t judge about the feelings of the black people who do feel offended because I do not stand in their shoes.
    So, if you wanna make Zwarte Piet green………………..go ahead!

  60. Pieter

    It’s funny how adults make a big issue whether “Pieten” should stay black or also “become” white. It is also funny how adults analyse the complete history and origin to argue whether the tradition is an act of racism or seasonal fun and happiness, misconduct or cheer for BOTH adults and adolescents. And it is funny how adults still can act like children when they come face to face with either “Sinterklaas” or “Zwarte Piet” …… And still we are trying to make our children happy. My name is Pieter, and yes I have played “Zwarte Piet” on several occaisions. These days I live on LI in New York and still enjoy “Sinteklaas avond” (Sinterklaas evening) either being present or watching it at my mom and dad’s webcam.

    My point: let everybody embrace his or her “own” tradition or celebration and enjoy it. There are dutch people who don’t like Sinterklaas, Others don’t like Christmas, Hannuka, the Easter Bunny, the Energizer Bunny, Piggly Wiggly ……. In the end there are still kids in Holland who shout “Piet, mag ik pepernoten ?!?!?!” (Piet can I have pepernoten ?!?!?!). Piet !! Not Zwarte Piet !! So let them have their joy and fun and enjoy their new presents. And you enjoy yourself too, one way or another !!

  61. Florian

    The Zwarte Piet got his existance around the 19e centurary. Before that time Sinterklaas walked around allone or with the devil in some ocations. Ow the good vs. bad team in it all. In that time people couldent realy make the difrence between the devil and a Moor (black person). So in that time he had one Zwarte Piet.

    It is posable that, that tradision is from the former Morenland in Spain. Around the 1900 the coast of that where having trouble with Algeria and Turkish pirates. Who stole people for slavery. Most often children got stolen as wel. In that case the Zwarte Piet was futher removed from Sinterklaas then no and the childrens phase “Who is nice get treats and who is bad get taken by the moren”

    In the second half of the 20e centuary people got more used to black people and Zwarte Piet get a more playfull way of doing. And the Piet get more the rol of spy of Sinterklaas to look if the children are nice “Every thing sees the smart Piet, and he miss nothing”

    At the dutch libaration in 1945 the one Piet got his company and Acrobat and Jester like acts this is due to the interpetation of probaly the Canadedien soldiers altho this can be difrent couse around 1939 mobelized dutch soldiers celibrated it with 2 Pieten. But after the War it was a normal sight that the Sint brought more Pieten with him from Spain.

    PS. Sorry for the writing flaws Englisch isnt my strong point and i roughly translated it from the dutch wiki And even then folklore is hard to interpreted after so long of history, couse every time it get told something of it is rewritten.

  62. Lucie

    Black Peters are Sinterklaas’ helpers. Sinterklaas rides his horse on the roofs en his helpers bring presents for the children by going through the chimneys. That’s the only reason why they are black.

  63. Roy

    They happen to be black. So what? Why is it so that the only people who can be racists appear to be Caucasians? Even Caucasians can get racial abuse from other minorities, or depending on where they live, majorities but are not ever allowed to make a comment about it.

    Lets have a look at other traditions that could be offensive. In Greece, kallikantzeri, where the mischievous goblins appear from the earth during the 12 days of Christmas. Santa’s elves are another example. These are obviously offensive to Little poeple. Santa Claus being old. this is clearly age discrimination. By the way, why is he white? He originates from Turkey so shouldn’t he look a bit more Mediterranean? The reindeers! Animal exploitation. So we’ll end up with a guy who is giving presents if we have to take everything into consideration (I’m sure we can think of something offensive related to his suit and beard too).

    There is always something offensive to be found wherever you look. If we have to make everything so that everybody likes it, traditions will disappear completely. The world is already suffering from globalisation and people are complaining about it. Here is another example.

  64. Deurru

    That Nicoulas guy was apparently busy all over Europe, people: Czechs, Hungarians and Slovaks have him too ->
    Instead of the Zwarte Pieten, he goes around with the Angel and the Devil… I guess Czechs knew the Zwarte Pieten issue was going to be a controversial one, back in the 12th century or so 😀

    Anyway… it seems the only people who doesn´t celebrate this are the Spanish! Shame on us! 😉

  65. Gerard

    Although most of this site is either good fun or hilarious, this is really a sad thread. One of my most fond childhood memories is painting my face black with scorched cork and dressing up as Zwarte Piet, because it allowed us to clown around and do a little mischief (not to mention getting or hands on pepernoten and candy). As far as the big red mouth is concerned, ever bothered to look at “regular” clowns, like Ronald McD for example?
    As a white person I really feel insulted by that 😛

  66. Piet Janssen

    My name is Piet, and I am terribly offended by this tradition. Why does Piet have to be the servant?

  67. JJ Chev

    I think another issue is at play here. Dutch people have a taboo on taboos.

    I think that many Dutch people think that getting rid of Zwarte Piet would be more racist than keeping Zwarte Piet. If you get rid of this tradition, it means you are falsifying part of our history. We were racist and slave traders, and this may be a remainder of that terrible history. But changing this tradition would feel hypocritical to many, as it is no longer related to racism. Changing something in the name of racism, while it is not meant racist feels strange.

    It is the same situation as people making gay jokes in front of gay colleagues at work. In Dutch culture that means that it is ok to be gay, and that people accept it. The Dutch would feel uncomfortable if the colleague would no longer make gay jokes after someone’s coming out.

    It is not politically correct, but PC is not something seen as positive in NL.

  68. Elodie

    It’s odd for me to read that so many people have issues with Zwarte Piet. I understand that people can be offended, but it still feels like some part of me is dying when something I loved so, so much appals so many people.

    Like Thaily I’ve always loved Zwarte Piet (I’m Flemish though and because of the show ‘Dag Sinterklaas’ I just talk about one). To me Sinterklaas was scary because he was a Holy man and thus knew EVERYTHING about everyone while Piet was a kindred soul, someone I as a child could relate too. Truth be told, I didn’t know any coloured people when I were young, so I don’t know if I would’ve gone about shouting ‘look mom! It’s Zwarte Piet!’ every time I’d see a darkskinned citizen or not, but it does seem to happen nowadays that children do this around the time of Sinterklaas, which of course does bug people… I don’t know what we could do about this besides educating the children though. Like Paul said, I don’t think we’d want to see our Piet fully changed anytime soon… They did try that in 2006 in the Netherlands I believe? When the boat went through a rainbow or something and all the Pieten got different coloured faces? The dark blue faces did work for me, but if we’d use those maybe the Brits would stumble on a link with Blue Peter? And would that solve a problem, to just change the colour of the faces from brown/black to blue or create more? (Like how are we supposed to explain the blue colour to the children? Are the Pieten alien? Sounds like an adventure out of Doctor Who. Dorium’s head could serve as a prototype. (Sorry, I’m babbling))

  69. Hetty Kroeker

    I wonder how long it will be before the little people of the world start protesting the use of elves by Santa Claus? I guess that EVERYTHING will eventually offend someone!

  70. Steven

    I can definitely understand the issues concerning Black Pete.
    However, it’s an decade old tradition and never meant to be racist (at least I certainly hope so).
    And don’t forget that Black Pete usually is somebody the children know.
    Painting your face black is one of the easiest ways to hide the real identity of Black Pete for small children (Yes, you can use a mask, but that’s, uhm, simply not the same).
    I rather continuously explain the reason why Black Pete is black (The chimney story) then change this tradition.
    And yes, when celebrating Sinterklaas this year with a bunch of Americans and British, I had to explain it over and over. In the end they weren’t convinced, but all of them wrote a very Sinterklaas worthy poem for others. For me, that’s where the entire Sinterklaas happening is all about.

  71. gio

    In my entire life havent met a single dark skinned person who enjoyed to be called after zwarte piet by other kids, nor do my kids of 6 and 4 like it. Hearing my kids asking why pains me.

  72. Mark

    All I have to say about this is that people are offended by this tradition because like many people here have already stated, although it doesn’t ‘make fun’ of black people, “Piets’ problems are the act of caricaturing – not just the dark skin, but the afro hair, thick red lips, etc, are racial characteristics having been exaggerated”. I am a white non-american immigrant to the Netherlands and I am appalled that this holiday is still happening in 2011. So many different points to discuss that are wrong:

    They are black because they came down the chimney? then why aren’t their clothes dirty? Please, they are black people – and if you associate them with the historical perspective of Sinter Klaas (his ‘workers’) , they are his slaves.
    What’s that? if the kids are bad then Piet is going to come beat you up and take you away? So what, teaching kids to be afraid of black people at an early age. ok?

    I know for a fact that I have witnessed SEVERAL live examples of people discussing this because they are offended by it and then get bashed for being offended by it. And what is the reaction from native Dutchmen?: if you don’t like it, go home! Very inviting mentality indeed.

    • jelle

      First something positive about black Pieter my nephew loves black Pieter but is scared of the old white guy. This whole discussion is about tolerance. I can understand your point of view, without the cultural background it looks racist. But sint klaas (santa claus) is not about glorifying slavery or racism. It`s about family and if you cannot look past black Pieter that makes you the intolerant person here. We as ethnic Dutch must give up al what we are so that others (expats) can hold on to their beliefs and culture in the name of tolerance. But the true is that tolerant is a gray area without mutual respect for the cultural differences there can`t be tolerance. If you can’t look deeper at pakjesavond (boxing evening) and step over your hang-ups than that is your problem not the Dutch.

  73. Thijs van der Meer

    as a dutch person, I find this whole discussion very bad. A friend of me once said the pieten were racist, and I told him that since the late 1940s only other nations could be racist- Dutch people cannot. It is not possible. Since my children are growing up learning that pieten are jolly people on bromfietsen who play pranks and drive too fast I consider that it is a sacred national tradition. Also the TV program is very good- I still watch it as an adult, and especially find it nice before they come to Nederland and are still on the boat. The foreign people in their separate neighborhoods with all the satellite dishes will be driven out by conservative governments anyway, so why worry?

  74. Liekje

    I diden’t read, all the comments but I wanted to explain “de zwate piet” . If you go to the dutch wikipedia an look for zwarte piet, and translate that you’ll find out that, “zwarte piet” is black because he was a slave,an Ethiopian boy (piter) and sinterklaas, paid to buy him free, the boy was so thankful he stayed whit him since…(a lot later it was thought, that one piet was fun but a lot more was more fun) another explanation is that piet is (and now i will copy paste from wikipedia)- According to the Meertens Institute was originally Black Peter is not black, but white. His name was John the Servant . [3] In Germany, Santa Claus even a servant. His name as Knecht Ruprecht and was originally white. France has even a white servant of Saint Nicholas, known as Le Pere Fouettard . [4]
    -Another theory was originally a Peter Italian chimney sweep .
    -Another possibility for the origin of Zwarte Piet is the Germanic god Woden . Odin rode on his white mold , Sleipnir , air and was captain of the Wild Hunt . He was always accompanied by two black ravens , and Huginn Muninn . The Ravens listened, like Black Peter, on the chimney for Odin the good and the bad deeds of mortals to tell. [5]
    -See also the berserker , the whole body was painted black and they wore animal skins. The berserker has the quality of Odin into a bird, fish or game animal and flying change.
    -The servants of Christmas in other countries are often portrayed as the devil (sometimes with horns of animals (goats)), for example, the Krampus , which corresponds to the suppression of the pre-Christian deities. The once all-powerful deity was as a servant or slave of the Saint considered a way to Christianize the pagan population.
    -The Scandinavian kerstbok (Julbocken) (the name refers to the Yule or Yule ) similar in appearance much like the Krampus, the Finnish Santa Joulupukki Julbocken comes from the off. The Jólasveinar give as Black Peter, gifts during the period around Yule. Also for example, Cernunnos , the horned, wearing antlers.
    -Compare Black Peter with the fur-clad French harlequin (to Hellequin), often with black (half) mask , also known as the leader of the Wild Hunt is supplied. The Italian Befana is smeared with soot and brings gifts through the chimney.
    -The origin of this helper is controversial, there are also different ideas about it: he was originally a demon who was forced by the holy good deeds, or just a Christian deity who had to submit to the Christian saint. Some say it goes back to a Moorish servant, and his skin color is due them. In other countries, the Moorish variant is unknown, here is the helper of Sinterklaas is usually a devil (eg Krampus ) and the character was only since the Christianization and malignant devil portrayed.
    -From a Christian perspective of the vanquished Satan has Piet, Deputy overcome Odin or his helper Nörvi , the black father by night, which also carried a wand (a fertility symbol ). A servant of the devil as the year is still clearly visible in the Austrian Christmas traditions . Here is a Santa Claus accompanied by Krampus or Percht that is quite terrifying demonic appearances and noisily through the streets dragging chains.

    Sorry it got so much 😛
    But so you see it is just what you belief, in my eye’s its not a black man it is just “piet” whit shoe polish on his face, he is part of sinterklaas, and the whole tradition, and to allot of dutchies he is no slave or black man just piet….
    The whole artical is here: (translated)

  75. Sleaw

    Here’s my two cents. If you want to feel offended, please feel offended. Anyone can feel offended by anything. Being offended in itself is not a proper excuse for change – please realise this. I can be offended by any number of cultural differences in other countries and probably am. What matters is whether this tradition propagates racism and related hate crimes. Does it actually make anyone worse off or not? Children don’t think it’s racist, they love it. Throughout the year, is ‘Black Pete’ used as a general insult? Not that I know of. Moreover, are black people discriminated more in the Netherlands, which his this tradition, than in other countries, where they don’t? Clearly not, so the very idea that this tradition leads to racism is faulty and unproven. It doesn’t lead to racism, it leads to ‘offense’. How utterly, utterly terrible. People relate the images to see to a past that many of them never experienced but have been shocked with – and honestly, it’s a very good thing that we know of this past and avoid making the same mistakes, because racism is terrible. But racism is not ‘seeing someone is different’. Racism is treating other people unfairly because they have a different race. Maybe people do get insulted for ‘Black Pete’. And white people get insulted for ‘Whiteys’. Everyone insults each other all the time and they’re going to use whatever comes to mind – culture and skin color are easy targets. This whole tradition doesn’t propagate or influence that. I wish people would stop pretending it did.

    • Sleaw

      Past me, who made that post, meant well, but he had no idea what he was talking about when it came to racism and pretty much acted like a total jerk. I apologize for that post and would like to stress the extent to which I’ve come to disagree with everything in it. That’s all.

  76. Joris Driepinter

    I completely agree with the above comment from Sleaw. Even IF the Zwarte Piet-tradition is racists to people, it is not ment that way. Further, the Dutch are very proud of this unique non-racist friendly-ment childrens feast, of which the by Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus comes from. And like in every country, people get very sensitive when immigrants and expats want to change their customs and tradition: from trail by jury to gun laws in the US to bullfighting in Spain to headscarfs in the Middle East, it is not upon foreigners, immigrants and expats to protest against it. Sinterklaas is a sacred Dutch tradition, you don’t need to participate, you are even allowed to disapprove it, but if you protest out loud against it and want to change it, most people will bluntly honest tell you to f off where you come from and/or go live somewhere else where you won’t be bother with it i.e. almost every other country on earth.

    By the way: there are plenty of people from Surinam and the Caribbean in my surroundings (mother, ex-girlfriend, girlfriend, best friend) who are absolutely not offended by Zwarte Piet. They don’t feel spoken too or challenged by Zwarte Piet and think of people who do as cry-babies who should grow up.

    But like Sleaw already rightfully so stated above: please fell offended.

  77. jacqueline

    Hello everyone! I really like this blog, a lot of it is fun to read and I can really find myself thinking: man.. I do that too!! I know that so many people get offended by “zwarte piet”, to me myself that’s just a pitty.. Sure we could all decide to take zwarte piet away and just replace them with any Jack and Jill.. However.. I really don’t think everyone should get so.. Offended by it. I’m not stupid, I know slavery was and still is a horrible thing, and that the Dutch have a long long long history with it. But this is just a childrens holiday.. It’s not ment to offend people at all.. Not too long ago, I was a kid that would get sooo excited by the idea of Zwarte Piet climbing down our chimney and bringing me presents (which was the reason he was black as ash or “roet”). It’s an old and harmless tradition (to me), but then again, I’m just not offended that quickly by such harmless things..

  78. Jessy

    Haha I love this discussion!
    Fact is: It is an old folk story that Zwarte Pieten are the slaves of Sinterklaas.
    The story I knew until I was 15 or something (!!!): The Zwarte Pieten bring the presentes through the chimney and that’s where they get the black from.
    Conclusion I’d drawn:
    It used to be racism, but we don’t see it as racism, we don’t tell our children it’s racism and JUST want to keep the fun part of the tradition alive.

    I even thought of a solution:
    It would be strange if a Zwarte Piet would be white all for sudden, but when children see a spot of Piet that is not painted black the parents say: “He comes through the chimney, why would he get black behind his ear?” and this is something children immediately believe most of the times. If the Pieten would get a BIT less black every year and have more spots the modern idea we all support of the black because of the chimney would make the racist part disappear.
    Many people think my theory is bullshit and that Zwarte Piet should stay Zwart. What do you think of this ‘solution’?

  79. kung fu: the journey

    I never liked it when people force their ideology unto other people by appearing moral (goes for both parties). I feel that it is a subtle form of bullying. That is perhaps why we, as a species are doomed. Our wisdom only goes as far as we can admit our own ignorance.

  80. Harm (Dutch)

    I would like to make two points:

    – There are very few kids who associate Zwarte Piet with slavery, or somehow being subservient in a bad way to Sinterklaas… Yes, Zwarte Piet might lose stuff and talk funny, but without Zwarte Piet Sinterklaas would never be able to do all he does… Of course those saying that many Dutch people to easily dismiss the notion that others might not see Zwarte Piet as something positive do have a point as well

    – About Dutch xenophobia (since it was brought up a couple of times in this post)… Dutch xenophobia is rising, but keep a few of these things in mind (points that IMHO are often overlooked when discussing current Dutch attitudes towards foreigners/migration):

    Less than 50 years ago, basically the only non-white people to be found in the country were Indonesians and Chinese who had come over after Indonesia became independent. Now they make up around 10% of the population. Again, a change taking place in roughly 40 years.

    Less than 50 years ago, there were less than 500 Moroccans and Turks combined (!) living in the Netherlands. Now these two groups alone account for about 750,000 thousand people, disproportionally concentrated in the cities).

    Now Amsterdam, by some official count has the most nationalities in a single city (at least 177 or 179) in the world.

    Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague are now all cities that are 50% non-Dutch/autochtoon in population; some parts of these cities are almost completely non-Dutch. And that massive change essentially took place within 2 generations (!), some 40 years at the most (if not a mere 30), and is highly visible due to differences in skin colour.

    The rampage of the EU train, with accompanying loss of traditional Dutch institutions – guilder, but many social institutions as well – as well as the impact of globalisation and associated job loss since 1990.

    The fact that for years the negative aspects of mass-immigration were not to be discussed until it boiled over with the arrival of first Fortuyn, and which is now skillfully exploited by Wilders (who himself is IIRC half-Indonesian, married to a Hungarian wife).

    The fact that to some extent this – mass migration without consideration of negative side-effects – is repeated again at this very moment with Central and Eastern Europeans; also many Dutch feel economically threatened by EU policies, including free migration. And to a considerable extent actually rightfully so; see for instance the way Poles (and soon Romanian and Bulgarians) are used to squeeze Dutch people (both allochtoon and autochtoon) out of the labour market. Because many Dutch people (as well as Moroccans and Turkish people, these disproportionately so) HAVE lost their jobs, only to see them replaced by Poles (I was witness in one major Dutch company to that process), or to see the Poles at the least be used to suppress the wages of the Dutch workers. Of course the people losing their jobs – disproportionately non-white ‘allochtonen’ – end up with an ‘uitkering’ and hence seem to confirm the stereotype of lazy profiteering foreigner. Mind you, within a couple of years about 300,000 Poles (and it could well be more) entered the Dutch job market in the mid-2000s. And the first batch of them is now (thanks to EU rules) eligible for Dutch uitkeringen…

  81. JP

    Although I understand the misunderstandings related to Zwarte Pieten I can ensure you that they are black because they deliver their surprise presents from Sinterklaas by going through the chimneys at night (only way in without breaking entry). That is also why children lay down carrots and sweet at the fire place at night (in beginning of December), to please the horse of Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten. At night de Zwarten Pieten go through the chimney and exchange the carrots and sweet by presents for the childeren.

    Easy as that 🙂

    • Soesjes

      I was searching for this post! People always bring the race-thing up; you’ll be black too from the soot if you went down through thousands “chimneys” on Pakjesavond.

      • Kairo

        The Netherlands is truly a magical place. Going down a Dutch chimney will give you an afro and change your accent. WOW!

  82. Karin

    I understand people can feel offended by our traditional Black Pete. No matter his true origin, at some point in time he was changed into a caricature of a negro (wig and big red lips).

    But how can we go about setting this right? If we’d exchange them all for White Pete’s wouldn’t someone at some point, maybe 10, 20 years later, be offended that all the Black Pete’s got sacked and instead White Pete’s got the job?
    If we remove him completely we’ll take away the biggest fun part of the holiday for the children. As said before, Sinterklaas is stern and holy-like, Black Pete is the friendly one that kids can relate to. And how would I explain to my kids (the eldest will be 4 years next Sinterklaas) that Pete is gone?

    Unlike what other people say my daughter does see skin-colour. She doesn’t see race though, for her skin-colour falls into the same category as the difference between a red and a grey cat. Or a pink horse (TV). When she puts on her Pete-hat she’s Pink Pete. When she adds some paint she’s Black Pete. If she wears a cape she’s Snow White’s Prince. No matter that she’s a girl.

    For kids the world is very simple. People aren’t different inside because of how they look outside. You put on a cape and you’re someone else.

    Would you change the various princess fairy tales cause it’s offensive to Lesbians / Feminists / Real Princesses ?
    It’s a fairytale ffs! Add new ones, make a fairytale about a Prince that has to be saved from a dragon by a Princess. Disney is already on the right track with the one about the Princess and the Frog.
    Maybe with Sinterklaas we could add some Pink Pete’s, White Pete’s, Yellow Pete’s and Red Pete’s. Maybe add some Blue ones as well, in case the Aliens land in a couple of years 😉

    PS. I’m Dutch and mother of 2 little children.
    Prejudicialness is real unfortunately. It’s not as conscious a thing as people make it out to be though. A lot of people think they’re not prejudiced (different thing from racist btw) while subconsciously they are, in the same way that our mind makes distinction between man and woman, fat and thin, pretty and ugly, blond and red. Those who scream the loudest that they’re not prejudiced often make the most distinction subconsciously.
    It’s just as bad to generalise that blonde girls are dumb and red girls are great in bed. On average women still make less money then men in the same job.
    We had a rather racist colleague at work and my boss was hesitant to hire an ethnic colleague cause it would cause tension. Is that racist or realism?

    I just watched Labyrinth yesterday and the main character kept repeating “It’s not fair” till at some point she realised that life isn’t fair. Sometimes it’s just the way it is.

  83. Henk

    They are black because they personify the Devil, while Sinterklaas personifies God. It’s a very christian celebration at its roots, celebrating the victory of God over the Devil.

    Their likeness to Moors can be seen as imagery that has been appropriated at a later date.

  84. marthe

    This debate will never end. Some facts: ‘Zwarte Piet’ has been part of Dutch tradition for centuries, at present (perhaps this was different 100 years ago but that’s not relevant now) Zwarte Piet has by no means any rasictic connotations to Dutch people, let alone children. Zwarte Piet is portrayed as a child’s friend and helper of Sinterklaas (not only as a ‘Dumb Piet’, as you may know there are hundreds of Piets, each having their own ‘designation’), Piet is black from the chimney, honestly not in my entire life did I relate Piet to a racial issue. On the other hand, non-Dutch people may consider Zwarte Piet to be offensive, of course, it is not the intention to insult anyone. However, by abolishing Piet entirely, you may as well abolish the entire Sinterklaas feast as unthinkable to celebrate Sinterklaas without Zwarte Piet. As adults, let’s not forget this is a CHILDREN’S festival, innocent kids who look forward to Sinterklaas throughout the whole year. No parent would ever tell their children that Piet is a slave of Sinterklaas because of his ‘skin colour’. I honestly don’t think Zwarte Piet is ever going to be abolished because it may be offensive to others. Perhaps those who feel offended should try to accept that Zwarte Piet is simply part of the children’s celebration, kids don’t judge on skin colour, only adults do.

  85. Erin

    The Dutch are all about tolerance ::eyeroll:: . Well, in the literal sense, I suppose. While some cultures ACCEPT outsiders, the Dutch are quick to point out that 1.You’re different 2.They don’t like you 3.You ought to leave, but… 4.If you don’t, they’ll TOLERATE you 🙂 I think that’s funny.

    • Kairo

      Can’t think of a more accurate list of what happens when I start talking to a Dutch whom I have just met. Funny thing, they recruited me here to do something their own scientists are too stupid to do but desperately need. However, because I don’t approve of how I get treated here, I’m going back to the us in a couple month (would go sooner if my new job back in states started earlier). To be fair, I’ve had excellent experiences with Dutch scientists. That’s why I’m not surprised that all the good ones are in faculty positions abroad or in nl but planning to leave…

      • Lisette

        Maybe you are just not really nice people yourself and the dutch react to that.

      • Kairo

        No, we’re actually terrible people in comparison to the mighty Dutch. I need some more Dutch to help straighten me out, then they can send me back to my own country! Thank you for your hospitality. You can be sure that I will provide the same level of hospitality the next time I meet a Dutch immigrant in the States 🙂

  86. Scarlet

    Here’s something that no one I’ve asked about this has ever been able to answer…
    Fine, for the sake of argument let’s say that Zwarte Piet isn’t racist, he isn’t an African slave, or a Moor, his skin is black from the soot of climbing down the chimney. So why aren’t his clothes sooty? Why are his lips still bright red – why aren’t they covered in soot? And why does climbing down the chimney somehow make his hair turn kinky?

  87. Christine

    I think its important to realize that while most Dutch people (myself included) do not experience Black Pete as being racist, but as a fun character from our most favourate festival, it is still grosly offensive to many others. Personally, I think that we should be far more sensitive to other peoples feelings on the matter (yes, the intentions are not immediatley racist, but the latent message that the image of a black servant with overstated red lips sends to all who observe the festival is still very much racist in nature). We should therefore change Pete’s appearance, especially his skincolour (bright green anyone? or ‘rainbow’ as has been tried before). In order to achieve this, though, we need large scale coordination and cooperation. Unfortunatley, Sinterklaas is so important to Dutch people that any critisism will cause many to dig in their heels…

  88. Manuela

    I will just stick with my never changed solution that the black petes are indeed black, because they come down the chimney.
    Although, I must confess, at some point I thought; hey! How come if climbing down the chimney makes you black, that Santa Claus is still white? I mean, he also climbs down that same chimney a couple of weeks later? Or did that black stuff by then disappeared because the Pete went in there first? 😉

  89. Laurens Lamberts

    First of all I would like to say thanks to “SDPL” for all the great and funny observations about the Dutch, it cracked me up. However, as a Dutch person, I feel the need to tell something about the tradition of “Sinterklaas” and “Zwarte Piet”. As for the most common story told to little children, it basically tells them about a friendly elderly man who decided his birthday (fifth of December) should be a joyous occasion, not just for him but for everyone. The idea was that, originally, the gifts and presents were to be of practical use, mainly to help people get through the harsh and cold Dutch winter. This soon changed after the Industrial Revolution (which, in the Netherlands, started in 1856) to the children receiving presents, with whom was meant to be played and were not only meant to be used for labour.

    As for the discussions about whether “Zwarte Piet” may or may not be racist to people, clearly there are people that feel somehow racially connected to “Zwarte Piet”, due to the extensive slave trade carried out by the Dutch. I admit, this is a horrid peace of Dutch history that will always haunt us, not only now but in the future as well. This is however not the case. The main idea of “Zwarte Piet” is that he is coloured due to the enormous amount of chimneys he has to go down through during the “Sinterklaas” celebrations. Many of you may wonder, why is he always coloured then and not just on the 5th of December? Well a simple explanation for that is that he visits children throughout the entire festivities, from the date he arrives, 17th of November, until the 6th of December, the date when he leaves. The children leave their shoe by the chimney (as they would normally do on the 5th of December) together with some sweets for Saint Nicholas or “Zwarte Piet” or a carrot for Saint Nicholas’ horse. As for the other explanation, they say that “Sinterklaas” is based on the Germanic god “Odin”, this explanation, however not told very often, sounds plausible. The “Zwarte Pieten” could have been directed from the black crows that Odin used to listen whether people misbehaved, which in their own way “Zwarte Pieten” do as well. Sinterklaas himself is not just on old cripple man, he is very much vivid and strong. Most of the time he is depicted as a tall man riding his horse through whatever obstacle lies on his way, just to do his “duty” very much given to him by no one other than himself. He therefore resembles Odin quite a lot.

    Now on to the discussion about the origin of “Zwarte Piet” then, as the story of “Sinterklaas”spread through parts of Europe, it eventually arrived in the Netherlands as well. However, when the story was told in other countries, there was always a helper accompanying “Sinterklaas”, however the Dutch people had no such thing. Around 1850 the Dutch writer Jan Schenkman introduced a helper for “Sinterklaas”, but he wasn’t given a name yet. Many names were thought of: Trappadoeli, Nicodemus, Assiepan, Sabbas, Hans Moef, Pikkie, Robbert, Krik-krak, Micheltje, Hansje van Vese (or Hansje van Kese), Jacques Jour (or Sjaak Sjoor). In 1859 there was an article talking about the name Pieter (Piet) this was the first mentioning of the name Piet associated with “Sinterklaas” helper. In 1895 “Zwarte Piet” was first mentioned and eventually managed to win over the Dutch People’s hearts.

    As for the number of helpers: During the 20th century people thought: If one helper is fun, why not have two instead? For a while “Sinterklaas” had two helpers both “Zwarte Pieten”, until after the liberation of the Netherlands during World War II. The Canadian soldiers stationed in the Netherlands at that time (as you guys are Canadian this might be a fun fact for you as well) celebrated the “Sinterklaas” feast, not with 2 helpers, but with masses of “Zwarte Pieten”. The concept was liked by the Dutch people and since then have been using not one or two, but often as much as twenty to thirty “Zwarte Pieten” during the festivities.

    Wow, I have just spent around 1.5 hours on my post, I hope you guys find the answers you needed from it. I strongly believe that “Zwarte Piet” isn’t racist in any way whatsoever, and hope you guys try to see it from the points of view I mentioned in my previous statements.


    Laurens Lamberts, a proud supporter of “Zwarte Piet”

  90. Simea

    This is always such a difficult topic! Being Dutch I love all ‘zwarte piets’! (I was and am afraid of that scary old man though). On the other hand, I can imagine that non-Dutchies are horrified by this whole tradition. For them its clearly related to our prominent role in slavery. And do I need to remind you that ‘apartheid’ is a Dutch word?
    I think all Dutch people (including me) are delusional when it comes to Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten. We have all been brought up with this tradition, don’t see harm in it and we all love it. It’s so deeply rooted in our culture, that it’s difficult to see it from another perspective. For me, and I think for most Dutch people, I don’t relate Zwarte Pieten to real black people. To me its a fairy tale figure.
    However, that doesn’t change anything about the fact that it does offend many people, and no explanation can do anything about that.

    I have an idea, maybe you (yes you, dear blogger), can start a competition on this blog to choose a new worthy replacement for Zwarte Piet! Just a thought….

  91. Ivana Jiménez Juárez

    Americans, finding offense on ridiculously silly things that don’t matter at all. Now that should totally go in a “stuff american people like”: taking offense.

  92. Pim

    I think, being Dutch myself, that the main issue here is that the Dutch do not consider unintentionally offending someone as an issue. If you feel offended by something, then it is considered to be your problem, not that of the person who offended you.

    I understand that this can be perceived as being rude, however it comes down to cultural differences. In general people are just being direct about things, and if you feel offended by someone’s personal opinion, it is your issue, not theirs.

    In general ‘being offended’ is something that is frowned uppon in the Netherlands. When you hear or see something you don’t like, man up and move on.

  93. Bob van Leeuwen

    As a Dutchman i grew up with the concept of ‘Sinterklaas’ and ‘Zwarte Piet’. They were all real people to me when i was young. When i grew older they just became characters to me. Never in my life had i made the connection between racism and this concept.

    Recent years we have become a country that is inward looking. Xenophobia is institutionalized in certain political parties. As this developed the concept of ‘Sinterklaas’ has gone bad, imho. I find it insulting (and i’m not even talking about the catholic priest on the horse that loves children), it connects our black pages in slavery with what’s happening in modern society.

    But i have to say to the people from abroad judging us, have a long stare into the mirror. I have seen the discussion about same-sex marriage in the US and it felt like being catapulted into the middle ages. I’d like to hear from the critics, what country are you from and how is this legislated by your public representation?

  94. Richard

    Lighten up for god sakes!!! It’s Sinterklaas en zijn zwarte pieten… Its one of the most fond childhood memories ive had!! Nothing is assosciated with racism, it’s a childhood celebration… Do you really think children associate this with racism… Get your head checked! children that age dont even grasp the concept. After 5 years of age you don’t believe in Sinterklaas anymore, and keep the secret for your younger siblings so they can enjoy it for a few more years untill they are old enough to understand that sinterklaas doesnt excist. Really …lighten up!!

    • Tom -Dutch guy living in spain-

      I couldn’t agree more with Richard here. Zwarte pieten are just fictional characters thought up some guy who figured they’d be black. Whats the problem with that? Would you have felt any better if they were white, asian, martian, purple with gold stripes?? And if so, please do elaborate.

      I’d like to ask the people criticising black pete’s tone of skin if they take the same offense when reading a ‘sjors en sjimmie’ comic or watching ‘star-trek’, ‘fish called Wanda’ or whatever piece of fiction that just happens to have black (and other colors) people in it, if they take offense by that too? And if not, care to explain the difference?

      Also, The zwarte pieten characters aren’t gangsta style pill popping weapon carrying ex-cons with nothing on their mind but ruining your day. No! They are extremely child friendly lively supportive caring characters (albeit somewhat dumbish) whose main purpose is making sure children receive their presents and generally making people smile. How……. Could that possible be a bad thing?

    • RandomDutchie

      I totally agree! Personally I’ve always learned the story as that Piet became black from the soot in the chimney yes, but regardless of how they became black, isn’t it a GOOD thing that children absoluty LOVE black pete? From a young age you learn to associate these guys as a positive thing! They’re good people, they make you and your family happy, they’re capable of amazing things (walking on rooftops, climbing down chimneys etc.) I really don’t see why there has to be a debate about this …

  95. Ronald

    Several explanations for Black Pete’s origins have been given over the centuries. In the oldest writings he was just a black figure, most probably a representation of a demon conquered by the saint. He was later said to be a young boy who was saved by Sinterklaas from a life of slavery, and decided to stay with him and help him out of gratitude. A similar story existed where the boy was not a slave but an orphan working as a chimney sweeper. The suit he wears is said to look a lot like the clothes a 17th century Italian chimney sweeper would have worn. When I was a kid this was the story we were told; Black Pete was black because he climbs down chimneys. It never occuurred to us that if this were the case his clothes should also be stained, but I assure you we never saw Black Pete as a black person of representation of a black person.
    Also, until the end of the second world war Sinterklaas had only one helper. When hearing about this tradition our American and Canadian liberators decided to organise festivities around the holiday and thought one helper was a little boring, so they came up with the army of Black Petes that swarms the country each year to this day.

  96. TXvegmama

    It’s racist in the fact that the lips are exaggerated red and the Afro wigs are worn. If it was just sooting up someone’s face, it would be different. Moors were also not that color! I lived in NL for 8 years and I could never adjust to them.

  97. nouria59

    I live in the Netherlands for 1 year and a half now. I knew already the story of Sinterklas and his black peters because I had dutch classes in France.
    Nevermind, to add my little touch in the discussion I have a question. Ok all the people who takes defend of the zwarte pieten by saying “they are black because of the cheminey stuff” could you explain me why do they have big red mouthes and afro hairs ? Cheminey too ? I don’t think so.
    Not saying that France is or is not racist / is or is not better than Netherland. Just that, if there is a debate that’s mean there is a problem somewhere… Just saying that…
    My boyfriend is arab (so let’s say moors, talking about last centuries) and he took this tradition really badly, not only because of the black stereotype but just the way like dutch people explain “jaja they are the black slaves of Sint Nicolas, coming from spain, and they act soooo stupid ! It is really funny”
    Really … Funny …

  98. It’s For the Kids! « dutch porridge

    […] its reported origins in a book written in 1845, although the practice of (white) festive revellers blackening their faces and wearing afro wigs continues. There have been some attempts to bring the character into the 21st century, with one […]

  99. Alessandra

    I am living in the Netherlands for 9 months and despite the fact I really love to be here, I can’t understand how Zwarte Piet is not seen as it is: a racist tradition.
    I would like to share with you an interesting art project developed in Eindhoven in 2009 at the Van Abbemuseum.

    The film ‘Read the Masks. Tradition Is Not Given’ (2009, ca. 80 min) is part of an ongoing project of the same title by artists Petra Bauer and Annette Krauss, which questions the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in the light of its social and political implications.
    The film recaptures the project’s trajectory, including the intense public response that it has generated since August last year. ‘Read the Masks. Tradition Is Not Given’ has been developed in the context of ‘Be(com)ing Dutch’, a two-year research project and exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum on issues concerning the Dutch national identity. It sets out to critically explore the phenomenon of Zwarte Piet in Dutch society.

  100. Wendy

    Well, all the discussion put aside,as I do put them aside now.. I love sinterklaas and zwarte piet. It’s the most sadistic holiday for children that I know, and it’s funny as hell to me. Sorry if that offends anyone. But countries do have their own weird traditions, it’s what makes diversity wich we all claim to love..

  101. Janneke

    I think it’s very hard for Dutch people to see this as anything different from a harmless tradition. Although even as a child, I thought the lyrics to the song ‘Hoor wie klopt daar kinderen’ was strange (‘want al ben ik zwart als roet, ik meen het toch goed’ ‘even though I’m black as soot, I do mean well’). That song reeks of racial issues, and even as a child I knew that was not OK.
    But it’s also a tradition that is very hard to change: the songs, the costumes… And we Dutchies have a lot of good memories attached to this tradition, Children look forward to this, Zwarte Pieten come bearing gifts after all.
    Gosh, it’s such a difficult discussion, because the chimney stuff was just made up to get rid of the racial issue (come on… we are just kidding ourselves). Zwarte Piet is black because he was a slave, historically speaking But for children, he is just a harmless strange looking person that makes you laugh (or cry), like a clown (including curly wig and red lips). An who throws candy at you. For me, I never ever thought, as a child, that Zwarte Piet was an impersonation of someone black. I just thought some songs were rude.
    We should ask ourselves, does this tradition make children racist in any way? I think it does not… But we shouldn’t deny the facts, and shouldn’t be too defensive about this tradition. Elves being offensive too, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider our own tradition.

    I think we should give this serious thought… And if it’s all believed to be from the chimney anyway, what harm would it do to just make zwarte piet seem a bit dirty and sootstained instead of black with big red lips and afrohair? Traditions can be changed.

    • Pete

      This is an old thread, but a reaction is still on, I think.

      In this debate, the argument that the figure of Zwarte Piet springs from the history of slavery springs up time and time again. But while it cannot be denied that Holland was a serious colonial power, for some time, with – indeed – a major stake in and responsibility for centuries of slave trade, the claim is nonsensical.

      What we today know as Spain was, between (roughly) the twelfth and fifteenth century, a genuine political powerhouse. And for being Islamic in character, a genuine threat to emerging Christendom everywhere else in Europe. And just like these pages are evidence of sometimes mindboggling historical ignorance, whatever the nationality of the contributors, not much was known of what was really going on in Europe’s south-west corner.

      In other words: this was seen as hostile territory. And what do you do when you’re not sure of your adversary? You’ll play up your own qualities and whittle down your enemy’s, so as to reassure the gallery. And since you don’t habitually TALK with people who may well be plotting to wipe you from the face of the earth, the blanks are filled in with myth and stereotype.

      A concept as old as Europe. As the world, perhaps. And basic human psychology at the same time.

      One tribe feels under threat from another. To big itself up, it needs to diminish the threat, some way or other; there is no alternative. And this is usually called propaganda – i.e. affirmation of one’s own dominance by artificial means.

      Of this Zwarte Piet is a residue: a fairytale bogeyman stemming from a political reality very real of some nine hundred years ago. St Nicholas depicted in the company of a chained demon is another side of the same coin. And ever wondered why Zwarte Piet puts naughty kiddies in a hemp bag and carries them off to Spain?

      Incidentally: interestingly, the mortal remains of the real Nicolas were “kidnapped” to Bari, in the heel of modern-day Italy. Now, might it be imaginable that Italy and Spain got mixed up a little, over time, given some superficial similarities in language and culture?

      Again, those Arabs/Muslims calling the shots on the Iberian peninsula were a political and military force to reckon with. And although I can’t say whether or not it’s a historical fact that their skin colour – most probably olive or light brown – was deliberately exaggerated to pitch-black, so as to accentuate their scariness, it’s not impossible, I imagine.

      To cut a long story short: Zwarte Piet is by no means a symbol of white supremacy – and has never been On the contrary: he indubitably comes from a position of strength.

      As, hopefully, demonstrated above.

    • Tom, dutchy living in spain (right next to sinterklaas' castle ;))

      >I think we should give this serious thought…

      No we shouldn’t. We should just let it go. It’s a dutch tradition that’s apparently hard to grasp for foreigners and immigrants alike. Well, too bad. You can’t possibly expect any population of nation x to fully comprehend the quirky traditions of nation y.
      This tradition isn’t upheld by a handful of neonazi wannabe k.k.k. members but a nation of millions of inhabitants. And you’d be hard pressed to find a dutch person who experienced this tradition first hand as a child who agrees with you zwarte pieten are in any way related to racial issues.
      These guys just happen to be black. They also have very colorful clothing (does this imply they’re gay? should the gay community be upset??).

      Just let it go. Its our tradition. You can’t understand cause you weren’t brought up with it.

      >Traditions can be changed.

      And they should if there is good reason for it. In this case, there is none.

  102. Saskia

    The debate about zwarte pieten is always a tender subject… As a kid I never made the association between Zwarte Piet and african descended people. For me the explanation that they we’re black because 1) they came from Spain (where according to us, the sun always shines 😉 ) and 2) because of climbing down chimneys, made perfect sense… Why Sinterklaas isn’t “black” from the sun? Well he’s old, and old people stay out of the sun, every kid knows that! (Duh)

    Kids don’t see this as a racial statement, for them it’s all about getting gifts, who cares about what person is giving it? :p And as an adult, I just like the fact that the whole nation is in conspiracy to make kids happy (and to make use of it, by getting their kids to do chores). There’s always some news (yes on the national news channel!) about something getting wrong with Sinterklaas’ trip, and will he be in time?!! Oh, the suspension! 😀

  103. Selina

    If these guys represents the Moors, they would be Muslim. Why would they be helping a Turkish priest? Unless they converted

  104. Yvette

    Right… all I´ve read so far is….It´s offensive, rascist it should stop or it´s a beloved Dutch tradition with an elongated explanation of the diverse origins of Zwarte Piet some having its roots in slavery and some going out of their way to emphasize that it is not in fact rooted in that past. What I haven´t read or heard or have seen is a solution. How would all these people who want to change this change it? Because that seems to me the biggest problem. How do you change a character that is so thoroughly ingrained into this tradition without traumatizing all those little kids who love and believe in Zwarte Piet atm? Phase them out over time? And replace them with…???? If next year Sinterklaas is accompanied by a different kind of helper what will you tell the children? All the Zwarte Pieten quit or maybe they all got ill and changed in some way? What would be acceptable…Is the fact that Zwarte Piet has black curly hair and red lips the most offensive, would changing just that aspect be enough? I´ve got children myself who still believe (although my eldest has her doubts) and Zwarte Piet isn´t Zwarte Piet without the costume, hair, lips and all that (and I think it has turned down a lot since I was little. I remember hard red lips and inkblack skin nowadays they´re more brown than black and the lips aren´t that large and red but maybe that´s just my perception of things). That just isnt the real deal. How would you call the new helper btw, because Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas are just simply linked in every Dutch (and Flemish) residents mind. It won´t be easy to change that you know. Or all the other things which have been passed down for generations? Change isn´t easy. Now I know that halloween is getting celebrated more and more here (which I find disturbing, because we have been integrating more and more american customs, like Valentine´s and the way to dress up houses for Christmas) but well…it still is your own choice to join in yes or no (although….those disappointed faces when you say we do not celebrate halloween are hard to ignore)…oops back to the issue at hand. What I was trying to say is, adding something is easy but changing an age-old tradition..that´s a very very hard thing to do.
    Anyway that´s my 2 cents…..


  105. Julia

    The only thing that should be changed is the fact that Zwarte Piet has big red lips and an afro; I can understand why foreign people take offence and think the whole ‘going down the chimney’ story is BS, because going down the chimney will not change your hairstructure or turn your lips bright red. But I don’t believe celebrating Sinterklaas once a year will turn kids into racists as they get older. They are tought that Zwarte Piet is black because he has soot on his face and he is a magical creature to them who brings a lot of joy. Three of my cousins are black and I’ve never mistaken them for being Zwarte Pieten 😉

  106. Johan

    How bout Sant-a Clause (sint-er-klaas) and his elves? isn’t that racism? A fat white guy using a race of elves to his needs? This is seen as ‘ok’ yet Sinterklaas and Petes isn’t? To me it boils all down to the same. So yes, black Petes is racism. So is the use of elves. They are a race too by the sheer definition of a race.

  107. Kim

    I find it astonishing how people have the arrogance to just demand a centuries old tradition to be altered to suit their sensitive little needs. The Dutch are a well travelled nation and everywhere we go we want to see how the locals live and are expected to respect everyone else’s’ cultures and customs. Even in our own country we’ve had to make room for houses of prayer for every single religion we share our land with. I personally find it offensive to see a man pour lambs blood down the gutter and to be woken early in the morning on a Sunday by foreign prayers, I find it offensive to see women covered from head to toe, unrecognisable in my own local shop, but God forbid I would say something about this. Yet it’s al right to attack my culture and make a big hullabaloo about a festivity that only lasts a few days a year. If you find a Dutch tradition offensive, you’re obviously in the wrong country, that’s why I avoid places where people keep traditions that I find offensive. Who am I to go to someone’s country and slate their customs and traditions? When a Dutch person speaks their mind about a certain tradition, it’s deemed disrespectful or even racist but it’s perfectly fine to come to Holland and demand old traditions to be changed for you. I’ve been living abroad for 5 years now and things are very different from the way they were in Holland, but who the Hell am I to tell these people that our ways are better, I just have to respect the way things are here and fit in or go back to Holland.

    • nomynot

      Thank you Kim you’ve summed it up perfectly. that’s how I feel about this dscussion. One thing I do not get. why are we defending and even trying to explain, over and over again, what our tradition entails. eventhough the people who are “offended” by it can not even try to understand the history behind it for us. I chalk it up to curtural differences. If you are not born and raised in this country you will never fully understand what Sinterklaas and his Pieten are to the Dutch. Just as we never really get Haloween and have our Sint Maarten instead.

      • Kaccie Li

        I’m Asian American, and I didn’t feel like my culture and background was respected during my 2.1 years working as a kennismigrant in Groningen. I recently returned due to a better job opportunity back in the States, but I still keep in touch with friends I’ve made over there. I began my journey respecting every aspect of Dutch culture and ignoring what I perceived as negative. In return, everyone except for 5 or 6 people seemed to always assume the worst in me. I wised up quickly to say the least. Even though Zwarte Piet doesn’t bother me all that much personally, it doesn’t take a genius to see what’s wrong with it. Most Americans don’t know about this (at least I didn’t before I moved there), but I think it will be beneficial to make it known. So I have been describing it to people who ask me about NL. I just explain the event without any personal attachments and they could be the judge of it. It is what it is, and if NL continues to keep the tradition than that’s their business, and they can deal with the benefits and/or consequences thereof.

  108. [email protected]

    Hi Dutchy here, cast your stones now or leave it in peace…

    As I agree that this toppic or let’s say zwartepiet, has thighs to way back when slavery and oppression of the so called minority races was accepted and common practice. This however does not mean that zwartepiet is a slave or oppressed individual by default.

    Zwartepiet was a page who was well cared for and from the stories I remember, zwartepiet was and still is portrait as the savior, the problem solver, the one that always saves the day, a Hero.

    Without zwartepiet there would not be a sinterklaasfeest.

    So in a nutshell, the sinterklaas holiday is not meant to celebrate white dominance over other races or any other negative thing you can link this. But it is to it is to honor a person and his trust worthy, friendly and reliable page for doing nice things for people in need.

    The silliness was just added to keep the little kids entertained, which is (with the growing amount of ADD and ADHD cases) becoming a bigger challenge every day.

    The one thing that saddens me the most, is that now a days people are offended by the smallest things and put all their energy in letting their opinion be heard, instead of doing something about it.

    Help make sense of it all, help people understand the cultural differences instead of shouting and making an ass of yourselves.

    And for the people that are offended by zwartepiet, I can safely tell you that no harm is intended. Or you must think ALL kids and people that like to work with kids and for kids are racist.

    Fotr the people that woul like to read a bit more here is the (i know everybody can change it) wiki of zwartepiet –

    • Kim

      I could not agree more. I didn’t put it nearly as nicely as you, but you’ve hit the nail right on the head.

      • thammy24

        The way I see it. If you don’t accept Zwarte Piet the way he is, you don’t accept any black the way they are. I accept my black friends just the way they are. I believe they are equal. So what’s the problem with Zwarte Piet being black, if its totally equal? If Zwarte Piet being black is unequal, then it’s unequal for Sinterklaas to be white. Why is he white, because white is better? And why is baby Jesus usually portrayed as white, or why are Santa’s elves short?
        I think blacks are equal, therefore I have no problem with Zwarte Piet being black, because they’re just as equal.
        I believe only people who see racism where there is none and believe Zwarte Piet being black is unequal, don’t truly see other blacks as equals.

  109. Petra

    I have read (geschiedenis van Sint Nicolaas en Zwarte Piet) that sinterklaas got his helper (after Sint started to visit as a Wodan legend mentioned by Folco de Jong) who was a dark goatlike typo (devil) in the Middle Ages representing the bad whilst Sint was representing the good. During the years the one dark side helper became several friendlier persons – changed from a devil lookalike into the Moores. Probably during the 80 year war (1600s) with Spain – At that time Spain was not too popular in Holland of course… I have heard in Tjechia they still have a dark person and white Sint Niclaus walking around punishing bad kids and praising good kids in december. This book mentions as well that Santa Claus was brought to America (and from then on to the rest of thevworld) based on Sinterklaas. So Santas Helpers were in olden days Zwarte Pieten.

  110. cindy354

    December last year i was in England and when I mentioned Sinterklaas over there, people were just absolutely totally shocke the idea that there was actually something as a Zwarte Piet. They really found that so discriminatin
    Before my visit of England I never thought about it, but now I’m not so sure anymore. I mean I love the joy and happiness when the Sint is in Holland, and doubt that children understand the histobackground of it. But still it is a bit werd that we paint faces black and call them the servants of the white Sint . Although in multicultural Holland also dark children believe in Sint and Zwarte Piet, so I’m really confused and not sure what would be the wright place in the debate.
    One small thing, the plural of one Zwarte Piet, is two Zwarte Pieten 😉

  111. Rebekka Hegarty-van Den Bos

    The thing that upsets me most is that the majority of the pro Zwarte Pieten Dutch people resort to the “if you do not like our traditions then go back to where you came from” comment, apart from being playground childish, this sort of comment is offensive. I am really sorry, but I live in the Netherlands, I pay taxes, I work hard, I am entitled to have opinions on how things are done here… hell they even let me vote!!! Demand is so high in NL for foreign ‘Knowledge Migrants” If you want us here helping you in stimulating your economy you have to accept that we have opinions that you may not agree with, and if you dont want us, keep voting PVV and get us kicked out…. It is a democracy after all…!

    • Kim

      That doesn’t matter. If I went to The Middle East, worked, paid taxes and abided the law, I still could not go around screaming how offended I am by their culture and customs, cause they would simply throw me out on my ear. It is democracy, but that does not give anyone any right to make demands on cultural heritage. Again; love it or leave it. Everyone is welcome, but it is YOU that has to addapt, not the country.

  112. jelmer

    You can say whatever you want but i like this tradition.There’s enough room for everyone to enjoy life if we dont piss acid too much

  113. Amy

    Alright… I’m African American and looking at this “Black Peter” tradition. I’ve lived in America all my life, so I’m used to all the little white elves and reindeer. When I seen Sinterklaas and the Zwart Piets–but how it’s not technically “Keerstmas”, I was horribly confused. Until my Dutch friend explained it to me, I didn’t know what to think of it. Now that he explained it all to me and I read up on it, I’m not offended at all by the “black peters” at all.

    I think it looks hilarious, festive, and entertaining. I agree with some of the comments said about the elves being offensive to little people and clowns being offensive to white people. But in the area I live in, everything is all about race. Nobody can just look at something and see it other than the fact that it’s black/white/whatever–or somehow being racist/offensive to someone. Any way that it can be found offensive/racist, whether it is actually offensive/racist or not, someone will ALWAYS make a fuss about it.

    If people wanted to pick the “offensive” things out of the Sinterklaas and Santa Claus traditions, it would be so empty. No elves–offensive to little people. No Zwart Piet–offensive to dark-skinned people. No fat Santa–offensive to fat people. No reindeer or gray horse–possible animal abuse/enslavement argument? I’ve never heard anyone say anything about the animals but I wouldn’t doubt that it hasn’t been said SOMEWHERE.

    Thanksgiving was yesterday, and of course, all the horrible things about it were dragged out. How the “white people” once again ruined the lives of another race. Yes, a majority of history with Native Americans is NOT pretty, but does controversy have to get it’s hands on EVERYTHING? I don’t like what happened to the Native Americans, but I support Thanksgiving for the idea of what it was SUPPOSED to be, even though people messed it up…or whatever.

    What I’m really trying to say is that all I see in this Sinterklaas tradition is a priest and painted/colored guys doing things to make children laugh and give them candy/presents in the process. I’m so tired of things being ethnically stripped apart when they most likely don’t need to be. I can either enjoy the holidays or be a grump and go around and put all the things that I think are horrible about them and put it all under a magnifying glass. I choose to celebrate.

    • CBD

      The people who have no objections when it comes to Zwarte Piet have their (different) reasons to feel so and the people who do have objections have their (different) reasons to feel so.
      I, as a black Dutch woman, object to Zwarte Piet in his present form, with his present looks because he still is a caricature of a black person. Not only is he black (supposedly caused by chimney soot), he also has afro/kinky/curly hair and often exaggeratedly thick lips. (And I haven’t been following the Sinterklaas-Zwarte Piet activities in recent years, so I don’t know what it’s like nowadays, but I do know that he used to speak with a fake/exaggerated Surinamese accent.)
      And what doesn’t help either is that he was introduced as the servant of Sinterklaas in 1850 (during slavery, which was abolished only in 1863). And yes, I repeat, servant, so not helper.
      I’m not claiming that (all) Dutch people who want to celebrate Sinterklaas are racist, but I do think that Zwarte Piet in his current form and with his current looks still is racism.
      Unfortunately, too many Dutch people are all about having ‘that’ party with ‘that’ Zwarte Piet, because according to them that’s their ages(!)-old tradition, when Sinterklaas has gone without Zwarte Piet for ages, and current tradition is something of the past 160-something years. To me their attitude towards this subject is just ignorant, insensitive and sad/sorry.

      I also like to celebrate, but never at the expense of another.

      I like this post:Jessy says:
      Jan 2012 at 6:30 pm
      Haha I love this discussion!
      Fact is: It is an old folk story that Zwarte Pieten are the slaves of Sinterklaas.
      The story I knew until I was 15 or something (!!!): The Zwarte Pieten bring the presentes through the chimney and that’s where they get the black from.
      Conclusion I’d drawn:
      It used to be racism, but we don’t see it as racism, we don’t tell our children it’s racism and JUST want to keep the fun part of the tradition alive.
      I even thought of a solution:
      It would be strange if a Zwarte Piet would be white all for sudden, but when children see a spot of Piet that is not painted black the parents say: “He comes through the chimney, why would he get black behind his ear?” and this is something children immediately believe most of the times. If the Pieten would get a BIT less black every year and have more spots the modern idea we all support of the black because of the chimney would make the racist part disappear.
      Many people think my theory is bullshit and that Zwarte Piet should stay Zwart. What do you think of this ‘solution’?

  114. Jongen van Johan de Witt

    Heerlijk deze discussie…In Amsterdam is er al geen plek meer waar je niet eerst in het Engels aangesproken wordt, er zijn zelfs winkels waar het personeel alleen maar Engels spreekt…Dat zou je eens moeten flikken in Engeland of Amerika, alleen maar Nederlands spreken tegen de klanten in een winkel. Sinterklaas is het land nog niet in of we worden overspoeld met Halloween artikelen en Coca-Cola Kerstmannen.De bioscoop en televisie wordt overspoeld met Engelstalige bagger. Wie denken die Anglofonen in godsnaam dat ze zijn? Ik zag laatst op tv tijdens de intocht een donker jongetje die zich zwart had geschminkt,en vol overgave stond te zwaaien naar Zwarte Piet. Een mooier beeld van waar Sinterklaas voor staat kan ik niet bedenken. Laat ons lekker onze traditie in ere houden en allen op 5 december ons bij de schoorsteen scharen onder het genot van speculaas en warme chocolademelk, terwijl ons hartje vol verwachting klopt. Ik denk dat de meeste mensen op dit forum deze post niet eens zonder Google Translate kunnen lezen.
    Hoe symbolisch….

  115. The Saint

    I do not mean to sound offended and if i do i must have lost myself in the words 2 percent intellect and logical argument and 98 percent rage against communal stupidity , zwart piet is and will always be one of the most offensive government sponsored caricatures of all time.
    It is a caricature of a black man, not irish, not moorish, not catalonian, and anyone who says otherwise is probably on drugs>arent they all
    The Dutch as a nation defend it under the covers of it being a childhood fantasy, i have never experienced fast hand government sponsored racism until i saw the zwart piet, Forget the part that it was not intended, what about the part that once we knew we were adults and it is wrong we are able to change it but we didnt coz we didnt want to ruin it for our kids? Well now the kids-kids are involved in what i would only consider institutional racism because there is no way Sinterklaas arrives by boat from private sponsorship>
    if iy looks like a duck, then it probably is a duck, Dutch society found a way to replace the church on sundays>with hangovers> then it shouldnt be so hard replacing a fictional character to be less xenophobic and openly racist or should i say insensitive.
    I did not mean to include so many didnts and donts but all i have to say is embrace the contraction.:)

    • thammy24

      I don’t think it is racist when it isn’t meant to be racist. zwarte piet isn’t black because we hate him right? He is black just because he’s black. By saying it is racist for him to be black, you’re essentially confirming that blacks are less than white. Saint Nicholas is always white… is that racist too?? It could be. Why not put a black Saint Nicholas in the chair, that would be more ‘fair’ right? And what about Santa Claus? Why not make Santa Claus black then and the elves shouldn’t be short, no no no, that’s unfair to, so why not make them regular sized humans from now on, oh and make certain that the kids now all Santa’s little helpers get wages, full benefits and healthcare right!!! that’s only fair… And baby Jesus shouldn’t be white, that racist. He should now come as Chinese, black, Indonesian, Arabic, ect ect. That’s only fair right (although considering he’s from Jerusalem, he should be African anyway, right? but why is he always portrayed as white??). And then the Indonesian gods and goddesses should come in the colours black and white and chinese as well, but they don’t, hey that’s not fair… while we’re at it, lets make every single person in every single tradition in every single country be white, black or chinese.

      Anyway, point is, the fact that Sinterklaas, baby Jesus and Santa Claus are usually portrayed as white, could be seen as racist too. The Zwarte Pieten aren’t black because we’re trying to tell blacks across the world they are worthless, if that was the message we we’re trying to send, then sure, get rid of Zwarte Piet. But we’re not doing that. So it isn’t racist. It’s just a holiday tradition that has nothing to do with the way blacks were treated in America and Africa. I haven’t seen any black person street marches in the streets of Holland saying that we should change our traditions. If they all group together and marching in the streets to object to it, maybe we will change. But I haven’t met any black that has an opposition to it.

      I think non-blacks have a bigger problem with it, in an attempt to say ‘me? racist? nooo’ yet by pointing out all the ‘racist’ things in things that aren’t racist at all, they are actually creating more racism. The best way to get rid of racism is to just stop talking about racism, period. Stop treating people different because of their colour! Stop pointing out ‘racism’ where there is none! Stop differentiating people because of their colour. Without racism, different colours would just be diversity. Diversity as in the way my hair is blonde and my mother’s is red. My aunt’s nose is longer, yet her daughter’s nose is shorter. If we want to be truly equal, just accept Zwarte Piet is just the way he is without looking into it too much. If you can accept Zwarte Piet the way he is, then you can accept any black person just the way he is. I have black friends and I accept them just the way they are! Do you accept them the way they are? Or do you immediately think ‘Oh my god, I can’t say this or this or this, because then I might be racist!!’ NO NO NO, just treat them the way you treat anyone else. Just accept Zwarte Piet the way he is! And accept any colour just for the way they are!

  116. Gerritje

    Hi I’ve been reading all this crap about Zwarte Piet, wel of niet. (hee dat rijmt:) )
    Why don’t you all just get a life !!!

    • Fee Berry

      You don’t think life is about communication with people who disagree with you? Talking about things which offend or hurt others and what your reaction should be? Are there more important things than that? I’d like to know what you think they are….

  117. ricky

    There is nothing racist about Sinterklaas having helpers who are Moors. What I find absolutely inexcusable is Zwarte Piet is usually played by white people in blackface. Piet is usually blacker than black, has and afro wig, big red lips. These are all white, racist stereotypes of black people which thankfully have nearly dissapeared from most countries. Maybe in days gone by when there weren’t many Africans in Netherlands it was necessary for a white person to “play african” but this is not the case now. Why can’t they just find Black people to play Black Piet?

  118. A good holy man « Chez Lorraine

    […] The merry zwarte pieten (Black Peters) help Sinterklaas loyally. For some children they are the boogey man. Some sayings in Dutch refer to Black Peters in a negative way. For the past years there have been critics about this folklore. Black Peters must have been slaves of Sinterklaas. Some cons of this remark fights this by stating Black Peters are black because they get in the house, delivering the gifts through the chimney. I remembered I once had a colleague from Canada. She was shocked to see Black Peters ridiculously frolicking around and being merry. Since then I started to look at Black Peters through her eyes. Sadly I must agree with her. On the other hand it is part of the (his)story. For more about this I found a comprehensive article about it here […]

  119. Suzan

    When I was a kid Sinterklaas scared the hell out of me. I mean the 400-year-old man with a white beard and strange hat, scared, brrrr. Sinterklaas is a weird tradition. Perhaps all traditions are weird, Dutch or not. I think kids don’t see the racist components of it, they care about getting presents. And at the same time I can imagine some people are offended. Yet, I’m offended by gay bashing in other countries, or the behaviour of stupid rich people in my own country. One can always find things which are offensive.
    Somewhere in these messages I read that America has no racist issues. Yeah, sure. Racism excists all over the world, the whole year through.

  120. Julia

    This debate about Black Peters being rascist or not occured i think just a few years ago. I never heard a black person saying she or he was offended by this. I think only the non-black people make a big problem of this. Afraid that it is offending. And I also learned that the Zwarte Pieten are balck because they go down the chimney, to deliver presents!

    • thammy24

      This is the way I see it. If you see ‘racism’ and create ‘racism’ in places where there is none, you essentially being racist. As you said, most non-black people make a bigger deal out of it as if to say ‘me? racist? Nooo’. I don’t think things are racist unless they are meant to purposely hurt the people it’s being racist to. Is Holland trying to send the message ‘Zwarte Piet is black because they are less important?’ NO. If Zwarte Piet being black is racist, then Sinterklaas being white is racist too, why is a white? because white is better? And why is Baby Jesus usually portrayed as white? and why aren’t Santa Claus’s elves regular size?

      The way I see it, I accept Zwarte Piet the way he is. I accept my black friends they way they are. I accept my Chinese friends the way they are. I accept Zwarte Piet the way he is. I don’t believe people that think Zwarte Piet being black is racist, truly accept black the way they are. If they truly believe that blacks are as equal as anyway else, why would they see a problem with Zwarte Piet? He’s just as equal and important as anyone else. So what’s the problem with him being black if blacks are just as equal. I don’t see a problem with Zwarte Piet being black and I don’t see a problem with my friends being black. Only the people that see Zwarte Piet as unequal, don’t see and accept black around the world to be equal..

  121. Babske

    I am mixed, my dad is Ducht, my mum is “blacktina”. I moved to Holland to study, so I was quite old and did not enjoy the Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet tradition :-(. You know what struck me about the zwarte Pieten? So many of them have brigth blue eyes, that is sooo funny.
    But in general I find the Ducht to be very tolerant…!!

    Love your blog kiss, kiss, kiss…!! 😉

  122. Ivo

    The Dutch are not concerned about what others think of Black Pete as it is one of the best traditions in Holland and we will not be moved by ignorant comments. It is joyfull period of presents and candy for children.

  123. thammy24

    Just because the American treated the blacks wrong, doesn’t mean a tradition in Holland should stop, especially since it has absolutely nothing to do with African Americans. And here zwarte Piet is seen in a good, happy light. What’s so wrong about that?

  124. Yummie

    I have always heard that Sinterklaas was made by christians trying to make the Dutch christians. The former god Wodan became Sinterklaas who instead of flew on a horse rode on the rooftops. In this way Wodan’s three black raven who listened at the chimneys became the black Peters.

  125. logiforce

    Okay, I will be the frank arrogant typical Dutch guy.

    It is my opinion that as long as the black people that live within the Dutch Empire who had their predecessors transported as a slave to the Netherlands or one of its colonies; as long as they will not take it in a democratic majority as an offense to themselves or their predecessors, then I think there is and will never be anything wrong about Zwarte Piet and it isn’t a racial icon used to look down on a group of people.
    And if in this case that those black people within our Dutch Empire do think Zwarte Piet is okay, then I think anyone who is outside of our country, is visiting or will be or is an immigrant need to simple… shut the hell up or take a hike. You have no right to say anything about our traditions, as I wouldn’t meddle with yours either.

    This is in my opinion also one of the modern world problems. Everyone is meddling with everyone to the point of wanting the other to change something. I think voicing one’s opinion is great, but you shouldn’t enforce your believes on someone else.

    Cheers… and now I am going to eat a ‘negerzoen’ and maybe tomorrow a ‘jodekoek’. Later I will also get myself a ‘turkey stick’. 🙂

  126. Holland

    I hate it when people think everything that even has to do with black people or other kinds of people are racist. Who cares how the zwarte pieten came in the tradition and for what reason.. We weren’t there we don’t know. All we know is that this holiday is a lot of fun and to the kids it is the best one there is.

    Ofcourse racisme is a awful thing but you know what you need to see things in perspective. sure we need to look from another point of view and see if something might come of bad. But you people who are offended should do the same. Look at it from our point of view and see no harm is intended and the kids have a blast.
    BTW this whole thing about it being racist is thought of by someone who didn’t come from holland and just doesn’t know. I am 20 know and I just heared about this argument a couple of years ago. When your a kid and your just having fun it doesn’t even cross your mind. Why can’t it not be that way??

    • Arjan B.

      Hi Chad,

      I checked the link you included. At no point in that story is the word slave used. Only knecht which is an old Dutch word for servant, not slave. At what point does your link make it a historical fact that Zwarte Piet is a slave?

  127. J

    Well at least we are talking… After reading most of the discussion and disagreeing with almost every single post in it I couldn’t help myself and had to respond. However, first of all I have to admit one thing: I am Dutch and I love zwarte piet. Why do I love zwarte piet? Because I was born here and we have celebrated it since I was little. As far as I can remember, I never associated it with any kind of racism, and I consider myself to be very open minded. These are all opinions and feelings. Therefore subjective and only representative for me, a twentysomething year old white male dutchie. First remark: If you consider yourself to be openminded it doesn’t make any sense to say someone else’s opinion is bullshit because that means you are not open minded to someone else’s opinion, or at least not willing to think about it. Second remark: This whole discussion is based on feelings and therefore every single argument can be disputed until the end of times. I am willing to believe that kids and most of the Dutch population in fact, truly do not give a racial connotation to the whole Sinterklaas deal, because I never did it either (see the fallacy in my argument…). However, I am equally convinced that it is impossible to historically separate zwarte piet and racism. I mean it is a white man on a boat with a bunch of black people who work for him without getting paid. All people saying that it is the chimney deal are just fooling themselves. Why is zwarte piet already black before he gets to the Netherlands and has seen a single chimney? Do they all take a run through the pipe of his steamer in order to remain their image. In my opinion both camps on this forum are right. Zwarte piet is technically racist, but it has not had this meaning for a very long time. Therefore the meaning of what zwarte piet stands for has changed over time. Just like the word gay. Technically it means carefree, but that is not what we use it for. It’s meaning has changed because of the values we give to it. In other countries these values are different. For me sinterklaas without zwarte piet would be like thanksgiving without a turkey, but that comes from a person who has lived and has been submerged in Dutch norms and values for most of his life. For someone else who has been born somewhere else, or has submerged her/himself into another discourse (narrative) this could sound like I am racist somewhere deep inside. Some differences will never settle, but taking zwarte piet out of the whole sinterklaas thing would in my opinion be a shame. Furthermore, it will just upset a lot of kids (and as we can see in this discussion probably some parents as well)

    ps: In the hague a long time ago they did a social experiment… They made a black man play Sinterklaas and two white men, without face paint, zwarte piet… None of the kids younger than 7 noticed 🙂

  128. Erica Gray (@ecomumnl)

    Always a polarizing issue! I am annually amazed by the effect my personal views about Zwarte Piet have on my Dutch friends. Normally open minded and cross-culturally aware folk who have travelled and lived across the globe have an incredibly strong reaction to my discomfort with the image. I don’t stop my kids dressing as ZP, I have ZP toys in the house and I wouldn’t dream of telling my adopted neighbours to paint their Piet a different colour. But as soon as I voice my disquiet about the whole thing I get an earful of “Dutch directness”! Clearly a sensitive nerve tweaked…

  129. Dutchiee

    I am Dutch and my mother is from Surinam, she never had problems with it and none of my family sees it as offending to black people. I grew up with Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet. In the eyes of me and my friends they were equal, Zwarte Piet was and is a hero.
    So I actually don’t care about the history of Zwarte Piet, nowadays he just belongs to the party and we didn’t really care about the skincolor of the person who gave us presents.

    Of course I can understand that foreigners think it is racist and it is very awkward when you have to explain it to them.. It gets pretty awkward.
    But in Holland it is not as big as in, for instance, America.
    When I watch TV programmes from the US I see how careful they are when they are talking about colors and stuff. You can’t say ‘negro’ there, while it’s used very often in Holland. Using that word is quite normal unless you use it as a swear of course.
    So I think the whole impact of the Zwarte Piet thing has just something to do with what norms you got, If you understand what I mean. In Holland it’s just a culturar thing and not ethnic.
    Zwarte Piet is a very gezellig person btw! 😉

  130. Fee Berry

    My brother lived in the Netherlands for few years, and was annually astonished by the Zwarte Piet tradition. That first December, when he said it was as though miniature lynchings had happened everywhere he went, with the Black Peter toys, and decorations and dolls. From what I have read, the blackness of the peters was only introduced in the 19th century – they were originally rainbow coloured. I think people here have been a bit economical with the truth… aren’t the Black Peters the ones who hit children with sticks and throw them in a sack and run away with them to Spain if the children have been naughty? It amazes me that Dutch people are so sensitive about this issue and so insensitive to the way it looks to people outside the country. My feeling is – if it doesn’t matter what colour the Black Peters are actually, why not let them be whatever colour they are. Black if black, and white if white. Funny wigs and funny clothing ought to be enough. It’s the blacking up which has such negative connotations for people. Why does the country have so much invested in the importance of the assistants being black?

    I don’t think the Netherlands are any more racist than other countries in the EU, but that’s not saying much. I do think they are the only ones with this sort of tradition, which apart from the black peter issue seems much more hardline than the English tradition of Father Christmas. It is true that parents all over England tell their children they need to be good or Father Christmas won’t bring them any toys. It is NOT the case that they threaten them with being beaten and kidnapped by strangers – I’m surprised any Dutch children find the courage to misbehave ever. As to the image that being “taken to Spain” as the worst punishment imagineable does to the young Dutch child’s attitude to that country, I don’t know. Are the airports filled with children petrified to be going on holiday there? I’ve always wanted to know.

    • jolanda

      Totally agreeing with you on the rainbow color issue. That would really turn the whole sinterklaas into the children’s festivity it was meant to be in the first place, at once!
      It has been adjusted, changed and worked around to fit the various times already. For example the one that you mention about the zwarte pieten taking the kids back to Spain in a bag: is an old one. Nowadays the zwarte pieten are the funny dudes that help sinterklaas by bringing the presents and the is used only to carry the presents. Also the bundle off twines disappeared as not to scare the kids silly.So if you can chance that, why not the color off de pieten ? Everybody happy.

  131. rachpenna

    This is an old thread but I feel compelled to reply anyway. I’m an American living in Belgium and when I first arrived I felt that I was experiencing a very tolerant culture, just overall. I was shocked to see Zwarte Piet around Christmas time because it went against my first impressions and I felt it was racist. I think I understand now that it’s less about tolerance and more about a certain level of sensitivity. The Dutch/Flemish communities that I have found myself immersed in do not place emphasis on race. People are people. They say it like it is. PC Shmee Cee. I respect that and I think the Western view can be overly sensitive. Just my own opinion. (As a Westerner and sort of by-stander to this debate) What I learn from a Dutch influence is just see people for who they are, their intentions, their character. For someone to see Zwarte Piet as racist is perhaps an overly critical judgement in it’s own way. Anyway, Zwarte Piet seems to be a fun and nice character regardless about what we determine him to be – or symbolize – based on outward appearance.

    • rachpenna

      Also, this seems a very heavy subject and a strong accusation for this blog. While it’s left it up to the reader to debate, there is clearly a jab to an entire culture. To some it may change the tone of sarcastic or ironic observations in other posts about “what Dutch people like” (Hugely generalized observations).. so when you see that some of the responses are quite opinionated or “direct” I don’t think it’s difficult to understand why.

  132. Bob

    I just love how a ‘Zwarte Piet’ discussion is still going strong 3 years after the original post!

    Let me begin by saying that _everyone_ is entitled to their opinion and that things should really be put into context here, we don’t need full blown fights over a matter that is absolutely not getting changed by the hands of this blog!

    What the topic shows though, is that 90% of the Dutch people would tell their children ‘Zwarte Piet’ became black because he went down the chimney. Clearly this is already an altered story because the original story doesn’t fit in current day society so the tradition does in fact change to meet the modern standards (although there of course are those that would still find a way to turn it into a race related issue despite all the Dutch people celebrating it stating they never even considered race as a factor in these festivities).

    One of the main things the non-dutchies seem to forget is that they’re are attacking a if not _the_ biggest Dutch tradition. Christmas is possibly bigger but it isn’t Dutch!
    Imagine telling an American they can’t celebrate Thanksgiving any longer (I would use Independance day or Bastille day for the French as an example but they probably more compare to Queens/Kingsday).
    You’re bound to get some strong reactions when you try and pull that off!

    Since this tradition is so embedded in the Dutch culture, it is one of the things the Dutch will ask the immigrants/expats etc to tolerate or even embrace. I’m pretty sure though they won’t call you out on it if you don’t join in.

    So how about people just settle down and try and understand both perspectives but mainly realise the holiday is all about caring and exchanging presents and in no way is intended to do anyone harm :)!

  133. Dutch Dynamite

    Wrong. Sinterklaas represents Odin (Wodan in Dutch culture) on his white horse Sleipnir. He was also the god of wisdom and poetry, therefore we sing songs, write poems, etc. at the time of the Sinterklaas celebration. Sinterklaas’ hat, staff and throwing ”pepernoten” (as runes) show more analogy with the god.

    Odin was always accompanied by two black ravens called Huginn and Muninn which told him all that happened around him and that’s basically what the black Petes do as well to Sinterklaas. So over time the ravens may have turned into actual people in our customs.

    The time of the Sinterklaas celebration each year overlaps with the Northern European myth of the ”Wild Hunt” in which Wodan/Odin plays an important role. Of course, Christianity took over at a certain point in our history and changed our customs in a way that would suit the religion as they did with other celebrations as well such as Christmas and Easter for example.

    On a side-note, he Icelandic myth of Jolasveinar explains a lot of who black Pete actually is in its role.

    Of course foreign people might be offended by black Pete, but for those people it rather shows that their country still has social problems regarding classic-racism (by skin colour etc.) and are lacking tolerance. Hardly anyone, from any descent, grown up in the Netherlands has any problem with the whole black Pete thing. In the Netherlands people are pretty relaxed when it comes to these things and in fact people hardly see any offense even in stereotypical jokes (yes, we LOVE stereotyping) about someones descent, gender, sexuality as people are and feel rather equal in society. Also, in our reasoning it is rather strange that someone is less because he or she is coloured or the other way around. So in conclusion, it wouldn’t really come to our minds that it might be offensive or racist. – Unfortunately, we have a few populist politicians who try to destroy this way of thinking for their own popularity these days. Anyway…

    It is rather hard to explain this really, but I hope it made somewhat sense. I’m proud to be Dutch and you would be very misguided if you’d think I was some farmer-kid from Frisia because of what I said just now. Just don’t touch our traditions because you’re intolerant. And instead of us thinking about how it might look like to others, I think it’s rather a motivation for those and their environment to evolve and try to pass that point where racism is still a big issue and see people as people individually (e.g. as who they are) rather than classify them for their ethnicity.

  134. jolanda

    I am Dutch and live abroad now. I have 3 little ” still believe in Sinterklaas “children. And I am so glad to be rid off the Sinterklaas thing. I found myself lying like hell to explain the presents that they had found beforehand, had to explain that zwarte pieten were just white people with painted faces, feeling rather stupid trying to explain this to an Australian friend and to top it all off: to watch Dutch people getting almost hysterical on television when confronted by Surinam Dutch descendants about the race issue. To the brink off tears. That really frightened me. I am so lucky to be able to replace the whole fairy tail, commercialized crap with another, less offensive holiday with heaps off presents and festivities and music for the kids. This is really the heart off everything now isn’t it ? The kids having fun ? Or we adults being right ?

  135. Arjan B.

    I truly hate these kind of responses to Black Pete. Most of these reactions a like “OMG they are black facing” or “This is so racist.”

    First of all, black facing is an US taboo based upon a not so nice part of US history and doesn’t mean anything in The Netherlands.

    Secondly, Black Pete has a role of the nice guy at the moment and all kids love them, black and white.

    Only the politically correct bunch wants to make an issue of this.

    BTW Black Pete wasn’t always the nice guy. In the beginning he was the bad cop in de good cop bad cop set up between Black Pete and Saint Nicolas. This has changed in since the seventies and eighties since people started to think that they were traumatizing the kids.

    In surrounding countries he is a small devil, only in the Netherlands has he been replaced by a black man, a Moor to be precisely.
    This is mainly based upon the codification of the story of Sinterklaas through the illustrated children’s book Sint Nicolaas en zijn knecht (Saint Nicholas and His Servant), written in 1850 by the teacher Jan Schenkman (1806–1863).
    This had the same effect as having de Coca Cola company rewriting the Christmas Story for advertising reasons

    What is the profile of Black Pete;
    • He is a Moor
    • He is dressed in very colorful clothing (silk?) (on a slave?, Possible but I don’t think so)
    • He is wearing golden jewelry (again on a slave?, Possible but I don’t think so)
    • He beats up naughty kids
    • Kidnaps them back to Spain
    • Puts them to hard labor when back in Spain

    Now why would you come up with a strange story like that? Well that becomes more clear when you look at the origin of the story. Jan Schenkman was a schoolteacher and made the stories up to fit his target group, the kids. But he based his stories on the existing Sinterklaas stories. You have to remember that St. Nicolaas has already been revered since the 8th century. And that St. Nicolas is the only Catholic Saint still revered in the protestant 16th and 17th century Netherlands.
    In those days kids were not that important in society. Another group was very important at that time, being the sailors and explorers.
    Besides being the patron saint of children St. Nicolas was also the patron saint of travelers and sailors.

    Now if you need a frightening side kick for your favorite patron saint you choose something that truly scares you. For 16th and 17th century sailors that would be the Barbary Coast Pirates who happen to be:
    • Moors
    • With captains wearing colorful silk clothing
    • Also wearing golden jewelry
    • Who would take you captive
    • Force you to work as a galley slave
    • And beat you mercilessly while you being a slave.
    Sounds familiar?

    Because of the book of Jan Schenkman this link has mainly been forgotten. Including by most Dutchman.
    However, if Black Pete is a reference to slavery, it is to the enslavement of white Europeans by black Africans.
    Here some reference:

    TL: DR if Black Pete is a reference to slavery, it is to the enslavement of white Europeans by black Africans.

    • Fee

      If something you do as a nation “for fun” offends and upsets the black people in your community, then if you have any care for that segment of community you will think again about what you are doing. Trying to justify this as “tradition” is nonsense. It’s offensive. It’s even more offensive that the original Piets were *not* black, but rainbow coloured. I hope to live to see a return to the true tradition and away from the offensive modern-day version that shocks anyone who isn’t Dutch.

      As for your comments about black slaves wearing silk, many upperclass houses had black slaves or servants who were dressed in livery. Your argument for the indefensible doesn’t stand up.

      • Arjan B.

        First of all, where did you get the notion that the original Piet were Rainbow colored. This has been a proposal by the politically correct and never was implemented because it’s nonsense.

        About the indefensible, a comment from somebody else in another blog about this subject covers it:
        “Racism” in this subject is definitely inspired by some real historical racism. My private statistics on this subject shows that all American expats say that this is definitely racist and all Eastern European (ex USSR) expats don’t see it racist. There were no black/white racism issues in Eastern Europe, so people are not used to finding things racist. So I strongly think that it is racist only for those who were raised in racist-paranoia cultures, like US specifically. As I said in other comment racism doesn’t exist by itself outside of peoples’ heads. Racist is what majority perceives as racist. There is nothing insulting and discriminatory in Zwarte Piet, so the whole deal is that he is black. If he was white the rest of tradition would be accepted. Even if he was servant. White servants are okay, black are not okay. And he is not even a servant in modern interpretation. And Dutch people are the most non-racist people I met so if they were raised on this tradition and didn’t become massively racist shows that the hysteria is completely artificial./Unquote

        Being upset about something that is in no way intended as racist or upsetting is something that happens in your own head. Should a whole nation abandon a positive tradition because of the misconceptions of a few? I don’t think so.

        About the silk and jewelry, that’s what the ‘Possible but not likely’ is for. I don’t see why that counters my argument.

        To some already to be expected other arguments:
        They behave as so dumb etc. It paints a caricature. True, this is called overacting. That is usually done when your target audience are toddlers from 4 to 6 years old. Just watch an episode of Sesame street and you know what I mean.

        It paints a negative image of black people. Well, I had the privilege to play Zwarte Piet at a kleuterschool (pre-school) for several years, right in the target group. If you enjoy instant adoration try get a shot at that job. If those kids get anything out of that experience it would be that black men are fun, nice, sweet and absolutely great to be with. I think that’s a better impression of black people than that your teens get when they are watching gangsta rap.

  136. qe2 (@qetrader2)

    While Black Pete isn’t viewed as racist anymore, it stereotyped the depiction of black people centuries ago. Black Pete looks exactly like blackface. It therefore stereotyped blacks. Now it doesn’t do that anymore but if you reply to an offended black person, thats just how Dutch people are, don’t be surprised when Muslim people talk about the “hoofddoek”, thats just how Muslim are…. The tradition should definately be changed somehow so the positive remains and the negative disappears. Sinterklaas should also be black or Black Pete should be rainbow colored, anything but black.

  137. Nynke

    First of all, I get why many people get offended by zwarte piet. I’ve read a lot of the comments and I agree that this discussion will last forever. I only know what I see and what I’ve experienced, every year you can see the anticipation and fun on all children’s faces when sinterklaas and zwarte piet arrive in Holland. But what is the deal here? Are the people offended because the children may see this as racist and will (if they grow up) see black people as jolly fun people that grow pepernoten at you? Because I can tell you this with certainty, they won’t! Zwarte piet is not just recognized by his skin or lipps (which is black.. pitch black and I’ve personally never seen a black person with sooth black skin) but also with his clothing and his giant feather on his hat. Children will just see black people as normal people and zwarte piet is zwarte piet. so I assume this is not the problem? What is the problem then? That adult white people will see black people as jolly … What I just said? Well this is not true either. They see zwarte piet as a nice tradition and fun for the children. Then the problem could be that black people see zwarte piet as racist. I personally don’t know if this is true. I hang out with all kinds of multi cultured people (Hindu, Christian, black, white, Jew) and none of them seems to mind zwarte piet.. all enjoy the festival and eat pepernoten en some of them even play zwarte piet in December. I think it is a matter of how sensitive you are for racism. I am not saying racism doesn’t exist is Holland but I am saying that we are more direct (see this website about directness) and this is also depicted in our humor. For instance in America, people are very sensitive about racism. Saying the N word can almost get you (and this is very exaggerated of course) thrown in to prison… But in Holland the N word (I won’t say it here, because I don’t want to make people angree) is commonly used for fun, nothing else. My boyfriend has a friend group where everybody speaks their mind about everything (sex, friendship and hard times and trouble). This is very common in holland. They have 2 black people in the group who are commonly teased (for fun) about being black. This might seem racist but these two people laugh hardest at all and just tease back about someone being fat or disabled or Jewish… It is just fun and nobody will be offended in any way. I think that if such things can exist without being racist than zwarte piet is also not a big problem. Racism in holland is not with black people but most of the time it is with turkish and Muslim people and that is a problem which must be handled! But that’s a whole different subject for discussion. In America this problem with black people is much more alive than in holland, so that is why it is seen as offensive. I would say, before throwing your opinion in this discussion, look at how fun the festival actually is and how happy the children are. Oh and please don’t say that in holland we are all weed smoking a-holes (I read a comment which stated this) because on average weed is smoked by more people in America, England and France (not all together but separately) than in Holland.

    • Fee Berry

      Yeah I know the sort of thing you mean… where the fat person has to laugh because everyone is just having fun and then they go home and want to kill themselves. I’ve been on the end of that sort of behaviour and if you think that it is all taken in good part you are wrong… people are socially stigmatized if they don’t laugh along, they have no choice. Dutch people may be outspoken, but they are also people, I don’t believe people are so different in the Netherlands than other places. The fact that you are collectively SO insensitive to the things that are said about Black Peters, is an indication… you just stop your ears to it and tell everyone else they are wrong, it’s political correctness gone mad, there is no racism intended or implied – YOU say. I disagree.

      But if the blacking up matters so little, why do it? why not just have Peter helpers who are whatever colour they actually are?

      Children will like Christmas whatever way you stage it – the children in the UK do NOT have Black Peters, they still love Christmas. I think the world will carry on telling you that it’s wrong until you stop it basically, like slavery, treating women like possessions and being cruel to animals, one day you’ll see the light.

      • Petrus Post

        Yeah… No… It’s not like that at all. As a homosexual I’m used to people in my group of friends joking about my sexuality, which I do myself often as well. I in turn get to joke about their sexuality (damn heteros!), skin colour, ethnicity etc. knowing that, if something really crosses the line, that person will say so (Dutch directness and all).

        Besides that, the last public show of discontent with good ol’ Zwarte Piet consisted of no less than twenty people. That when it has become clear several times that most the Dutch, even those of colour, do not mind him as a children’s character.

        I therefore do not at all see a reason to dismantle this long-standing Dutch tradition.

      • SImon

        If you want to convince Dutch people to change their Sinterklaas tradition, first try to figure out what it is. Calling it “Christmas” makes it look like you don’t care what tradition we’re talking about. Dutch people celebrate Christmas in the end of December, without Sinterklaas and without Zwarte Piet.

  138. Simon

    It seems like all Zwarte-Piet-is-racist-shouters think it they don’t need any arguments for their statement. I’ve read a lot of opinions and articles, but i still don’t get it. All i see is people making fun of an old tradition and saying rude things about Dutch people. But i don’t see any clear reasoning. Can some-one explain what exactly is racist/offensive about Zwarte Piet? His skin color? His name? His behaviour? His role as servant? His suit? I really don’t see which part would be racist.

    I can understand people with a dark skin, don’t want to be seen as Zwarte Piet. But the same applies to white people who don’t want to be seen as clowns (who are always painted white). I think everything can become offensive when you start seeing fictional characters as representatives for people with similar appearance. Sinterklaas has a beard and is forgetful. Should people with beards be offended now?

    I see a lot of people defend Zwarte Piet by saying all kids love Zwarte Piet. I think that’s wrong, because it implies that the children’s opinion on Zwarte Piet is somehow related to their opinion on black people. It doesn’t matter if children like Zwarte Piet or not. I hate Donald duck, but i don’t hate ducks. I hate Mickey Mouse, but i don’t hate mice. It’s a fictional character and everyone sees that.

    I also see people defend Zwarte Piet by saying he’s black because of the chimney. I think that’s wrong too. It implies that if Zwarte Piet would have a real black skin, it would be wrong. Or even worse it implies that there’s something bad about a dark skin. By defending Zwarte Piet this way, Dutch people are indeed oblivious about what they are actually saying.

    But what worries me more, is the other side. I think you need to be a racist to some degree to make such a big deal about the color of a fictional character. And that’s why Dutch people seem so ignorant, because they aren’t racist at all and they just don’t see what political-correct-racists see in Zwarte Piet. They just see a fictional character which is black and don’t even think about judging on skin color.

    The only thing which might Zwarte Piet appear to be racist is his similarities with blackface. But people making this link, need a history lesson. I think it’s a good thing to ban everything related to blackface. But that doesn’t include Zwarte Piet. The Zwarte Piet tradition is much older, probably even older than Sinterklaas (who died in 342) itself. We also ban swastika’s because the nazi’s used it, but that ban shouldn’t include the much older use of the exact same symbol by Hindi people. It’s a Hindi symbol and we shouldn’t judge about it with nazi’s in mind. Zwarte Piet is a Dutch fictional character and we shouldn’t judge about it with blackface in mind. Most Dutch people have no idea what blackface means in the US.

    And last but not least: there are many stories about Sinterklaas being against slavery and racism. The historical Saint Nicolas freed an Ethiopian slave and hired black people. The fictional character (in a book in 1848) dipped children in ink as a punishment because the children where making fun of a black boy.

    • Just another dutch guy who doesn't understand what all the fuss is about

      Finally someone who clearly and concisely explains how dutch people view this matter. Furthermore I wish to congatulate the UN, because they clearly have solved all the urgent issues.

  139. Ferry

    I think this whole discussion is based upon a hasted conclusion, without being objective and looking at the facts. In the past, absolutely, I would have agreed. But we’re living in the 21st century.

    Kids, and therefor with parents too, are learned that ‘Zwarte Pieten” are actually hired by Saint Nicolas, not enslaved. So nothing discriminating about that.
    The second thing is, why are they all black. We learn our kids that there coming from Spain, and have a darker skin than from Northern European. And with the work they do, climbing down the chimneys, they get more “dark”, almost black, to deliver gifts. Why do they come from Spain? Simply because Saint Nicolas lives in Spain, and comes once every year with his big boat in December to Holland (I would also have local employees if I started a company for example in Asia). So is this part discriminating. Not really, again just looking at the facts and the story.
    So whats left actually? What is more discriminating about them? They work, get paid, visit Holland once every year, deliver gifts and go home again. Maybe one more I read in here. “They are always acting foolish and appear dumb”. Well, looking with objective eyes once more, they make children happy. And how do you obtain that? Maybe by acting and appearing stupid, like all parents do in one way or another. Its a play, there not really dum. We even have a “zwarte piet” called “Smart Piet”

    So why do we think it’s discriminating? Why is it hurting us dark skinned people so much? That is pure of the past. What we have encountered and experienced. Cause we’re human after all, and all a persons opinions and beliefs comes forth out of what this person experienced in life, and what it is thought through childhood.

    And that is where the focus should be upon. Help these people understand what the festive is about at modern day. And that we are cut loose from the past. Because if we did that, look at history, we should still find so many more things discriminating in current day…..

  140. jane

    Dutch people call racism history so to them nothing against other cultures is racism. Theyare allowed to say anything they want about any person with roots in Africa asia and south america. Anything they say should is the truth in their culture and anything someone else calls racism they call culture. Whenever you critisize them they will start cursing with deseases like cancer, call you racist things all based on where you come from and will tell you to go back to your poor country. That my friends are the dutch!

  141. Pete

    I’m a Dutchman living abroad. But although being born and raised in Holland and having lived there for the best of 4 decades, I never felt at home, after my 12th. I never regretted my decision to leave, 16 years ago. When I moved out, the country was suffocatingly self-congratulatory. And spending a Sunday afternoon reading these comments, a whiff of guide land syndrome still comes through, here and there, in Dutch contributions.

    Nevertheless, Sinterklaas is still the highlight of the year, in my family. And I have warm memories of parents and grandparents playing along with the fiction, in my childhood, and having as much fun as the kids.

    On the other hand, American expats – and, to a lesser extent, British – seem to have a remarkable tendency of projecting their own cultural hangups (blackface, black-and-white minstrel, slavery) on this centuries-old Dutch institution. And the hue-and-cry of some contributors regarding, on these pages, is touching a raw nerve.

    There’s a word for this kind of behaviour. It’s called bullying. This happens, for example, when one’s own narrowly circumscribed personal/cultural/historical reference frame takes precedence over everyone else’s personal/cultural/historical sensitivities and becomes normative – or dogmatic even. And this usually coincides with typical unwillingness to investigate what the offending observation is ACTUALLY about.

    If you have not grown up in Holland, you’re by all means entitled to your opinion. But nothing short of ORDERING our Sinterklaasfeest to be changed (or abolished altogether) is absolutely not on. So please:hands off of Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet. And if you can’t be bothered to do any background research – or even to sound Dutch colleagues/neighbours/friends on whether your personal suspicions are correct, then the Netherlands may indeed not be the right place for you, I’m afraid.

  142. Arie Ravestein

    When do people learn that ‘Holland’ is not a country?

    • jane

      When Dutch learn the difference between fun with racism and fun without racism. The Dutch also call the netherlands holland so talk to your own people about this.

  143. jane

    Keep convincing yourselves that zwarte piet is not racism. Dutch people are such racists that they don’t even see it as racism… So sad!

    • Dutch girl abroad

      Crawl back under your rock, Jane. In every single comment you have posted here, you have generalized ‘The Dutch’ as one entity. Basically making the assumption that all of us are exactly the same. Does it not enter your skull that THAT is in fact racist?
      Instead of getting all worked up about a tradition in a country of which you seem to hate ALL its inhabitants, use your time to learn what racism is and than pack your bags and go someone where not EVERYBODY is bad.

      • jane

        Yeah.. youu people change definitions … so familiar

      • jane

        pack my bags???? That is typical dutch!! whenever someone disagrees with you… hahaha so funny to see the typical comments over and over again… so sad!

  144. Erik from... you know... Nederland.

    Your taking offense from our childrens most beloved tradition?

    Your just looking for rasicm and things you find offensive in a tradition where kids learn they should behave well to be rewarded well.

    • jane

      Yes they should!! But why is black pete dark brown and not black from the chimney??? Answer that!!!
      I love the Sinterklaas tradition, including pete, but I hate that dutch people can’t accept the fact that they hurt other races with the fact that he is dark brown and not black from the chimney… PLEASE answer that and stop using the kids as an excuse not to!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Petrus Post

        A study shows that 96% of all Dutchmen don’t have a problem with Black Pete. This covers most of the black people in the Netherlands.

        Apart from that, the Carribean parts of the Netherlands never had this discussion.

        So your point is moot.

      • Sjoerd

        Please Jane,

        First of all, you call the Dutch racists but you are the only one here mentionning “other races”. There is no such thing as other races, the only race is Human Kind. Actually, this only is already enough to hurt me with your behaviour. I know there are countries I do not wish to name where the two first informations you are given about people is their “Race” and their salary. Please know that in the Netherlands, the main criterium to identify people is their name and not their skin colour.

        Secondly, nobody will ever know exactly why he is black, but we don’t care. Even if that should be a relic from the slavery past, which is already highly controversial, what we are trying to tell you is that there is no harm done with it because we don’t see Piet as a Black, we see Piet as a national Hero ! The racists are the ones who pay so much attention to Piet’s skin colour. Actually, Zwarte Piet is quite the contrary, you could see the Netherlands as the only country including black people in its traditionnal festivities, and that’s quite a positive point 😉

        Last but not least, as a Dutchman I feel highly insulted by your posts. Please remind you’re talking about more than 16,000,000 people when using the expression “the Dutch” so a little humility and politeness would be very welcome. I can imagine some dutch people must have hurt you very bad to make you talk like this about us, but please keep faith in people and don’t fall into the coward solution of Hate. Your hating comments are completely useless. You are convincing nobody acting like this, and you are only creating even more hate. Your behaviour is just as worthless and blinded as the behaviour of a Dutch racist. If you have indeed been a victim of this, you should know better.

  145. Red

    This is SO funny.

    Dutch people should abolish Zwarte Piet because if they were in America, it would be offensive?

    What IS offensive is whitewashing the issue and just saying it should be banned/stopped instead of keeping it and using it as a chance to explain WHY Piet is black, give it historical context, explain that we think differently these days, etc.

  146. Dutch girl abroad

    I’ve lived in Northern Ireland for a few years, where I met my Irish husband with whom I now live in the Irish Republic, with three Dutch/Irish children. I found that while living in Belfast, the annual Orange march and weekly band practices were not only offensive, but also quite scary in its aggressiveness.
    It never crossed my mind however to tell the local people to stop their tradition for me, because nobody asked me to be there, I chose to be there. The Orange marches are there to celebrate the victory of King Willem van Oranje I and his British army over the Irish. Thousands of people have been killed, dragged out of their homes, kicking and screaming, and for many years dominated by the Brits. I find it offensive as a Dutch Catholic that a Dutch historical figure or Royal is still used to upset and hurt people by rubbing their faces in it.
    It’s not my place to tell those people that, simply because they are in their own country and I’m a guest who should behave as such. Even though I pay taxes and contribute to society. Now that I live in Dublin, I discuss the matter with like minded people, but as soon as I cross the border for a shopping trip, I keep my opinions to myself, and we all know how hard that is for a Dutch person 😉

    • Petrus Post

      That’s Willem III van Oranje, both as King of Great Britain and Prince of Orange.

      Willem I van Oranje is the guy known and celebrated in the Netherlands as the “Vader des Vaderlands” (Father of the Fatherland) of the Netherlands, or Willem de Zwijger (William the Silent).

      • Dutch girl abroad

        You are correct 🙂

    • Michael

      I agree that it’s unwise to get into discussions about the complex history of Ireland and Britain while visting Belfast, simply because trouble can flare up and people can be offended; better to remain tactful. But why do think of this in terms of you being a ‘guest’? It’s nothing to do with being a guest in Belfast; it’s just common sense to avoid discussions on the issue, and I think most people in Britain or Ireland would avoid those discussions when visiting Belfast. We don’t want all that violence any more.

      But if you live in a peaceful, democratic society and participate then you should have exactly the same freedom to express your opinions as anybody else, and that’s where I think the problem lies in this whole debate. Anybody from abroad who expresses an opinion on the Zwarte Piet phenomenon will be told to ‘go home’ or ‘stop dictating to us’, even if they try to do this in a tactful manner. That’s rather sad and it gets in the way of ‘integration’ because it leaves serious issues unresolved and leaves people feeling that they are not valued as equals. It also shows up a lot of people as deeply bigoted, even if the Sinterklaas party was never intended as racist.

      • jane

        I completely agree with Michael

  147. Mad scientist

    I think the main reason why Zwarte Piet causes so much ruckus in society is not so much where he comes from (slave/Moor/chimney or outer space) but the fact that Dutch society is by far not as homogenous as people tend to think.

    Leaving the super rich (Gooische Vrouwen-types) out the equation, the mainstay of Dutch civil society can be divided into three major groups. These three major groups have very different opinions on the subject manner which results in discussions which can be seen above. Since this discussion pertains to Zwarte Piet I’ll use it as a sort of framing device for all of this.

    Yes, these are broad and sweeping generalizations, but the details are not part of the point I’m trying to make.

    Firstly there are the ‘immigrants’ (i.e. people whose ancestors moved here during the last century). Do note that the term immigrant is kind of misplaced because a lot of people are born here, making them basically just as Dutch as anyone else born and raised in the country (unlike moving to some other nation, I think you have the right to comment on the cultural tranditions of the country you’re born in). Anyways, because of the the many issues associated with immigrating into a different culture a lot of immigrants are among the lower social classes when it comes to wealth and income. These people often feel marginalized by the dominant culture and suffer from the negative effects of prejudice, racism and discriminations. Things like “white only” policies existing behind closed doors of temporary employment agencies. Zwarte piet, with all of the quite insensitive imagery, tends to sit squarely in that open wound.

    On the other side of the discussion we find the white lower class. Not highly educated, living together in relatively homogenous neighbourhoods and being employed in sectors that are feeling the pinch of globalization, these are the people that support the recent rise in populism. Disenfranchised from mainstream politics, they feel their way of life is threatened by an influx of immigrants (the poor neighbourhoods of immigrants often border the poor neighbourhoods of the white lower class) and that their jobs are being ‘stolen’ by people from the recent additions to the EU. These are the people that most ferociously defend Zwarte Piet, to the point of getting violent (see the Zwarte Pieten demonstration that resulted in almost assaulting a women from Papua New Guinea having a demonstration aimed ALSO at the UN) because they sense one of the last vestiges of their culture is under attack by the great bad outside world.

    And lastly there are the post-racial intellectuals. Middle class/upper middle class, relatively affluent and generally having a college education. These people (I’m one of them) tend to be a lot more cosmopolitan when it comes politics, a lot are pro-EU and UN and they tend not to understand what all the fuss is about. The thing is however that thinking race is a nonsensical concept (interspecies variations are gradual, and make racial classifications complete BS) is all fine and dandy, they do not remove the struggles of people that still to this day in 2013 face actual discrimination based on who they are. Having friends that belong to minority X does not change a damn thing for people outside your social class.

    These groups live in different neighbourhoods, they go to different schools, go out in different bars, listen to different music (I know no-one who watches TV Oranje, but apparently it’s pretty popular) and in general never meet and have a conversation about these things.

    What we have here is a massive flaming discussion between three different groups with three very different wants and needs but before any progress can be made (this shit’s been going on for years and we’re still at the same place we started) we all first have to realize that no, we’re not arguing from the same position.

    So for me, I understand minorities being upset by a blantant display of racial stereotypes, but I also understand the ‘autochtone’ lower class feeling threatened in their way of life. Personally growing up with Sinterklaas I’ve never associated Zwarte Piet with black people, but I do understand that something must change. But let’s start out by realizing different people may be coming from different backgrounds.

    • Michael

      I think that’s a pretty good analysis and I’ve seen this divide increasing since I came to NL 20 years ago. I remember back then that a lecturer at college told us about what he referred to as a ‘kenniskloof’ or ‘knowledge gap’ between the educated people and the rest that would increasingly split society apart and warned that the only thing you could do about it in his eyes was to make sure you’re on the right side of it. More and more I find myself thinking he was absolutely right and I’m glad I’m on ‘the right side’ of the knowledge gap; I deal with clever, educated people every day at work but rarely socialise with people outside of that circle of ‘hoger opgeleid’ people. I do try to socialise with others, but there’s usually a complete disconnect. It’s a shame, and I think it’s exactly what’s happening in the ‘debate’ about Zwarte Piet. As well as this kenniskloof, some people feel that their culture is being threatened and in my opinion they’ve been encouraged by populist politicians to see themselves as victims. Politics has been poisoned by populism since 2000 and now it’s poisoning society. Unfortunately I don’t know how to solve the problem.

  148. Johan Sterk

    Clearly St. Nicolas has been practicing positive discrimination whey recruiting his personnel. He was just too early and overdid it. The value of diversity must not yet been known back then.

    • jane

      oh please… they had no choice. they were slaves…. not paid!

  149. aman0o

    To us (excluding a few whiners who could find racism in a pack of hagelslag) comparing Zwarte Piet to old blackface propaganda is like comparing LEGO minifigures to Asians or anti-Asian propaganda. Asian people have had their share of racism. We all know how they have been stereotyped, and by some ignorant folk still are called yellow in an offensive manner (though I’d say most Asian people are just brown). But no one ever bothers with the idea that the yellow minifigures that every kid loves might be seen as offensive. Just as LEGO is LEGO, and racist interpretations of the toy are unfathomable, so is the comparison between Zwarte Piet and negroid/black (whichever word is considered socially acceptable in English) people or blackface propaganda ludicrous. We don’t see someone who’s supposed to be of African descent. What we see is Zwarte Piet, the friend to every kid.

    • jane

      oh please! nobody sees racism in hagelslag. that is what you dutch make of it to make fun of the black. Stop hiding behind the kid-friend story!!!!!!! that is an excuse to stop people from looking at the reality

      • black beauty

        Stop saying ‘you Dutch’ as if we are one single entity. You are the only one in this thread that generalises. Everyone here is Laughlin about your silly replies to every single post. You’re desperate.

  150. Sjoerd

    I think racism starts where you make a difference between different ethnical groups. Denouncing discrimination is a progress towards the right direction, but denouncing every little detail that could perhaps be misinterpretated by a given group of people is only making the problem even larger. I think the issue discussed here belongs rather to the latter.

    I have no clue where Zwarte Piet really comes from, although several hypotheses have been put forward here, but it makes no difference to me. The group of “immigrants” according to the definition Mad Scientist just disribed on this toopic is, I think, a group of people who are sadly, in average, used to suffer more injustice than the two other groups. As a consequence, I think they denounce a lot of bad things the Dutch or the White do or have done in the past, but they might also go a little too far when they feel attacked where they are not. By making a whole fuss about Zwarte Piet, people who see him as a racist figure will not improve things but only make an additionnal distinction between the Black and the White. They will deepen the gap. Shall we keep Zwarte Piet? This would offend many. Shall we forget or change him ? But what is the next step ? Do we have to be that careful about everything we do then ? A movie where only white actors appear could be found racist too ?

    You don’t fight racism through introducing a perfect proportionnal equilibrium, you’re just making it worse because you draw people attention. If you really want to fight racism, stop paying attention to people’s skin colour. Stop minding whether traditionnal figures are White, Black, Yellow or Rood met Witte Stippen. These are details, they are not human being’s primary classification criteria. Racism will be defeated when the White aswell as the Black will just don’t care about all of this. I have a Dream, the Dream of a country where people would just say : “Piet ? Oh, yes, you’re right, he is black ! I hadn’t noticed. It makes no difference to me.”

  151. Alejandra

    Hallo! I am spanish and I’m whiter than most of all dutch people. Spanish people aren’t black, or wild, or from a super warm country, ok? We are just europeans, like dutch. We also have a black character for Christmas, in this case a king. I don’t think anybody has to find a racist answer, I think all of them are just traditions related with history, which explains the old use of black african slaves. That’s it! 😉

    • jane

      that’s not how the dutch treat black people. that’s why people find reasons to believe it has to do with racism

  152. vash26

    @Jane, I can’t seem to reply to the direct post you made but you asked why the Pete’s were painted brown instead of black and nobody could give you an answer. I recently heard that is a bit of a recent development. By the time they made tv shows on the whole matter they realized that a face painted pitch black didn’t show enough emotion so they toned down the color to a more normal kind so the story would come across better. After that the brown color also got more common.

    Personally this whole thing irritates me quite a bit. I don’t view it as racist, as most Dutch people. We grew up with this tradition and black Pete is just there, it doesn’t really have to do with his coloring he’s just black, that’s the way it is. For example a year ago we saw a black man dressed like zwarte piet who didn’t wear the characteristic make-up. He gave my kids some pepernoten and my oldest (four at the time) said: ‘mom, that’s just a guy dressed like zwarte piet, he’s not the real thing’. That tells me that Dutch kids don’t grow up as racists because of this tradition and can distinguish between the tradition and real life. That being said. If there is a large group of Dutch people who have trouble with this tradition, I’m totally willing to change it to something everyone is happy with. But it has to be something the television and every town had to do the same way during the entrance of the guy. I don’t care if they tell me zwarte piet caught some kind of disease that turns him green from now on but it has to be uniform. But realisticly it’s going to take at least a decade. It needs to be something that allows a regular dutchman to be unrecognisable to the kids.

    I am not in this to hurt other people, I just want to celebrate a fun tradition.

  153. Jan

    As a kid I never associated Zwarte Piet with niggers or other black folks or even slaves.
    He was just some sort of boeggie man who helped Sinterklaas to keep the kids on there right path
    With this discusion you make him human but he isn’t becaus just like Sinterklaars he is a Legend of the past we stil celebrate .
    So this whole discussion is moot
    and some people should get there heads out of the mutt and pay attention to the real problems at hand like poverty and the slavery and human rights of women in the Islam world.

    • jane

      no you didn’t…. but others did! I know many black people who were called black pete when they were kids! You are not a racist, but some others are. The irritating thing is that they keep on making these racist jokes and expect us black people to laugh about it. Maybe we shouldn’t blame black pete, but just focus on the racism root! Because as long as that exists, the discussion will stay, because people here in the Netherlands don’t like to listen to others who are hurt by what they do. When white Dutch think something is a problem, and others don’t think so, then it is a problem. When others think it is, and the Dutch disagree, then others should shut up.
      If that wasn’t the case, the discussion would not exist.

    • Michael

      You didn’t put an awful lot of thought into your choice of words there did you?

      • Jan

        I don’t judge people for what collor they are on the outside only they’re actions
        I wish more people would act in this way and didn’t think of them selfs as a collor or religion

  154. Telling it like it is

    Since when does going down a chimney give you big red lips and an Afro? Please.

    Claiming you’re not racist because you don’t mean to be racist, even though you’re doing and saying racist things is the the most illogical argument that I’ve heard. Do you think you’d you’d have the same response to someone from Alabama saying, “I’m not racist, I just use the n-word when referring to black people because it’s my cultural heritage.”

    Some traditions, like, say racism, are best left to the past.

    • Ralph

      We were discussing where the black faces came from, that was explained as from the chimney dont mix the answer on one discussion up with a question of another.

      Being a racist is not a factual thing, thats my point. People may say/do many things in daily life that may seem racist in other peoples eyes. Your example is totally not in line with that, pity you dont seem to be able to see that comment in the big picture.
      People can hurt other people by doing stuff/saying things like all the time, if you are not aware of it does that make you the bad guy? That for me is the most illogical thing.
      Unless you believe there is only one truth in the world and all cultures have the same standards, expressions and values, but if you believe that I think you havent travelled around that much.
      If someone sincerely does not know what the N word means and hears it on the radio all the time in music then meets a black person and says it, does that make the person a racist? Really? In that case most of the people in Indonesia are all racists, cause the majority calls black people the N word. They have no idea what the history of the word is and they have too little black people in their country to correct them. They hear Jay Z on their radio saying the N word so they copy that. In your theory they are all racists, even though for them calling out the N word is like saying “hey bro”.
      Pointing fingers at people accusing them of terrible stuff like racism, while they are NOT aware is a lack of social understanding in my opinion. Again I am in favor of changing the festivity, I am in favor of bringing up the emotions of black people being hurt and getting their stories out, I am in favor of educating what Dutch familys behavior is causing…but to recklessly accuse Dutch family’s of racism when they have no intend in doing so is totally not acceptable.

  155. Ralph

    Hi Jane,

    I read a lot of your comments here (not all I am too lazy for that, comes with the Indonesian blood 😉 ) and I found it interesting you mentioned this line: “because people here in the Netherlands don’t like to listen to others who are hurt by what they do”. This kind of also sums up the way you judge all white Dutch people with your words and dont seem to care how hurt they might be hearing your accusations. These kind of comments are also the reason I am losing some of the sympathy for many of the protestors, they seem extremely hypocrite in the way they express their anger. People can act for years in a certain way because of culture or whatever without realizing they are hurting others, even when told they sometimes cannot imagine they are doing that. You cannot attack these people with harsh words if they did not sincerely meant hurting you while doing it. Of course they need to realize, but nobody in the world ever realized some of their own behavior by being informed in a hostile way. There are many Sinterklaas celebrators whom these accusations came totally out of the blue, that is not stupidity or being hypocrite, it is just they had absolutely no idea what hurt/negative feelings their in their eyes harmless family festivity brought to some people or maybe even a lot of people in the black community.
    Try to also look from their side (in a society of different races it only works looking at issues from all sides not just the hurt ones), how it may feel for them to be accused of stuff they despise and want no part in it, perhaps they have always tried to be open for new cultures/not listen to bad words of others etc etc Now this is the thanks they got.

    I am not saying we should not open the discussion, of course we should, But the way it is done, I am shocked to see the words coming out from both sides in my beloved multicultural country.
    I am living in Indonesia (which is in a way worse racism situation than Holland), so thank God do not hear all the harsh comments from all sides but I am surprised about the lack of maturity in discussing this. For the expats/foreigners entering the discussion, its totally ok to give your opinion or views on the festivty but judging the Dutch culture as hypocrite/Racists etc etc, I would say look at your own country first. Till this date there is no country in the world free from racial issues/discrimination/violence etc etc Naming an issue is one thing, but defining a country you are now living in by those words is shameful. I liked the example of Ireland, you can have an opinion about it but as a foreigner you also dont demand the marches to stop.

    • qe2 (@qetrader2)

      We know every country is racist, that’s not the point, the point is Dutch claiming Black Pete is not racist or doesn’t have racist roots which is totally false. Just admit Black Pete is racist but you don’t care. Don’t pretend he’s not. He only exists because of slavery. Why don’t Germany and France have Black Pete, because they weren’t as good at slavery than the Dutch.

      When asked why can’t we have orange or blue Pete the Dutch reply orange and blue people don’t exist, but black people do. So now you know, Dutch people want Black Pete to stay because they want to be able to dress up like black people. Black pete is a dress up like black people party. I totally understand the feelings of Black people, they dont want white people to dress up like black people, because how do black people dress up like white people? They can’t, unless they use prosthetics costing thousands of dollars. This is a real inequality.

    • Dutch girl abroad

      Thank you Ralph for being the voice of reason! From a fellow Indo 😉

      • Ralph

        wow the voice of reason, Im going to use that on my CV 🙂

        Where abroad are you by the way, just curious now

      • Dutch girl Abroad

        Ireland, cold, wet Ireland 🙂

  156. all of us saints

    So, now for something completely different folks! How about a debate next year about the religion adhered to by our bearded white friend the bishop, which most people in the Netherlands have absolutely no interest in (the religious side I mean), the colour of his skin, and the politically incorrect mentioning of him being an old man. Besides, why was a man cast for this role and not a woman. Happy 2014!

  157. Daphne

    I´m an dutch girl at the age of 16 right now. I´ve read quite some reactions on this topic, and maybe it´s good for all the “adults” to see how an (still child) thinks about this.

    Right now I don´t believe in Sint Nicolaas anymore, but I always did, with my whole heart. And when I see my steph-sister (4 years old, origin Marokko) watch the Zwarte Pieten, I can only think about how I alway´s was exited to see them coming in town. Even though some of you say we “dutchies” are ignorant of our slavery past, we aren´t. Sind´s the age of 9 I have learned about it. An honestly, Sint Nicolaas has (for children) nothing to do with slavery, or rasism. It´s just a fun holliday, and as child you get spoiled during those weeks. And there are people offended when they are called Zwarte Piet, and I can understand it. But maybe you could also try and see it trouh a child eye. Zwarte Pieten are assosiated with, acrobats, funny dances, jokes and presents. So when a child calls you a Zwarte Piet, it´s not meaned to be offensive. And a child can´t possebly know that you are offended by it.

    The whole thing about it being rasist, is by seeing it as an adult. But that´s the problem. It´s for children! And I have multicoulored friend, to say it this way. And all of them are celebrading St. Nicolaas. I even have “black” friends, who join in every year to be a Zwarte Piet and make little children smile. And yes, some children are afraid of the Zwarte Pieten, but they are as afraid of someone they don´t know.

    The Zwarte Pieten are a tradition. And I can say, I have accepted quite a lot differend traditions of other cultures. When it´s Ramadan, I make sure not to eat before the eye´s of my friend who follow this event, to pay respect to them. And when I´m with my Japanese friend, I make sure to wear some covering clothes, because her parents are discomforted with too much bare skin. So it isn´t like the Dutch people doesn´t accept other point of views. It´s just the fact that we have to chance an very old tradition of us, because there are other people who wants to live in our country, and they think it´s offensive. But then I don´t understand. The so calles (directly translated: Black Kisses) Negerzoenen are right now only called (DT± Kisses) Zoenen. BUT! The is still (DT White Vla) Blanke Vla on sale. So, Every black person can take a word as Black as something offensive, But White Vla is completely accepted and can´t be seen as rasism at al? Because I think that´s also offensive. I don´t think it´s faire that the word Black if forbidden to use with food, but White is completedly accepted.

    So, As an “Dutchie” I really whant to tell you all: CUT THE CRAP!!!
    But, as someone in an multicoloured millieu, I´ll tell you: Please! Just see it as something for kids! Because there are quite a lot fairy tales who can be offending to people as well, and I don´t really see you all nagging about them, do you??

  158. qeri0n

    In Surinam this feast is there also and the Pieten are black too. A pretty big chunk of Surinam is black so they certainly don’t think it has anything to do with racism. On the other hand, it is quite easy to so see why people see this as racism, simply because of the context this is placed in to and given the world history. The intentions were never to have a feast with racism involved in it, however it kind of turned out this way and the similarities are there with the infamous black faces. If racism would have been out of this world then I could probably be fine with these Black Petes but apperently it hurts people. Our Dutch directness however will prevent this feast go away since other people ‘should just need to accept the way it is’ which is defined by the innocent intentions to it.

    • MAD

      Sorry, but since 2013 Zwarte Piet is abolished in Surinam! And please do not speak on behave of black people. State your own opinion. And racism is racism, discrimination is discrimination. Whether anybody meant well or what ever other excuse that (mostly white) Dutch people use, it is not relevant. The intentions do not influence the fact.

      • qeri0n

        To be honest, there is no “fact” but all goes down to feelings. Whatever you find relevant might not be relevant to others. What discrimination and racism exactly is, is down to interpretation. Is the movie ‘White Chicks’ racistic as they characterize white females in their late teens/early twenties? I am just trying to ask the right questions.
        Zwarte Piet might be abolished now but I guess that is because of the rumors that have been going on. On the other hand, I still agree that Zwarte Piet should be gone as people are being hurt by it and given the history of slavery, so you shouldn’t be arguing that point of view as I agree with you on that point of view.

  159. Jo

    Zwarte Piet = Black Pete
    1. If you say the black face is from the chimney – how do you explain the afro wigs and big red lips?
    2. It’s not Wit Sinterklaus, so why call out the color of Piet? RARELY is it good when white folks make a point to call out color.

    • Tom -dutch guy living in spain-

      1. You don’t. It’s a kids tale. Children don’t ponder about that sort of thing. Grown ups do.
      2. It’s just a name. It’s not supposed to mean anything. Kids couldn’t care less about the color.

      Its only adults who make such a real big deal out of this. This festivity is a kids festivity and kids won’t have any problem associating the name “black pete” with a guy who is actually black.

      Children are not born with a notion of negativity that associates a color with a skintone.
      Adults on the other hand can be very scared of being called out on any “racist thought pattern”. It’s only to them a meaningless things like some fantasy characters name is a big deal.

      Clearly. You are an adult.

  160. Pieter Ligthart

    Okay, first things first, i live in the Netherlands so i am Dutch, i read this topic/wesite and some things are taken to serious, first of al “zwarte Piet” where slaves but Sinterklaas saved them and said to them, or you live in freedom or you could work for me against payment ( so “zwarte piet” gets money ) so there not slaves, they where but sinterklaas saved them, second of all the top 2000 isnt a tradition, a radio channel does it once a year and only about 100,000 people listen to that, thirth of all, yes the 50th birthday is special and a tradition but no, it isnt a crazy party.

  161. Evan

    Anyone looking to be offended, will be offended.

    You cannot embrace differences in cultures and races yet be insulted by every image that MIGHT be offensive to you (whether you understand it or not). If you do not live in that country or take part in that festival or character, you should not have an opinion on it. Don’t speak about what you don’t understand. This Black Piet character is obviously beloved and characterized in a positive way. If you have to dig deep for a reason to be offended, you’re just looking to pick a fight. You can spend all of your days looking for reasons to be offended, especially in this image/ media world we live in.

    Also, why would any dark skinned person be offended? Are you not proud of the way you look? It’s not like they are putting warts or scars or “ugly” traits on the character. I could care less if an African/ Middle Eastern/ Hispanic community has a festival where they dress up as a white cowboy with long blonde hair. Good for them, I’m glad they had a positive encounter with a caucasian american cowboy!

  162. Anne

    I was always told Sinterklaas came from Madrid which makes more sense with the black pete’s being Moors..

  163. Dave

    People who see Black Pete as something outragious is a bit heavy. It’s just a tradidition for many years and doesn’t have anything to do with rascism. It’s a celebration for little children. Black Pete is helping St. Nicolas with giving thechildren presents and yes he’s black, but as equal as any other. I think people who feel offended by this, shouldn’t be so sensitive about this. Many times alot of people are waving the flag on things like this, because they are searching for reasons to feel discriminated so they can overrule things as a ‘victim’. Don’t be so easliy stirred, it’s just an innocent holiday for kids

  164. M

    Why should we care if foreigners hate our traditions?

    We don’t have to do what they say or conform to their values!

    If they’re butthurt, then they’re butthurt, let them whine. Problem? U mad? Not a single fuck’ll be given!

    • HM

      It’s a Dutch tradition which is no one ells it’s business. Otherwise you might as well ban the July 4th celebration too as there is nothing independent about America as everything is dictated.

  165. Dutch kid

    I think Zwarte Piet is not racist, but I do understand why people think he is. The thing is, parents even use Zwarte Piet to scare their children. With that you could assume that Zwarte Piet is not someone they look down on. He stands above them because someone who is of a lower class wouldn’t be able to take you away from your parents and then take you to a whole different country just because you weren’t nice the previous year. When I was between 6 and 10 years old I still believed that Sinterklaas was actually the person bringing me the presents. At that time there was a movie in which the was a white kid that was accidentaly brought to Spain so he had to stay there a year before he could go back. He did the same things as all the Zwarte Pieten did and he had the same rules. Every child wanted to be that Witte Pietje (White Peter) because they looked up to the Zwarte Pieten. But how could you explain that he was white and not black like the others were? Well, he didn’t have the opportunity to bring children presents yet, and he didn’t go down a chimney. Because that would be at the end of the movie. I think that your oppinion on Zwarte Piet can differ if you grew up with them or not. I am still a kid and I still get presents on the 5th of December. I was only happy when I was even younger that there was a man so kind like Sinterklaas that he gave children he didn’t even know personally gifts. And because of his age he needed people to help him. So I was gratefull for the Zwarte Piet that would do it for Sinterklaas because he liked the idea of giving me and all the other kids presents too. And why would a bunch of white people paint their faces black if they though Zwarte Piet was something like a slave? Because they want the children from now to look up to Zwarte Piet too, that’s my only explanation.

  166. A Dutch Person Who Lived Abroad

    They are black because they clean chimneys, and it is not the idea that the Zwarte Pieten are slaves, it is just that they love Sinterklaas and all the children they give presents to. Children and people love Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten. It is not intended to be racist, I understand that some people might find it racist but if you have lived in the Netherlands for a while and celebrated Sinterklaas, you would understand why we want Zwarte Pieten to stay and stay the same. If you had children you would definitely understand.

  167. Mark

    I was a great supporter of black piet. At the time Black piet appeared coloured people were not an active part of the society in the Netherlands (by example there are no records of any coloured slaves been in the Netherlands itself). I truly believe the appearance of black piet has no origin in discrimination of coloured people.

    Another fact is that black piet is much more popular than Sinterklaas himself. There are a lot of children dressed like Black piet, but I have never seen a child dressed as Sinterklaas. Black Piet is cool.

    So why should a harmless tradition change? It are not the opponents of black piet that changed my mind. It are the so called supporters of black piet that changed my mind.

    Comments like “If you don’t like it, go back to your own country” (made in other discusions about this topic) are very judgemental. It implicates that only non dutch oppose against black piet. People might even make the conclusion that coloured people aren’t Dutch.

    In the course of time Black Piet has already been evolved. When I was less aged. Black Piet was an person to scare kids. If you were nauthy, Black piet will punish you. In time Black Piet evolved into a real fiend of children. So where is the harm into evolving even more.

    I really don’t see any harm into “Black” Piets from multi-cultural origin. This can be introduced in very short time. Sinterklaas has only to appear on national television (in a child program) with the announcement that he is looking for new piets and that anyone can apply.

    In a few years “back piet” can be a reflection of the dutch society. And Sinterklaas can be again the harmless tradition it was.

    The Childeren wouldn’t mind. They don’t care if they get there presents and candy from a white or coloured piet. They even might like it even more, cause any child dream to become Piet can become true this way.

  168. derpymike

    If white people with brown/black faces isn’t allowed, does that mean people of african or other descent isn’t allowed to be a Pantomime? Utterly fucking ridiculous.

  169. Lucy

    i love zwarte piet, but dont know why my whole country is so passionate about it, just give them some ashes on their faces and be done with it…. In the nederlands they always are like, or we keep them like they ere now, or we change them completely, to weird piety with cheese and yellow faces with straight hair… Idk anymore Netherlands.. Idk (sorry for bad grammar I’m a 14 yr old dutch person XD)

  170. jhonny

    isnt something racist when it is ment to be racist? the people who like black pete dont want it to be racist right? so why is it racist?

  171. cherrygirln

    What I find really interesting is that the BLACK people from Curacao also celebrate Sinterklaas and they just paint their faces even more black than in Holland. They don’t give a damn about Zwarte Piet being racist!

  172. s.t.

    Coming late here.
    The Zwarte Piet issue seems somewhat similar to the US issue with regard to sports teams using old ethnic or racial caricatures for logos and mascots. Like, the Washington “Redskins,” the name itself being an antiquated, racially loaded term.
    Fans of the Redskins don’t see it as racist at all. They love the team, and they love the mascot. Moreover, they feel shocked that others want to take away the traditions of their community. Not to mention, since the groups celebrating the tradition do not intend to be racist, they can’t seem to understand how other could accuse them of racism. After all, they’re having harmless fun with a character they love. What’s wrong with that?
    Both issues are rooted in historical roots that were far nastier than what exists today. The symbol, while rooted in cruel or ignorant stereotypes, largely became benign and friendly, and followers became unaware of the roots, either through the development of new traditions (like the idea that Zwarte Piet got black from chimney soot), or simply through blissful ignorance.

    But the historical roots of Zwarte Piet are even more complicated than those of the Washington Redskin. I read that the character actually has its roots in ancient Zoroastrian new year tradition, with the character Hajji Firuz. What’s interesting about Hajji Firuz is that, as someone who purportedly became black due to visiting and returning from Hell, he seems to serve as the basis not only for Zwarte Piet but also for Krampus–a helper of St. Nicholas in other European cultures. Even for Hajji Firuz, critics say that despite some non-racial mythic elements, racial stereotypes were nevertheless incorporated into the character. Like Zwarte Piet, Hajji Firuz often speaks in an exaggerated “pidgin” dialect that seems to grant his dark complexion a derogatory ethnic/racial quality. And like the Netherlands, Iran/Persia has a history of slavery. Traditions can have several different dimensions, picking up new ones or accentuating others, as time passes.
    To me, people insisting that Piet be black-skinned rather than multi-coloured are like Americans who complain that certain comic book characters are portrayed by black actors. These traditions are not actual history–it’s culture, and culture is supposed to change with the times. Insisting that the character stay the same “because of tradition” panders to the fallacy that tradition is fixed. Indeed, Piet’s mythos has already evolved quite a bit over the generations. Piet is indeed a part of Dutch tradition, but that tradition can easily change to accommodate people who don’t like the character’s current traits that reflect a nastier past.
    Dutch folks, please don’t be like the ignorant conservative Americans who refuse to see how their customs—benign as they may be in their intent—can unintentionally alienate other sub-cultures due to valid historically rooted concerns. Culture is flexible. The tradition need not be wiped away, but change and adaptation is how human cultural harmony works.

    • Rob

      Jezus H F*cking Christ.

      We have a tradition, and there is NO racism in it.
      Nobody’s made fun of.

      The helpers of the Old Saint, will deliver the presents the Old Saint wants to hand out.
      As the Old fart is unable to visit all homes in one night, the helpers volunteer to assist in the delivery.

      In order to deliver the presents, the helpers climb down the chimney of the houses,
      and guess what ? The dirt in the chimney makes the helper’s face turn black.

      Thats the whole story as it’s told to all the children.

      Feeling discriminated over this, for calling a black face black, is not only stupid, ignorant, but it assumes there’s something wrong with having a black face.

      Dirt in chimneys is black, there’s no getting around that.
      Climbing down a chimney will make your skin go black, .. get over it.

      Easterbunny’s are bunny’s, and skunks don’t complain or feel left out
      Santa has little elves to help him, most midgets do not seem to mind.

      • Caliandris

        Every word written speaks volumes. I’m afraid it doesn’t say what you want it to say, however. Blacking up is considered unacceptable in the UK and it seems shocking to us that you cannot see that this isn’t just a question of tradition (which doesn’t go far back, anyway) but of living in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society and what is and is not acceptable. But if you won’t see or accept it, you won’t. Doesn’t mean we have to agree with you, however.

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