!! OMG, how racist? Most Dutch people don’t think so !!

Meet Zwarte Piet (translated “Black Pete” from Dutch), a character created around 1850 who assists Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa) with the delivery of toys, etc. It is traditional in the Netherlands for people to don black face, afro wigs, and big red lips around Christmastime to commemorate his existence.
According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, most Dutch people, including a prominent left-wing politician, see no problem with the tradition. This, coming from one of the most legislatively progressive countries in the world, doesn’t do much to negate the “racist European” stereotype.

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15 Comments on "OMG, how racist? Most Dutch people don’t think so"

  1. ok. i’m from belgium, live in Vlaanderen (the dutch part of belgium leaning to the border of the netherlands) and have celebrated Sinterklaas my whole life and grew up with it. First of all;
    Sinterklaas = not dutch santa but a whole other person. (in dutch santa claus is ‘de kerstman’ which translates to ‘the christmasman’)
    Ok. I am on tumblr a lot and read a lot about blackface and i know it is wrong but Zwarte Piet ISN’T BLACK. Sinterklaas and him walk over the roofs of houses with their horse Slechtweervandaag(badweathertoday) and Piet opens up the doors by going through the chimney leading to the dirt on his face and legs. so zwarte piet is just black because of all the soot. a lot of people in belgium ramble about zwarte piet being blackface and racist and whatnot, but if they do it just mean they never have a good childhood and got the stories about how he got black.
    i don’t see myself as racist but i’m just trying to make it clear zwarte piet isn’t his black help but just a person who helps him by going through chimneys and becoming sooted up.

  2. Let me ask this, if emulating one’s race deserves to be met with such an outrage, should emulating one’s ethnicity (speaking their language, sporting their clothes, or following their customs) or emulating an opposite sex (tucking, stuffing bras, stuffing underwear, or wearing wigs) should be met with the same outrage?
    We must stop interjecting perceived racism where it doesn’t exist. Like I said below, we must be able to distinguish what actions are meant to be malicious and what’s not. From what I’ve read, the whole tradition of Zwarte Piet simply stemmed from an 1845 book where the pages, aides to St. Nicholas, is described to have dark skin. Nothing more, nothing less.

  3. ow, and one more thing:
    i am not part of the kkk, i share – as always – the opinion of Stan and Kyle… fast forward to the end…

  4. I think perception of racism in the USA is heightened precisely because of our country’s history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination against immigrant communities. I think Europe, the Netherlands in particular, is only starting to face some of these issues now that immigration from Africa and the Middle East is increasing.
    There are plenty of xenophobic, racist Americans to be sure, but there is a societal consciousness here that those thoughts are inappropriate. When you have a left-wing Dutch politician defending black face on public television, and now a bunch of people defending it on a left-leaning gay blog, I think it shows there is a fundamental difference in what is viewed as politically correct.
    And just to let you know all know, there is a movement in The Netherlands against Zwarte Piet. I’m sure it will succeed once enough people are able to look past their nostalgia and see their prejudices for what they are. More information on that here:
    xo Frank

  5. Funny that the article mentions a perception of Europe as racist – I think most Europeans perceive the United States as one of the most racially divided nations in the world. You guys had laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage! You had separate schooling for non-whites! You have the KKK!

  6. I lived in The Netherlands for 6 years – it’s not racist, it’s a national celebration which everyone colour, creed and orientation joins in.
    I think the US is a lot more sensitive to issues of race – and rightly so – because of their dreadful history of institutionalising sub-human status to non-whites. I think if it was to take place in the United States, it would rightly be seen as offensive.
    The Dutch have historically been a very liberal, tolerant society, and it’s a very multicultural society. Dutch people are generally quite blunt and don’t feel the need for inclusive language because their society is inherently inclusive. Politically correct language is needed in places like the United States, I think, precisely because of the American socio-historical context in which race plays a pivotal role.

  7. I am sorry but this is absolutely racist, the story about the chimney soot is just a modern reinterpretation of what was clearly meant to be a black slave. To counter all other comments on here, Zwarte Piet is indeed represented as being mischievous person, always getting into trouble. In fact they strip the different Piets down to two-dimensional characters..one is the smart one, the other one a clumsy one and so on. Sinterklaas always to the rescue to put them in their place. The racism is so engrained that most Dutch people don’t see it. It takes an outsider to see these things.
    I lived there for most of my life, and some of my best friends are Dutch, they just do not see it….that does not make it any less racist.

  8. Well good point, I suppose chimney-climbing doesn’t make your hair curl. Maybe Zwarte Piet comes from Spain (where they all live),or from Turkey (where Sinterklaas was born). You know, I never thought about them as being men with African roots: they are just a childrens story… (My husband is African and my cousins never saw his colour, it’s only the grownups who make a big deal out of it) I join Andrew: don’t take it so serious… 😉

  9. I can assure you that I’m one of the most progressive gay folks you’ll meet — ah hem, Matthew — and I, like others, also do not see the malicious racism that so many others claim to see.
    Racial stereotype can only be construed as negative if one were to exploit a demeaning, imaginary stereotype, i.e. claiming certain ethic groups are less intelligent than others, barbarically aggressive, unbearably fetid… You get the idea.
    I don’t see how something as innocuous as skin color and facial structure can be considered offensive. We can all certainly argue that not all people of a specific group have a particular color or structure, therefore rendering any racial exploitation argument futile.
    I think it’s important to laugh at ourselves. And I think this is hardly bigoted; I can only see the humor in this most ridiculous rite for the Dutch people.

  10. One question: Does climbing down chimneys turn a white person’s hair into an afro?

  11. Zwarte Piet and his story is far from racist. Perhaps people need to educate themselves first before crying foul!

  12. White people dressing up buffoonishly as black people is racist, period. “Pejorative” is a big word that’s being used to pretend that something inherently offensive SHOULDN’T be. Well, I’ve yet to met a black person who doesn’t find blackface insulting. I’m sure they exist, but there are gay Republicans, too.

  13. Yes, like Ragaph said: Black Pete owes his colour to climbing down chimneys (Dick van Dykes character in Mary Poppins is also black in some scenes…) And Sinterklaas is too old himself to climb down chimneys, so he has some helpers who do it in his place… Nothing to do with race nor slavery lol
    (Sorry for my bad Englisch, I am Dutch speaking)

  14. Perhaps your American mindset automatically sees blackface and cries racism. Zwarte Piet is not a pejorative character and is not racist.

  15. The jokes about Sinterklaas “owning slaves” isn’t all that new.
    Well, the myth goes that Zwarte Piet has come through the chimney so often that his skin has become covered in sooth.
    Besides, consider the guy to be the Dutch version of Santa’s happy little elves who also can be considered “slaves”. They’re glad to help the old geezer, so why make such fuss out of an icon who’s also seen by kids to be a friend of kids?
    I understand the stance from an American point of view, though.

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