Is Black Pete racist?

I fear this post will lose me Dutch followers because what I’m about to write is not a popular opinion in Holland. Nevertheless, the news here in the Netherlands is all about Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, and I feel compelled to comment, especially since, judging by the comments flooding my Facebook page from Dutch friends, I disagree with the vast majorityof Dutch people.

Note: I wrote this article in 2013, but updated it in 2018. It all still applies. I wrote about this topic again in Black Pete redux (2014), Zwarte Piet Updated (2015) and, quite recently, in Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) updated (2020).

For my non-Dutch readers, I first have to explain the current tradition. Sinterklaas is a tall, thin, elderly man who wears a long robe and a miter like a bishop’s. He has the same historical roots as the American Santa Claus or the British Father Christmas; all are based on Saint Nicholas. Sinterklaas, however, lives in Spain instead of the North Pole and rides a white horse instead of a sleigh. He has his own holiday on December 5th, so he is not associated with Christmas, which has remained a more purely religious holiday in Holland.

Rather than elves, Sinterklaas travels accompanied by Zwarte Piet, which translates as “Black Pete.” Or, rather, he’s joined by a group of Zwarte Pieten – Black Petes – who help him by carrying his bags of gifts and sweets for him and generally clown around, entertaining children at parties and other Sinterklaas-related events.

Here’s where the controversy comes in. Black Petes are exactly that: black. They are almost always played by white people dressed in blackface, and they wear colorful “Moorish costumes” with puffy sleeves. Their lips are painted bright red, and they wear black long-sleeved shirts and black leggings or tights to complete the illusion of being black. On their heads they wear a curly black-haired wig, and they often have big gold hoops in their ears.

Sinterklaas on the left, Black Pete on the right.
Sinterklaas on the left, Black Pete on the right.

Any of you, dear readers, who comes from any country other than the Netherlands will understand the problem with this. To state the patently obvious, it’s terribly racist in this day and age for a white person to dress up in blackface and play a comic character.

The Black Pete debate

A group of Amsterdam residents filed a complaint about this tradition in 2013, arguing that it is offensive to them and must be stopped. They argued that it could easily be replaced with a new tradition of “kleuren Pieten” or “regenboog (rainbow) Pieten”: in other words, multicolored Petes, so there would be a Yellow Pete, a Purple Pete, and so on. The tradition was not stopped, and the debate revives every year.

In 2017, the argument reached such a height that a group of Black Pete defenders stopped traffic on a highway coming into the province of Friesland. They wanted to prevent anti-Pete protesters from reaching the place where the intocht (the arrival of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands) was scheduled to happen.

In November 2018, an anti-Pete group took their argument to court again, demanding that the Black Petes at this year’s intocht should not include any racist stereotyping. They demanded that no blackface should be allowed, and also no “sooty Petes” (Petes with smears of soot on their faces, which I’ll explain more later), earrings, curly black wigs, stupid or servile behavior.

They lost. It was mostly a procedural decision, and the judge added a statement. He basically agreed with them that Black Pete is a racist caricature. However, he also said that forbidding the intocht would violate freedom of expression. They would have had to prove – which, he said, they didn’t – that the intocht violated people’s protection against discrimination. In his view, it doesn’t, because the image of Black Pete is already changing gradually in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the debate rages on.

Many Dutch, however, refuse to accept the argument that Black Pete is a racist image. And they seem to be refusing to even see why anyone could be offended by it. The range of reasons they give to preserve the tradition is truly impressive:

Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas as portrayed on candy wrappers
Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas as portrayed on candy wrappers

It’s tradition.

Yes, it is traditional. So was slavery. So was teaching boys to read and not girls. That doesn’t make it acceptable.

It’s harmless; it didn’t turn me into a racist.

Perhaps, though you could certainly argue that the fact that you’re defending Zwarte Piet is racist in itself, at least in that you aren’t aware that it’s racist.

It’s not meant to be racist or to put anybody down. It’s just a fun way to distribute gifts to children.

Just because you don’t mean it to be racist doesn’t mean it isn’t perceived that way.

Everybody knows Black Petes aren’t really black.

Does that matter? Whether you knew they were white or not when you were little, you still laughed as they clowned around in blackface. You still accepted a white Sinterklaas with black servants as normal. I had a black student some years back who was pointed at by small children in the supermarket, “Look, Mama, it’s Zwarte Piet!” That indicates to me that children don’t see the difference. They don’t realize that Black Pete isn’t real until they’re older.

They’re not black; they’re just dirty from soot after going down chimneys.

This is one of the most common and lamest arguments I’ve heard. Does getting sooty turn your hair black and curly too? I don’t think so! And how come their clothes are so clean? One of the recent modifications to the tradition plays on this story: lately, we sometimes see white Petes (or whatever color the person actually is) with smears of soot on their faces: Sooty Petes. It still doesn’t solve the black curly hair, bright red lips, and clean clothing conundrum, but at least the soot smears match the story a bit better.

And as portrayed on a package of "pepernoten," a spice cookie that's traditionally distributed by the Black Petes
And as portrayed on a package of pepernoten, a spice cookie that’s traditionally distributed by the Black Petes

It’s a lot less racist than the historical role of Zwarte Piet.

This is true: the original Black Pete of a century or more ago was literally a slave, and he was stupid and spoke with a foreign accent in incorrect, choppy Dutch. He was also used to scare children into being good: “If you don’t behave, Black Pete will whip you and put you in his bag to take you back to Spain with him.” So Black Pete’s role has been toned down. He’s not a slave; he’s a servant. He’s silly and jolly and funny and throws candy. So what? He’s still in a subordinate position and is still an object of ridicule with his clownish behavior.

If we had Red Petes and Yellow Petes, then American Indians and Asians would be offended.

I have to assume this is just a reductio ad absurdum argument: taking an argument further to the point of nonsense. And I have to assume it’s just tongue-in-cheek. At least I hope so. If not, then the people who make this argument are even more racist than I thought, given that classifying Native Americans as red or Asians as yellow is also racist. Of course, if you dressed Red Pete in red paint but then put an Indian headdress on his head, yes, that would be offensive!

If we have to get rid of Black Pete, we’d have to get rid of Sinterklaas, since the fact that he’s always white is racist too.

This strikes me as a false analogy. Sinterklaas is just one specific person, who is portrayed as white. Black Petes are a category: all Black Petes are Sinterklaas’s silly servants, and they’re all black. No one will be offended that Sinterklaas is white, but we could certainly think about at least sometimes portraying him as dark-skinned. Saint Nicholas was from Turkey, after all, where people tend to be darker-skinned and darker-haired than here in Holland.

The people who play Black Pete don’t want to be another color. They just didn’t like it when they tried it back in the 90s in Amsterdam.

That isn’t the point. Sinterklaas is a children’s holiday; the people playing Black Pete are doing it for the children’s entertainment. So what does it matter if they don’t enjoy it? It’s not about them. Children wouldn’t be bothered by seeing Rainbow Petes at all, and within a couple of years it would be absolutely normal.

The people complaining about Black Pete are being oversensitive.

Perhaps. But in my view they’ve been over-accommodating not to complain earlier, or at least not to complain so loudly. Blacks in Holland have recently written and spoken about how they have always felt when confronted by Black Petes at this time of the year: insulted, excluded, different. To me, that’s enough reason to stop doing it. Holland cherishes its self-image as a tolerant and open society. This situation belies that description.

What amazes me is how many of my Dutch friends and acquaintances have posted on Facebook in support of keeping the Zwarte Piet tradition. Why does this matter so much to them? Why does it matter if Black Petes turn into multi-colored Petes or sooty Petes? Why are they so defensive? The lady doth protest too much, methinks!

To see my most recent update on this issue, go to Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) updated.

Please feel free to leave a comment below, if you’d like, but keep it civil! And I would certainly appreciate shares on social media!

Many Dutch people still insist that the tradition of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) isn't racist. In this updated article, I go through and answer all of their arguments.

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more...

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Basically this argument is in line with the famous cliché ‘If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck and it eats like a duck, it probably is a duck”. In the week before easter in Sevilla Spain you see parades, that to American eyes are Klu Klux Klan marches, because people are dressed up like that. Howevr, they take part in an ancient public ritual to mourn the the death of Christ.

There is no blackface tradition, not in the American sense. Black Pete is part of a very old tradition that goes back millennia and that has to do wit fertility rites. There are tons of scholarly evidence for that.

Now you might argue that the modern Black Pete was modelled on slaves. It is true that a few hundred years ago European Courst and noble households boasted one of more black servants, who added a touch of miracle to the general setting. In most cases they were dressed up as oriental princes. In paintings they look at their employers in admiration. Why? There was no slavery in Europe and they were set free and now they rewarded their employer with a dog like loyalty. Napoleon kept such a liberated slave around him and he slept on the doorstep to his bedroom. Like a pet dog. If you think about this, this is worse than the story opponents of Black Pete tell you about him being a slave.

One of the villains of the anti Black Pete faction is a 19th century Dutch schoolmaster, called Schenkman. Around 1950 he published a litte illustrated book in which we see Black Pete and he is dressed up exactly as those servants in the paintings I told you about. There are two editions of this book. And in the second edition Black Pete changed his attire. In that second edition he is dressed up as a sixteenth century nobleman. As a matter of fact his dress looks remarkably like that of William of Orange in his younger years.

Why is that? Despite being a valet Black Pete is a person of authority. Certainly in the old days his job was to punish children. Now I can assure you that in the nineteenth century and in the heyday of colonialism, Dutch elites had very clear ideas about white superiority. They would never accept, that their children were punished by a black face or someone dressing up like that. You might say that they had racist reasons not to turn Black Pete into a slave. History, ethnoloy and life itself are complicated.

You will have heard that most Dutchmen insist, that Black Pete has nothing to do with racism and that they make no connection between Black Pete and blacks in general. You do not believe them because now and then a kid confuses Black Pete with a black person on the bus. I know. I did it. Once. Then my mother took care of that. She thaught me that I should never remark on the way other people looked. And that was that.

In the meantime thinking on race in Holland changed. One of the proofs of that is the fact that in our country there are many more interracial marriages than in for example the United States. There is an amount of racism in this country, for example on the workplace, but there is no reason to distrust people, if they tell you that their celebration is not racist and is not meant to be racist. Being labelled a racist in Holland is considered to be a major insult. If you tell that to a policeman for whatever reason, you will be fined. It really hurts people.

The slogan of the anti black Pete movement is “Black Pete is racism”. Changing the black Pete tradition, means that you admit that you have been involved in a racist activity. You are not only expected to change your ways, but also to do penance for racism, which as a concept replaced mortal sin in the Netherlands.

This is why in this nation of compromises and polder models there is no way why the opponents of Black Pete and his friends could meet each other half way. No way at all, for to work out a good compromise it is essential that nobody had to admit that he has been wrong and sinful and in fact deserves to wear the scarlet letter of racism.

The vociferous opponents of Black Pete slammed the door into their own faces so to speak. They should follow a course of public relations and influencing people for beginners.

”me what matters is what it means now”
…what it means to citizens of the empire of the United states.
Here, I fixed that for you. Your morals aren’t universal. The fact that the US has a shameful history on how it treated blacks only 1 generation ago doesn’t mean the rest of the world has to see things the same way you do. Your identity politics aren’t ours, don’t bring this to our doorstep.

Having said that: Who gives a shit about what colour black pete is. Make it coloured so the whining can stop.

The fact that you migrated doesn’t make you Dutch in my opinion? Maybe officially yes, but it’s not like the horrible American racist history is wiped away from you. You do know that right? Please respect other people’s opinion, just like we respect yours. Let everyone have the Pete they want… For some it will be the traditional national hero black Pete, others will take a green Pete I suppose.

Hi, I’m sure black pete is the leading Problem in racism. Finish black pete ans from one moment to another all problems of The World will disappear. I wish to habe such a problem ans my life would ne very easy. Maybe its time for some people to think about the racism included in the slogan “black lives matter”
All the best
juley

I am Dutch. Black Pete is pitch black and an immortal. He is our national superhero. Centuries before he was called Black Pete, long before the USA blackface practice, he was called Black Claus. Black Pete does not have anything to do with the America’s, nor with equatorial Africa, nor with slavery in recent centuries, nor with racism. He is one of many expressions in Europe of the same millennia old archetype.
At the moment Black Pete is being persecuted and discriminated against by some people for having a pitch black skin. These people are mostly foreigners who have been raised in a USA racist tradition and who confuse Black Pete with a negroid person from Africa and who are projecting their own racist world view onto the completely innocent character of Black Pete. In effect, Black Pete is made the victim of the straw man fallacy.

“What matters is how it affects people NOW”

Does it though? Does it really? The thing is, people will always find a way to be offended. Maybe we should also ban abortion, selling alcohol or short skirts because it hurts and offends some people. It is a small, really small, minority who claim to feel offended by Black Pete, but being offended does not make you right. On the lovely caribbean island of Curaçao, which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the (black) people also celebrate Sinterklaas. Whoever plays Sinterklaas paints his face white and people who play Black Pete paint their face.. black.

Can’t we take an example to a part of the Kingdom where people, if being affected by feelings of hurt because of our colonial history and slavery when Sinterklaas arrives, have a lot more right to complain than the professional complainers like we have over here.

Just tired of all these snowflakes wanting to change history and wipe the slate clean. It’s a kids party- grow a pair.

Thank you for this article. I enjoyed reading it a lot and it gave a lot of insight on how newcomers look at this fest. I am Flemish (we speak Dutch) and we always celebrated Sinterklaas. As new Dutch-person you know what part of Belgium I am talking about.

My point here: There was ‘zwarte-piet’ (black-piet) when I was young, and now we gave him lots of friends from other countries (there is a white-piet, an asian-piet, even a waffle-Piet, all helping Sinterklaas since he is old (we ARE still belgian, what can we do)). But black-piet is still part of the club (we took away the objects that remind to slavery: the golden earring and spanish-collar). Do you consider this still racism? Or is showing a black-man simply not possible?

If we continue to break down every fest that has roots in a dark (and incredibly sad) past we also need to take down christmas, easter and all the others because – lets face it – women can not become priests, gay people are not welcome there and there is a more than dark history there as well. Are you ready to do be consequent and do that as well? Because, after all, by celebrating christmas, you celebrate the church (where women and gay people have less rights than men).

Banning Sinterklaas would feel like banning christmas (just imagine). It goes further. Celebrating Sinterklaas makes me (us) racists in the eyes of a lot of people (I sense this judgement in what you write on your blog). Why doesn’t celebrating christmas make you a racist?

It’s not all black and white Mrs. Heller. Please always keep the nuance when you talk about Sinterklaas and Zwarte piet. Racism is an easy word to use. We are simply not letting go of Sinterklaas.

Hey Rachel, thank you for your response. Here my thoughts (I try to be as honest as possible, not hateful). The problems I still have:

1/ Christmas is celebrated at schools as well and their history is as dark as western-colonialism. My point was that Sinterklaas is becoming a neutral-fest as well (but I have a feeling you agree with that in what you write at the end of you answer).

2/ American people telling us what to do will always be annoying I’m afraid. We don’t need Thanksgiving, Halloween or whatever. We want to celebrate as our grandparents celebrated (and as their parents did it). Zwarte Piet will have new friends in all the colors because that is how it should be. Zwarte-piet, witte-piet, gele-piet, whatever. But banning him will not happen (his references to colonialism – earring/collar – will go, and they should- and will go). If you call us racists, please, take a closer look at your own american president before judging us.

Not all statements you made are true. Zwarte Piet is not played only by white people, also black people play black pete. In fact in Curaçao, predominantly black, they also celebrate Sinterklaas and Black Pete, and black people paint their face black as well. And black pete doesn’t act silly, their are different petes smart ones, athletes, so you picked out one to create a wrong context.

But the thing i’m most curious about, what do you think about santa’s elfs? They portray little and/or disabled people. What is different?

“American Indians” is also racist. So if you’re trying to lecture anyone in racism, at least don’t be a racist yourself. They’re called “Native Americans in the United States”.

Just wanted to correct you on the following statement: “This is true: the original Black Pete of a century or more ago was literally a slave”. This is not true: Black Pete was depicted as a Moorish slaver (that is, a slave trader), considering the story about being taken to Spain, and that the clothing is based on clothing of the same period was when the Spanish Moors kidnapped and traded Christian slaves.

Yes, Pete was/is a servant. And he’s (portrait) as black. So?
Does that mean you can never have black people as servants? So what if ablack person wants to work at Walmart? Does he starts his first day as general manager because nobody should be telling him what to do?
No, he starts at te bottom ladder, the servant…

Dear Rachel,
Thank you for presenting your view and the argument for examining and reconsidering this tradition. Traditions can be nourishing roots – and unfortunately choking vines too. I admire you responding to everyone in a courteous and productive way.

First thank you for your essay. Not easy to write I can definitely understand, and you certainly don’t need to celebrate Sinterklaas with Zwarte piet. None the less I do have some problems with this essay and hope either to change your mind or at least consider that Zwarte Piet is racism is not the one and only option to take.

“In November 2018, an anti-Pete group took their argument to court again, demanding that the Black Petes at this year’s intocht should not include any racist stereotyping. They demanded that no blackface should be allowed, and also no “sooty Petes” (Petes with smears of soot on their faces, which I’ll explain more later), earrings, curly black wigs, stupid or servile behavior.”

I don’t know your position on the views of the anti-pete crowd so I won’t judge you on this, but this tidbit of information has in sense proved an argument of mine which I hope to write about. My argument is that the debate of Zwarte Piet generally falls into two categories, and that opponents can’t reasonable use both arguments and claim to either keep Piet or say he is a slave character. The two arguments are A. Zwarte Piet= black face, and B. Zwarte Piet=slavery. In arguing for a. my argument is that the opponent is not against zwarte piet per se but more on his apperance aka he is a white man in black face, he has too big red lips, has big curly hair, acts dumb, wears gold earrings, etc. If the opponent argues a. he/she is not against zwarte piet and needs focus on the appearance. The anti-pete, however, is not arguing for a. and is arguing for b. wich is that he is a slave character. That they reject soot-piet(an option I’m not against, even if it is proven that zwarte piet is not racism) shows no changing of the appearance is going to statisfy them. Having a oranjie piet ain’t going to make this folks happy, and are what most dutch are actually afraid about. As is their name, they are against Pete.

“Many Dutch, however, refuse to accept the argument that Black Pete is a racist image.” I’m not dutch and I didn’t know what blackface was until this debate. Once again, is his look racist or is the character racist. If we just state he is a racist icon with no clarity or respectful and reasonable solutions, we get nowhere in this debate and deserve contempt.

“Yes, it is traditional. So was slavery. So was teaching boys to read and not girls. That doesn’t make it acceptable.”
Slavery is bad, because of how it went not merely because dark skinned got involved. Technically, work can be considered a form of slavery but with no whips :). Not sure how precise that only boys were taught to read and not girls, not that there is no examples but I don’t think it was as hideous as it appears with this statement.

“Just because you don’t mean it to be racist doesn’t mean it isn’t perceived that way.”
I can perceive a lot of things as offensive, and make any excuse to justify them. The question is asked, is Zwarte Piet ‘objectively’ racist ? So far it is answered as a assertion with little research and argument.

“This is one of the most common and lamest arguments I’ve heard. Does getting sooty turn your hair black and curly too? I don’t think so! And how come their clothes are so clean? One of the recent modifications to the tradition plays on this story: lately, we sometimes see white Petes (or whatever color the person actually is) with smears of soot on their faces: Sooty Petes. It still doesn’t solve the black curly hair, bright red lips, and clean clothing conundrum, but at least the soot smears match the story a bit better.”
How is a saint (by the power of the Holy Spirit I persume ;)) capable of living over a thousand years and still as act as man with out hip surgery? How is a horse capable to go across all roofs of Holland with out a beat or injury? How does Zwarte Piet capable of entering a chimney less house? Who pays Sinterklaas ? Endless problems with this tradition yet no complains about these ones.

Some people are born with curly black hair, carbon monoxide from soot causes red lips, and Zwarte Piet is a clean freak with his clothes. Problem solved! Black face paint is often used as well to disguise your face. Not the best response, I agree but certain not the lamest. And it is far older than !9th century too.

“This is true: the original Black Pete of a century or more ago was literally a slave, and he was stupid and spoke with a foreign accent in incorrect, choppy Dutch. ”

This is probably the most historically inaccurate statement you have made in this entire post, and very misleading. He was a never a slave under Sinterklaas. Have you checked the original 1850 images ? He may have acted very foolishly but no more foolish than any other funny character. And the mock surimanes dutch, like his more black face look was in the 60-70s. That is hardly a century and has been criticized by many pro-Zwarte piet supporters, and has much changed from that look and portrayal from that time.

“Of course, if you dressed Red Pete in red paint but then put an Indian headdress on his head, yes, that would be offensive!”
Why the sudden difference ? It is still a white guy portraying a minority ( or “person of color” whatever that means) in a servant-slave position under white guy according to the experts in the hate-Pete crowd. And why is wearing an American headdress and red paint suddenly a mortal sin ?

“Sinterklaas is just one specific person, who is portrayed as white. Black Petes are a category: all Black Petes are Sinterklaas’s silly servants, and they’re all black. No one will be offended that Sinterklaas is white, but we could certainly think about at least sometimes portraying him as dark-skinned. Saint Nicholas was from Turkey, after all, where people tend to be darker-skinned and darker-haired than here in Holland.”
All Sinterklaases are traditionally white and owned a black slave (apparently). We must get rid of him, like the statues in America. Not against your suggestion, but I don’t see how St.Nikolaus is able to avoid the guillotine.

“Blacks in Holland have recently written and spoken about how they have always felt when confronted by Black Petes at this time of the year: insulted, excluded, different.” Still have not seen yet how Zwarte Piet is racsime. So far assertions, straw mans, and more assertions. How does Zwarte Piet exclude blacks ? No one has answered this question. What about Sinterklaas who is a bigoted Roman Catholic bishop ? Shall we have a Muslim or Hindu Sinterklaas as well just make offended religious minorities happy ?

“What amazes me is how many of my Dutch friends and acquaintances have posted on Facebook in support of keeping the Zwarte Piet tradition. Why does this matter so much to them? Why does it matter if Black Petes turn into multi-colored Petes or sooty Petes? Why are they so defensive? The lady doth protest too much, methinks!”

Because they were raised with Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, and is a most cherished dutch tradition !!! What if someone said because rabbits was a term for black people in America you must get rid off them in Easter celebrations ? How bad it is for you, the dutch find at least 10 times worse. It’s not sooty piet or even multicolor piet that is the problem, its that you are excluding a person of color in the celebrations. Namely zwarte piet. And yet this article has not proven to me that Zwarte Piet is racist.

Sorry for the lengthy writing. I apologies if I make it seem like an attack on you. I only attack arguments and people who are worthy of it, and so far you have not demonstrate it and seem very reasonable, open about your thoughts, and are honest. I apologies for any true offense I might have cause, to you and the readers of this post. Thank you for reading.

The chimney story is nice for the children, but the real story differs. Black Pete was indeed a slave, but not as you see it. He was a slave bought free on the market of Myra where he was bishop. Out of gratitude black pete decided to help Sinterklaas as a friend. This is not racism, but a statement against racism. What if there was only 1 black pete ? Is it then still racist for you as one of your arguments is that Sinterklaas is an individual person ?

Sorry to hear that the above couldn’t persuade you. I didn’t expect them to change your position but hoped that it gave you something to think about.

Now for the responses 🙂 :
“You say that I can’t argue both arguments – that BP represents slavery and that BP represents blackface. I sure can! BP evolved from servile (slave-like, if not actually enslaved) who couldn’t speak correct Dutch, to a comic character. ”
Actually you can’t. If slavery=racism=evil, then having any depiction of a slave of any color is going to offend everyone and must then be removed. Can’t change his position either. If the problem is his portrayal, then corrections can be made to make zwarte piet either less offensive or more favorable (if he is too much the clown and some dark-skinned people take offense at that, then give him some noble attributes and let Sinterklaas make some mistakes from time to time). You can still add other types of piet’s but keep zwarte piet.

“Include Piet, but change Piet into a comical PERSON, not a comical BLACK person. That just means no blackface, no thick red lips and no curly black hair (unless the person has natural curly black hair). Why is that such a problem?”
What is the problem of having a comical black person. Cant dark-skinned people not be jolly or make people laugh ? I agree with balancing out his character and avoid making zwarte piet a delinquent and a moron, but what is the problem with having a black comical person ?

“Blacks feel insulted and excluded from the celebration. You say that that doesn’t prove racism. Really? Of course it does. Why isn’t that enough?” But are they excluded ? Just because I may feel that way doesn’t mean it is so. Then any thing can be insulting to some self-established minority class because their feelings are hurt. Who claims that zwarte piet is what black people are ? Do all Roman Catholics cry out because Sinterklaas is a supposed stereotype of a Roman Catholic. Of course not, because he is not and was never one in the beginning. Yes, he is one guy but his look has not changed. Zwarte piet was originally one guy. He may be a black person with supposed stereotypical features but he does not represent the black community nor is he a stereotype of black people. He is simply a character with black or dark skin.

“Your argument, taken to its full extent, would eliminate any portrayal of anyone at all ever. Every portrayal of a person in theater, film, whatever is going to have a particular skin color. That’s not usually offensive (There are cases where it is, but I won’t get into that.) It’s offensive that pretty much ALL Black Piets are white people in blackface acting out a stereotyped image.” Hey, I thought I was the one trying to keep the tradition of zwarte piet ! I’m simply following your argument, not mine.
Doesn’t matter if there is only one Sinterklaas. He is always portrayed as an old white rich guy who is a saint (and in later periods a Roman Catholic). He makes black people feel that they can neither be rich, grow old, be a saint or a Roman Catholic, wise, or good. Yes, if we must follow the path of PC then we must get rid of all stereotypical characters. Why is that so hard to do ? No one gets offend or upset, except those white supremacist minorities. Or is Sinterklaas just a character, who like Zwarte Piet, is neither intended to be discriminatory nor is a stereotype of any culture or “race”.

“It’s offensive that pretty much ALL Black Piets are white people in blackface acting out a stereotyped image.” Nothing prevents dark-skinned people to play the part. You living in Europe, where at least 75% are pale in skin colour. You are either a racist for not having people of “color” (whatever that means) in the celebrations or a racist for having people of “color” in the celebrations. But once again you have wonderfully demonstrated my point that the real problem is the portrayal of zwarte piet, and not that he is a racist character.

Fine, then I will argue no more. I agree we have come to the point where we are talking past each other. I will respect your judgement (though not happy with your position) and will leave it at that. Sorry to have disturbed you and hope for the best.

Thank you for considering my comments and taking the time to respond.

De Tinker

Here is my final response (on this page anyway). This from different site (not mine) but hope it may be able for you to understand the other position. Here is the link: https://www.sinterklaasmijnhobby.nl/zwarte-piet-is-geen-racisme.
It is in dutch (I suggest using google translate if you are not too fluent, that feature is awesome when coming to foreign languages). Not sure about all the arguments but it will give you something to think about.

I think the issue we are facing is that the western world is largely influenced by the American culture, where racism is a very recent and even a still largely present issue. A lot of the people who are against black Pete have not grown up celebrating Sinterklaas, and I think have also not taken the effort to learn something about the history or meaning of it either. Instead, they depict their own colonial / racist world views on other cultures, looking for racism where there is none, and looking for a reason to play the victim of society.

That does not mean there are no racist people in the Netherlands. Of course there are, as there are in every country or culture (and certainly not limited to European cultures). The Netherlands have obviously played a role in the slave trade of the 17th and 18th century. Although this might or might not have had some influence on the appearance, it has nothing to do with the origin of black Pete, nor with the meaning of it.

Black Pete does not portray an African person, but is a mythical character of which the history extends back to even before the Romans brought Christianity to Northern Europe. When Christianity arrived to Europe, old Pagan rituals were kept but linked to Christian events or saints (Sol Invictus was celebrated on December 25th for example).

This is when the predecessor of black Pete became the demonic counterpart of the holy saint Nicholas. His role for the last centuries has been scaring the children and kidnapping the bad ones during Sinterklaas. As the good ones get gifts this has a great pedagogic value.

There have been multiple (regional) variations in the appearance over the last centuries, some of which had black masks rather than painted faces, and others, mostly further back in history, had more demonic features such as a chain or horns. If you look at Père Fouettard in France, Knecht Ruprecht in Germany and Krampus in Austria you’ll see the shared origin and meaning. Father Christmas was depicted with the same items including a chain in the past as well.

Painting ones face black has been done in the entire world for centuries before the African American slave trade began. Using charcoal was simply the easiest way to conceal a persons face. It is also done at other festivals such as Border Morris in Wales, São Vicente in Cape Verde or Hajji Firuz in Iran for example.

The simple fact that a fictional character is black does not make it racist. Calling black Pete racist is the same as calling the existence of Christmas elves racist towards short people. If black Pete was truly racist it would not be celebrated on Curacao, where the colored people actually paint their faces white to play Sinterklaas. Would this then be racist towards white people?

The fact that some people are hurt, feel insulted, in short the fact that people are having a negative emotional reaction to the practices of another group within a society is NOT a valid argument to ban that pratice. Following that logic, any protest against literally anything could potentially lead to more censorship. In a free society that has free speech as an inalienable core value, this would set a dangerous precedent.
HOWEVER, free speech is not the only core value of a free society aspiring to treat all citizens equally, refusing to instate a system in which there are second-class people who labour under the lashes of their betters.
It is clear in the case of the Zwarte Piet that no soot or chimney may account for his depiction – a very racist depiction of a black person, a caricature of a man. As such, it is clear, when placed in the context of the time at which this story was produced, that Zwarte Piet is a servant barely deserving human traits. A similar example in France was the depiction of a Black man on Banania’s chocolate powder a few decades back.
The categorization of subset of citizens is abhorrent and should be rejected when examining the values of modern societies – especially in democracies. A change in the story is therefore very much needed.
But an appeal to emotions is the worst way to defend this position.
Thank you for reading me.
From France,
ΔXY

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