Zwarte Piet: To be or not to be…black

After much anticipation, Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten have arrived in the country this weekend from Spain.  As images of Piet’s black face and comically exaggerated features have turned up just about everywhere, and both excitement and rage emerge in discussions of the topic, the Zwarte Piet debate has come to reflect more than just  impressions of a children’s character.  We’re talking about extreme nationalism and the silencing and oppression of communities of color.  Feelings of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are certainly present year-round.  Zwarte Piet simply brings much of it to the surface.

I’ve been somewhat obsessively reading and talking about Zwarte Piet for the better part of this year. And I would describe the most common reactions to be defensive and dismissive.  “It’s a Dutch tradition. Why should it change?” Or, “you’re looking at this from an American perspective. We don’t have that type of racism here.” And, “you have no right to challenge a Dutch tradition. You’re not even from here.” And of course, “you have offended me for implying that this tradition has anything to do with race. This is your problem, not mine.”  What these conversations lack in charm, they certainly make up for in enlightenment.

What I find most revealing is that people simply do not know the troubling history of Zwarte Piet.  Attributing the tradition to something that happened hundreds of years ago, entirely separate from the practices of blackface and minstrelsy that rose to popularity in other parts of the world in the nineteenth century, the practice of painting one’s face black and playing the role of a servant is seen in the Netherlands as a harmless coincidence of similarity to those racist traditions, at best.

But as it turns out, Piet has ancestry in other parts of the world, from a cruel and angry period of the nineteenth century – not as long ago as many believe.  Giving people the benefit of the (increasing) doubt, I’d like to think that, with knowledge of Piet’s history, most Dutch people would no longer joyfully embrace an annual tradition that has them celebrate and embody the character who so vividly reminds the rest of us of his hateful roots.

Sinterklaas with a young Piet, 19th century. Source: http://radionetherlands.nl

I think the most important, though challenging way to approach the discussion is to focus on why the tradition brings up reminders of hatred, discrimination, and dehumanization, rather than the feelings alone.  For those feelings to matter, I guess I’m just asking Dutch people to care.

Piet’s Roots

The story of Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, dates back to the 16th century.  In the earliest renditions of the story, Sinterklaas represented two sides: good and evil, or the saint and the devil, with the contrasted aspect of his persona described as his “dark side.”  Some argue that the devil side of Sinterklaas was transformed into a black person in Dutch society following the 16th century, coinciding with the extensive Dutch involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas, eventually becoming the character of Sinterklaas’ servant or companion, Zwarte Piet.   And many attribute the development of Sinterklaas’ black counterpart to a school teacher and children’s book author, Jan Schenkman, who first portrayed a nameless black man alongside Sinterklaas in his 1845/1850 book, Sinterklaas and his Servant.  At that time in the Netherlands, although slavery was not legal, some of the wealthiest people had black “servants,” whom served as status symbols, especially when they were kept well-dressed.  Sinterklaas was certainly important enough to warrant having his own dapper servant.

Sinterklaas with servant. Source: http://www.historyextra.com

From Servant to Minstrel

So when first imagined, the black servant had no name.  And from what I can tell, it seems he was portrayed without any exaggerated features.   But by the time he was named Pieter, around 1890, his physical appearance and personality began to mirror the comic portrayal of black people in other parts of the world.

"De Goede Sint" Source: http://www.rnw.nl

Although the display of blackness for the enjoyment of white audiences was not new, minstrelsy rose to new heights of popularity in the U.S. in the nineteenth century, with performances involving crude and hateful stereotyping of black people.  Typically their faces were covered with burnt cork to appear very black, their lips were exaggerated with red or white make-up, and they wore wooly, black wigs, tailcoats or tattered clothing, and gloves.  Actors in blackface typically behaved comically, with a jolly attitude, frequently dancing, singing, and speaking in broken English. Perhaps because people were curious about blackness and black people, the popularity of American blackface spread throughout Europe and other parts of the world.

Black and White Minstrel Show, 1958 (Britain). Source: http://www.sterlingtimes.org

Also at that time, the Dutch empire was a lasting colonial power that had played a prominent role in the slave trade and slavery for centuries.  Due to their presence in a global community of dominating white Europeans and Americans, the Dutch inevitably were affected by the globalization of this racist imagery.  So although black people may have been uncommon and largely unknown in the Netherlands, for the sake of entertainment, they were imagined just as Americans portrayed them.

The early appeal of blackface imagery in the Netherlands wasn’t limited to Piet.  It can be seen in the portrayal of black characters in children’s books in the late 19th and well into the 20th century: 

Tien kleine nikkertjes (translation: Ten little niggers), author unknown, ca. 1910. Source: http://www.kb.nl

Oki en Doki bij de nikkers (translation: Oki and Doki with the niggers), by Henri Arnoldus, 1957. Source: http://www.kb.nl

Het ABC voor Holland's kleintjes met 156 plaatjes (translation: The ABCs for Holland’s children with 156 pictures), by Daan Hoeksema, 1923. Translation: N is a Nigger, who is as black as soot. Source: http://www.kb.nl

Not much effort is required to see the resemblance between these characters and the beloved Piet.  Perhaps the only difference is these characters would no longer be acceptable in Dutch (or any) society.

Not Black. Just…Dirty?

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Piet hasn’t evolved much.  In spite of movements throughout the world to do away with offensive portrayals of blackness, the Netherlands is one of the few places (though certainly not the only) to resist progressive change.  Piet’s subservient role, clownish personality, exaggerated features, and blackness remain the same. In fact, today Piet’s blackness is arguably his most important and unchangeable characteristic.

But here’s the tricky part: at some point, Dutch people did become more aware of the offensive nature of Piet’s depiction as a black man (perhaps 30 or 40 years ago).  Somewhere around then the explanation of his blackness changed from his race to mere circumstance – chimney soot.  You see, nowadays Piet isn’t really a black guy.  He’s actually very likely a white guy who has the dirty job of going down chimneys, which covers his face in soot (perhaps this will remind you of the picture above – “N is a Nigger, who is as black as soot”).

But now I just think you’re telling me that a black man’s appearance is equivalent to that of a dirty white man, whose lips have turned red, and whose hair has grown curly, and whose clothes remain clean. And you’re telling me you think I’m stupid.  While the chimney soot story allows Dutch people to feel comfortable with the depiction of the character as black, his actual black ancestry remains undeniable.

And Now…

Well, I think globalization should work both ways.  If you adopt the practices of another culture, you must also inherent the meaning and history of those practices.  Although challenging the tradition of Zwarte Piet appears to many as a threat to a Dutch identity and culture, perhaps the real fear is of an awareness that Dutch society is indeed deeply immersed in the same history of racism and discrimination that has plagued the rest of the world.  And that admission would mean bursting a post-racial bubble.

The claims of ignorance can’t last forever.  At some point marginalized voices must be heard.  But whether the education will be worthwhile over emphatic cries of a national identity remains to be seen.  My personal hope is that those of us who object to Zwarte Piet will not lower our expectations of Dutch people, and persist in efforts to question, educate, and eventually eradicate the troubling tradition.

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84 thoughts on “Zwarte Piet: To be or not to be…black

  1. Dana,
    You are too young to remember Little Black Sambo, which was a popular children’s storybook when I was a child. I remember all the hoopla when Black folks began to object to the book, and white Americans took the same posture you describe: all in fun, harmless, you’re being overly sensitive, etc. It took years for him to disappear.

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  2. May I suggest you organize and fight fire with fire. Next year when the Black Pete imagery rears its ugly head, you and a bunch of friends should put together your own saint nickalaus and the black petes float for the parades. Although make Saint Nick a powerful black man, and the pete’s all black people in whiteface and wigs, with some stupid stereotype being projected, like public drunkeness, “slutiness”, trashiness, or whatever offends Dutch people. The idea is to get people to re-examine what’s socially responsible and acceptable, especially when kids are watching.

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    • An eye for an eye! hmm sound familiar…you intentially propose to provoke people and offend them suggesting that this is the same as ‘normal’ zwarte pieten. That really demonstrates you don’t understand this issue. I think it would be racist to make the zwarte pieten another color, it would show that blackness is bad and you can’t copy it. If these guys were Chinese pieten, or tall pieten, or big-nosed pieten, or red-haired pieten there wouldnt be a problem, but now they are black, some oversensitive people go mad. Come over here with carnaval when we all dress up silly, then you have something to be sensitive about. You might be applauded for dressing up slutty or trashy though 😉

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  3. The real underlying story with zwarte piet lies in the connection of the Netherlands to Spain. In the national song of the Netherlands theres that line that says “We also hail King Philip II of Spain”, and the story of Sinterklaas is that he’s a bishop from Turkey that sails from Spain to the Netherlands with his “helpers”. Spain (and most Southern Europe) was under rule right up till just before the days of Columbus by the Moors. So it is my belief that Zwarte piet is a sambo version of the Black Moors, who in reality, helped bring civilization to the European continent.

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  4. Well Dana,

    too hostile to the single most popular black fictional character in the Dutch public consciousness, no attention for the rather positive portrayals of characters showing that kind of exaggerated negroid features (Flop and the original Sjimmie), too much looking abroad (if we trace the Dutch St. Nicholas celebration by going back in time, we will loose the bishop figure way before the black face paint, but you are correct that the current make up is clearly indicating a Sub-Saharan person, quite often even forgoing the traditional BLACK), and completely forgetting that Dutch people tend to really love Zwarte Piet. The history of the color scheme is an interesting topic in itself, and I guess that I have seen it used in some works of art predating the blackface shows. Furthermore, you fail to split up the Zwarte Piet phenomenon in its many manifestations.
    Too little exposition about the nature of the problem, and much too hostile, in my opinion.
    NEVERTHELESS, a well written exposition, but I would advise you not to attack Pete, but to take his side, and to defend him. Defend him against lies about his origin not fully Dutch, combining Dutch tradition, Dutch fantasy and most important of all Dutch, exploitation of black slaves for centuries. I grant you, that he may not be the ideal powerfantasy for black children, but there are so few already, don’t harm this one, restore him to his full power, his dignity, his history. If Dutch history teaches one thing, it is that the St.Nicholas celebration cannot be stopped, and “Zwarte Piet” is a phenomenon which may even be more important than St. Nicholas and may well be unremovable, but it can be CHANGED!

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  5. Take his side and defend him? How do you possibly defend something that offends? “It’s ok folks, calm down, the white people really love the black man, which is why they dress up in the most stereotypical, offensive image known to black people. It’s only out of love!” This logic is why domestic violence is a reality too. I only punched you in the face and broke your jaw because you fill my heart with joy.

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  6. Daz, the average Dutch person, is about as willing to abandon Zwarte Piet as to abandon the monarchy, if not less so… Attack Zwarte Piet, and you ARE an enemy of the Dutch soul, mind, culture, family and economy. Attack a way Piet is portrayed, to greater glory of Piet and you may get somewhere.Tell people how to give greater glory, greater respect, more authenticity to the character and they may very well listen…

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  7. Daz, this is what happens to people trying to follow your model of action. Those parades are NOT free for every comer, cops are always present and causing a disturbance on an event with many little children will get you this reaction by the police.

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    • Teddy, this video is of a friend who was arrested, along with three others on Saturday (more were arrested on Sunday) for peacefully protesting at Sinterklaas’ arrival. What you don’t see is that he was also pepper-sprayed by the police. Their protest was simply to wear a shirt that reads, “Zwarte Piet is Racisme.” What this video shows is a shocking lack of freedom of speech, and a greater intolerance in the Nethlerlands than I realized existed. It should be a source of shame for this country. I would say this regardless of my position in this argument.

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      • I’m not surprised at all that he is a friend of yours, I rather came to suspect that.
        Freedom of speech does not extend to yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre, and I am afraid that the self described behaviour of the activists, came very close to that, in the opinion of the police, . Though it is an opinion, one is free to have and share, expressing it there is asking for trouble, it is brave they did so, and the police may have overreacted, pepperspray really sounds like they did, but looking at it from the point of crowd control, they had a reason to remove your friend.
        I hope everything is well with him again.

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  8. It sounds like you are trying to tell the Dutch that the custom they’re so used to is offensive, while they seem to miss to see the real issue.
    Being Dutch myself, I realise my bias but, reading this, have really tried to see things from your perspective.

    To state the obvious, there are black people in the Netherlands. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a soul to complain about this. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue but it’s an indication that we, the Dutch, don’t perceive it as such. There have been complaints about other such issues. These made the national news, were discussed on the streets and amongst politicians and have been resolved (re-naming of a biscuit to name an example). The Dutch are somewhat renowned for not beating around the bush and that’s not limited to social talk. We talk about these things as there is simply no taboo regarding these issues. We know our history, realise the terrible things our ancestors have done with regard to slavery, etc. and have decided to put that behind us and respect each other as human beings. What else can you do?

    It’s a guy helping an old man do what he can’t himself because of his age: handing out presents to kids. That’s the current version and the colour is simply no issue. For all we care it’s green instead of black.

    I’ve also recently heard a South-African friend respond with a ‘you paint a white guy black, can you do that?!’ He comes from a country/culture where race is a big issue, as do you. Both SA and the USA may be on the right track and slowly changing their ways but there’s still a lot wrong with the system. To name an example: one in six black Americans is in jail. That can’t be right.
    These sorts of issues are far less pronounced here in our society (so as to avoid denying there’s any racial issue here: there’s always a bad seed to be found here and there, unfortunately).

    To sum it up, I can’t help but feel you’re fighting a cause that stems from your (cultural) beliefs, not ours. That doesn’t make either of us right or wrong but please consider these differences.
    One of the perks of being Dutch is that, no matter where you find yourself in the world, we’re generally welcomed as a tolerant and open-minded people. I like to think that’s for a reason 🙂
    If you’re still here and up for a cup of coffee, I’d be happy to meet you.

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    • Martin, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I don’t think it should be necessary for any number of people to complain before a cultural practice, which was originally intended to mock an entire race of people, should be questioned. Let’s say a black person never stepped foot in the Netherlands – this should not entitle the Dutch to do and say whatever it is they feel about black people.To a certain degree, shouldn’t we consider ourselves members of a global community, in which we have basic levels of respect for each other?

      But more importantly, people are and have been challenging Zwarte Piet. In previous years, they have been met with such aggressive resistance that the movements have had much success. This year, however, I am seeing an energy that may persist until a difference is made. You can see more about it here: http://zwartepietisracisme.tumblr.com/.

      And I wish it were true that Piet’s color didn’t matter. But for some reason, his blackness is most important to those defending the tradition. If we could change Zwarte Piet to just Piet, with no racial identity, and certainly no faces painted, we would no longer have any problems!

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    • Martin,

      If race wasn’t such an issue, you and the rest of your fellow Dutchmen would have no problem making Zwarte Pete a little elf, or some racially neutral (green) colored man like we have in America and other politically correct nations that celebrate “St. Nick” and his helpers that reward good kids for the holidays. I mean, it serves two fold, it would stop the insensitivity complaints from all Dutch citizens, except for the martians among you, and your practices wouldn’t come under scrutiny to the world’s eye. Secondly, it would put the focus back on that pimp St. Nick giving the goodies away to the small kids. I mean, really, the thought of a small, black midget covered in chimney soot sneaking into my house at night to drop something into my shoe is frightening. However, the absurdity of the idea is somehow eased at the thought of a small, alien being doing the same gesture to my shoe, after all..well they’re aliens!

      And teddy, I want to give you a bit of video history of what happens to African-Americans that challenge social inequality and injustices here too:

      The only difference in Americans and Dutch folk, is our beatings then made change to be possible now.

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      • Yes, that is the difference, our beatings then caused change then.

        Let me get this right you prefer a fictional fay over a fictional Afro-Caribbean? Why? Don’t you like Afro-Caribbean folks? Sounds pretty racist to me.

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      • Word. Thanks, Danny. Let’s hope we don’t need more police force in the Netherlands to create a more conscious public. I see a passionate movement emerging. This type of change may be late. But I don’t believe it’s impossible.

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    • I am a black american, living in germany and it was afro-dutch people who turned me onto this, and they were very offended but fear reprisal. not cool and makes me look at the country with a different eye.

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  9. Oh come on Teddy, you don’t know what happened there. Posting a video of a black man being arrested by the police is of no relevance. Just because something suggestive is on youtube doesn’t mean he wasn’t violent, drunk, high on something, etc.
    Also, the monarchy has been a continuing point of debate here for years, with heaps of people suggesting we abandon it.

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  10. It is worrysome that such custums from past era’s get incorporated into society and remain, even though things have changed (for the better). I agree with you that these customs should not be seen as totally detached from their previous implicit meanings, even more so because these past meanings still have very real consequences today.

    Besides, I don’t think anyone can claim that it is an innocent custom for sure. Zwarte Piet always is clumsy and makes dumb mistakes, he is a stereotype if there ever was one. What are the results of this massively enjoyed stereotyping in society at large?

    I too can confirm that this custom is seen as something completely innocent, the thought of racism did never even cross my mind. The very least that should be done is to raise awareness of the more thorny sides of the issue. I don’t think I can join the debate you organised, but I assume you don’t mind me sharing this blog on facebook. Lets get this discussion out this pocket into the all encompasing public space :).

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    • Exactly! It’s great to hear your thoughts on this. And by all means, please share. Let’s make use of both our weak and strong ties to impact the public consciousness.

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  11. What is an Afro-Caribbean? Is that something different from a Loc-Caribbean, or a Mohawk-Caribbean? I’m not against hairstyles on people. I say let the kids express themselves! But seriously Martin, I don’t know if it’s just your lack of grasping the english language or if you are really just that insensitive about issues offensive to black people. I don’t label you a Shaggy-Mullet-Dutchman. What continent is AfrOca?

    ^^ —– Afro

    Buffoonery —————————-vv

    I’m not a racist, I’m a buffoonerist. I am against buffoonery everywhere, whether you are as rich as Steve Harvey or as poor as Zwarte Piet’s many blackface-painted white citizens. I think you are misunderstanding the whole point here. We aren’t saying that it’s wrong to have white people dressed up in black face in jest because its insensitive to African-Americans or Americans, we’re saying it’s insensitive, period.com.

    I sometimes catch myself laughing at the mentally handicap, but you wont find me at a Special Olympics driving a short yellow bus in mocking fashion. I don’t necessarily agree with the lifestyle choices of my G&L friends and family, but you don’t see me joining the westboro church to picket them.

    For you to claim cultural beliefs as your defense to the racial insensitivity promulgated by your people and your government, is well, rude and retarded. A cultural belief is whale meat is delicious and nutrious. A cultural disbelief is that its ok for white people to parade around town with chimney plunging slaves in search of wooden shoes. C’mon man!

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  12. This is a party for children too young to understand the concept of racism full stop. Children are exited to see the zwarte pieten, who provide sweets and are funny. Look, black people are black, and white people are white, who cares so let’s stop being overly sensitive.

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  13. Afro- is an indication for population groups descended of the AFRican victims of the trans-atlantic slave trade, and the occasional EuROpean rapist or so. For some reason the number of fantastic, mythic, legendary heroes belonging to such groups is small, too small if you ask me, Zwarte Piet has the potential to be such a figure, all the character needs is a few good writers, a couple of good actors perhaps, and above all a good way to get rid of the myriad of doppelgangers.A desmurfication of the character, so to say.

    Who are those slaves you are talking about and whose slaves are they? Piet has always been” probably an ex-slave”, not unakin to Uncle Remus. For your information, the Netherlands seems to be the country where the ANIMATED characters from Song of the Southis currently most popular. Currently to be understood as the last 30 years or so…

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  14. Exactly Sinterklaas. Exactly the point you are missing. The children are too young to understand the concept of racism, yet they are force fed an unhealthy stereotype of degrading adult (and child) black faces giving them treats. Why not surround Sinterklaas with a bunch of drugged out scantily clad prostitutes that are providing sweet candies to the kids? If it’s all about the treats, it shouldn’t matter who delivers it to the kids, right? There is nothing wrong with the images placed in front of the kids as long as no one gets hurt. Tell that to your precious 5 year old, blonde haired, blue eyed baby girl who will remember the sweet memories of Stripper Sally and how its acceptable in society to be an exotic dancer when shes of age.

    Now place yourself in the shoes of little 5 year old Tyronne, an innocent Dutch boy of African decent. How great it is to see the joys of a stumbling, bumbling, joking white man painted up to look like you, not to honor, but to poke fun and bring joy to the “masses” or “massuhs”. If Tyronne grows up and is a burden on Dutch society by stumbling, bumbling, and joking around in life and not working, you should only look to blame this cultural difference you speak so fondly of. It’s never a problem until it involves something very near to you. You guys may not see racism as a big issue as say, religious intolerance is in your country. But for the same reasons why you shouldnt burn a koran at a pep rally, is why parading around in black face is bad. And no, its not because one leads to an angry militant with explosives on his back charging into a town square. It’s humiliating to those that you are mocking for joy.

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    • Daz, you must be American to react in such a strong way. I saw a sinterklaar parade last week, and there were plenty of black Suriname-Dutch people, and their kids, waving at the parade and enjoying themselves. This is not about prostitutes, this is not about racism, not about burning korans, this is part of our little cosy culture that we cherish. So please keep you evil world ideas away from this.

      Besides, racism is thankfully not such a huge part of our lives here. So little Tyronne should just do well at school, have equal apportunities, and grow up succesfully so he can organize the parade in say, 20 years from now 🙂

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    • Please don’t drag religious intolerance into this Daz, that’s a whole different subject. For good measure I’d like to add it’s a minority of people who are responsible for that. Unfortunately, only the ones that scream loudest seem to be heard by the media.

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      • So Martin really does have a heart and conscience! I figured if I touched on enough intolerances in society, one of them may push your care button. While on the surface it may appear to be a different subject, at the heart of the matter its still the same. Some people are insensitive to things that effect other people’s lives, and we all should take care to balance that which effects us and them.

        People being killed for being Muslim over there, is the same effect of people being hung in trees over here for simply being black. To add insult to injury, the same images you project as a noble cause with white people in blackface over there, are the same images that are used to promote humiliation, racism, and negative inferior stereotypes about black people in the rest of the world outside of the Netherlands apparently.

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      • In my opinion Schenkman created Piet, the companion of the saint, as a completely regular human being, who just happened to be black, as in negro or Sub-Saharan-African, as a replacement, a counter, rather than a continuation of the mystical black of the Seasonal rites, Einheriar, Wodan’s ravens, devils, bogeymen and all that. Piet is intended to be a modern man, just with a better skin than most of the readers. To us it does not sound very modern anymore,but taking into account that by the time Schenkman created Piet, the end of slavery in the United states and the Dutch colonies was still in the future, we may reconsider his meaning, was he intended to create more goodwill for our captive black brothers and sisters? Is he not, to a very great extent, a Dutch equivalent of Uncle Tom, perhaps not showing the horrors of slavery, but indeed, the humanity of black man,but abused to such an extent by white supremacists, that some black people, consider them as offensive? Hard to determine.

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      • Daz, why do you feel you have to take an approach where you suggest I don’t care about racism? Of course I do. I have never denied there’s such a thing as racism either, nor do I push American buttons to try and make you see another side of things. You just don’t seem to be willing to accept the fact that there’s people that don’t share your views. Apparently, not sharing your view on the world makes the rest ..well, wrong?

        What I’m trying to explain to you is that race isn’t related to modern-day Sinterklaas celebrations. I’m trying to explain to you the fact that all colours and races are present at these parades and these kids, their parents and grandparents are enjoying themselves. Apparently, they are all wrong.
        I’m not trying to ignore there’s four people in the crowd of thousands, who are wearing a T-shirt telling people they don’t agree with how things are. That’s only indicative of how the majority of people view the matter.

        Again, I’m not suggesting we don’t listen to those who object. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t change things. I’m suggesting you take home that we, the Dutch, generally are not too bothered about race, colour, sexual orientation, gender, income, eye-colour, etc. There is no racial component to Sinterklaas for the vast, vast majority of Dutchies. You could just as easily argue these helpers are heroes because they selfishly help an old man do what he loves most but, because of his old age, can no longer do himself: hand out presents to kids. An example to all, really.

        It’s not uncommon for black people to play the part of Piet, wearing the wig and all. Why not? Allow me to clarify this one more time: it is not meant to be degrading in any way and people clearly don’t perceive it as such (why in the world would they play the part if they would).

        One more time: I’m not saying we shouldn’t debate this. We should listen to the people who feel offended. But keep in mind you’re telling us we’re doing something wrong. That stems from your beliefs, coming from a country that had racist laws on a large scale up to the sixties and where so many are still openly racist. Still a pretty touchy subject amongst lots of Americans. Not so much over here. Walk in Dutch shoes before you judge? It’s not about making fun of stereotyped black men.

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      • I am going to put my shoe in front of the shimney now with a big fat carrot for the schimmel, a drawing for zwarte piet, and a request for sinterklaas to put me in zwarte piets bag, so he can take me to Spain; the winter has arrived and it;s getting cold! 🙂

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  15. Kids who still ‘believe’ (in Sinterklaas) are very young and are surrounded by kids of all colours in our multicultural society. Both at school and in life outside of school. If anything, they consider this completely normal and are taught it doesn’t matter what colour you are, what language you speak, what religion you practice, etc.
    It’s also not about the stereotypes that were mentioned before: being clumsy has been part of entertaining people since well before Laurel and Hardy. There is NO association to race, colour, hairdo, being gay or straight, male or female etc.

    Like Sinterklaas mentioned: little Tyronne will have the exact same opportunities as any other child. The Dutch didn’t have racist laws until the sixties, we don’t have one in six of black citizens in jail (compared to about a percent of the total population), etc. Race / colour isn’t the touchy subject it is in the states. Besides, people like Dave Chappelle make fun of stereotypical white men every chance he gets. Should every white man in the world be offended?
    Please understand your views don’t necessarily apply to other cultures.

    For good measure: I’d like to add I’m not a racist and I’d be absolutely fine with painting them any other colour. I’ve also posted a link to zwartepietisracisme.tumblr.com on my facebook page to spark some debate (and it has).

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  16. To be honest, I’ve lost track of the comments. So I’m not sure I’m responding to anyone in particular. But a few things to mention:

    1) The kids. Yeah, this is a holiday for children. And the children seem to care the least about whether or not Zwarte Piet is black. In fact, I’ve seen some children cry at the sight of the Pieten. So when we say we must maintain the tradition in the best interest of the children, what we’re really saying is the tradition must be maintained for the adults to remember their childhood. This is an issue for adults to resolve. The children will be happy either way.

    2) Racism. It’s here. It’s very present. Considering disparities in education (although it’s technically supposed to be equal, an alarmingly low number of black students attend University – as I’m the only one in most of my classes) and professional opportunities (are black people fairly represented in executive and political positions here?), as well as the segregation of black communities (de Bijlmer?), I don’t see how it can be denied.

    But if we just take the response to Piet’s challengers, I see a complete disregard for the voices and experiences of black people. Black people say something is hurtful, offensive, and antiquated. You may not experience the feelings of degradation yourself (of course, as a white Dutch person you wouldn’t). But why are these feelings immediately presumed invalid or irrelevant? The marginalization of minority perspectives is the norm. At what point will their perspective matter…even when you may not have experienced it yourself?

    3) Piet isn’t based on a racist image of black people? Well, this was the whole point of the post. Dutch people (along with the rest of the western world) clearly historically have degraded and dehumanized black people. I don’t think that can or should be up for debate. And the image of Piet emerged during the time when black people were not seen as equal. Not seen as human. How could we possibly be okay with being portrayed in that way then…much less still, in 2011? I know it seems American because our struggles against racism and racist imagery have been quite vocal. But it’s relevant and affects black people absolutely everywhere.

    4) Black people also like Piet. Yeah, some do. Of those I have spoken to, they have grown up with Piet, equally ignorant of his origins as most white Dutch people are. This is a clear example of when ignorance is bliss. Brainwashing and self-hatred may be the unfortunate consequences. One black woman I spoke to said, “oh, why would a black man want to paint his face black to be even blacker like Piet? He’s already so ugly?” Enjoying the parade? Perhaps. But I would say she is dealing with far greater issues related to her identity. Perhaps this is a topic for another post.

    5) I guess the response that confuses me the most is that we should be happy that Piet is black. I just genuinely don’t understand. Do people believe that Piet’s image is flattering? Like this is somehow a tribute, or worse, an accurate depiction of blackness? Black people don’t look like Zwarte Piet. We certainly don’t act like that. And we are certainly capable of holding positions in society beyond “servant.” So no, Piet is by no means a champion for black people. I want nothing to do with him.

    6) Thanks for the (mostly) respectful discussion. Even if we don’t agree, I consider fair discussion an approach to progress. And Martin, thank you for sharing the Racisme site. It’s great that people have an opportunity to see and hear an opposing view.

    Cheers!

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  17. 1) Piet is important, in many ways. Without Piet a lot of fun would die too. On the other hand, I do agree that by multiplication, overuse, smurfication and all, the Piet presence levels can be reduced a lot, I like Piet in the shadows, the idea of an immortal, good natured, former slave, having been given the power to select the bad ones from the homeland of his former masters on unseen ninja-style recon missions, and after the non obstat of some sort of god of lovers, prisoners, thieves, prostitutes, Amsterdam, Russia and other things to grab them, bag them, ship them, work them and even sell them (the latter is rare), being somewhere out there in the night, has a sort of beauty. That’s Piet as I like him. There can be only ONE Piet or you are very much right. (insert offensive word of choice to replace “very much”, in case you want to know how much).
    2) True, in my time at grammar school we only had ONE black student, the asians were more common. If what I heard on TV is correct it may be partly caused by a combination of unfamiliarity with schools and the school system, and a bad financial starting position.Money is a vile thing, but it helps. Wouldn’t want to call that racism, though. Rather something like “mismanagement of fresh human resources”. Take into consideration that though the Netherlands is fairly black for a European country, the black part of the population is only about a quarter(roughly) of its US counterpart, so in a random group of say, 30, people you would indeed have a fair chance of being the only one without suspecting some sort of selection.

    5) I am interested in greater than life figures, Doc Savage, Zorro and Santa, Superman, Spider-Man, Hercules, Wonder Woman, the ones who are not limited to a format or a story. Black ones are rare among then, I consider Piet as such a character based on its near infinite number of appearances, not all stored of course. I see Piet as a black champion, but not necessarily as a champion of black people, rather not actually. OK, he might be somewhat of a token negro in that set, but it works in stories.
    I come from the region which has provided about half of the Dutch folklore (as in traditional stories and such), so I value it primarily as a recurring character in stories, not as an image. I would not mind seeing him much less, and if seen as sihouette rather than as Ebony White squared. But as a character it has about 160 years of history and I consider the history and the character thus as valuable.

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  18. http://www.meertens.knaw.nl/cms/nl/nieuwsbriefteksten/nieuwsbriefuitgelicht/143677-de-oudst-bekende-naam-van-zwarte-piet-pieter-me-knecht-1850

    In case your Dutch is not sufficient: Historians discovered that the name “Zwarte Piet” for Schenkman’s negroid servant was already used in an illustrated book in 1868, and as an equally beloved negro called “Pieter, my servant” by the visting Saint in 1863 (!!!) in a book about celebrations in Christian families. That text had already appeared in a newspaper in 1859. And in a booklet sent from one famous 19th century writer to another, the other being the one to send Schenkman’s book to the Historical Society in New York in 1865, so both St. Nicholas lovers, a handwritten poem dated 1850, already has a conversation between Nicholas and “Pieter-my-servant”, The sender, Alberdingk Thijm wrote in 1868 that in 1828, or at least before 1830, he was on a St.Nicholas celebration at the home of a well-integrated well-to-doItalian, married to a cousin or a niece of Thijm’s mother, where the bishop did appear in person accompanied by a “kinky haired negro” called “Pieter-my-servant” carrying a basket full of presents, while the bishop carried the silken bag with candy.
    It seems that this may well have been true, but that leaves the question about the nature of the 1828 Pieter, was that a man in blackface? Or a woman? Or an actual black person, who just played the servant of the holy Nicholas, for once, or just a few times, and started that way Zwarte Piet?
    It seems that Schenkman only used a pre-existing figure…

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  19. Your ignorance is astounding, but not at all surprising. As Churchill once said ‘ The fascists of the future will be anti-fascists’. The fact that you bolt out of the gate immediately comparing Zwarte Pete to blackface exposes your ignorance, poor research, and emotional bias. Blacke face has nothing to do with Zwarte Pete. Other than the fact they both wear black face paint… this puts you in an interesting position, because what you’ve done here, by putting them in the same category, is behave like a racist, a fascist racist.
    NOw, someone neeeds to contact all those black voodoo people running around painting their faces white and slicing up stressed chickens. That’s not how we white folk prepare dinner! hat an insult. ;0)

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    • Lord, please grant me the strength ….

      “The fact that you bolt out of the gate immediately comparing Zwarte Pete to blackface exposes your ignorance, poor research, and emotional bias. Blacke face has nothing to do with Zwarte Pete. Other than the fact they both wear black face paint… ”
      –Pip

      I don’t know where to begin on this statement. I have honestly tried to walk away from this conversation, but your posts, whether an attempt to provoke debate or promote discussion have sucked me back in. Over the past few days, I have come to realize that the problem is not that you are not American, but it’s because you aren’t black. It simply doesn’t matter to you in the sense that it doesn’t cause you any grief. Trust me when I say this, I really am not overly sensitive about such matters as race as my posts may indicate. But I do cringe at injustice and insensitivity in any form when I see it. You don’t think Zwarte Piete is insensitive and racist, I understand that. Because you (the collective you), just haven’t experienced anything that has subjected you to racism whether subtle or blatant. I get that. My point is not that you are wrong because you think blackfaced Zwarte Piete is harmless and does good deeds for the spirits of children all over Holland, my point is you are wrong because unfortunately, his image, in its current form today, is one thats associated with things used as instruments of hate around the world in the past and present.

      Humor me. Replace Zwarte Piete with people dressed up as Adolf Hitler, and instead of candy, he climbs down your chimney to deliver chocolate, Nazi swastikas in your wooden shoes. There would be public outrage to the highest degree and people will go to jail over the parades. Why? It’s certainly nothing wrong with dressing up as Adolf Hitler, cause there clearly are people in this world that adore him. The problem is, there were millions of people effected by him and his nazi regime that still causes psychological trauma today. Swastikas, blackface, dumb blonde women imagery, illegal mexican immigrant imagery, savage native american indian imagery, yellow rice paddy worker asian imagery, big, nosed cheap frugal jewish imagery, Prophet Mohammad muslim imagery with bombs on his back. All of these are visual examples of stereotypes that are designed to perpetuate ugly -isms, whether be they racism, sexism, religious intolerance, etc.

      Rather than engage in conversation as to why its wrong, you simply sweep it under the rug as it’s not wrong for you, so its OUR problem? How is that not racist thinking? There are people of your culture that are clearly affected by that view, yet you dismiss them as an anamoly(sic?).

      This is racism at the subliminal level. You won’t even address or at least acknowledge that yeah, there are millions of people in the world that have hung from trees for being black. History has shown that white people, not just American white people, have had significant racial insensitivity against those that arent white. Whether it’s conquering other continents or sending missionaries to the deepest part of the indigenous forests to spread knowlede of a blonde haired, blue eyed supreme being that is the saviour of their souls.

      I’m only 4 generations removed from slavery so when I see zwarte piete, I don’t see a good hearted black kid, I see an abomination ready to break out into humiliating song and dance for the pleasure and laughter of white people. I see nooses in trees and burning crosses and white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan. I see white audiences laughing. I see the gnarled hands and feet of my grandmother from having to pick cotton and live in abhorrent conditions of abject poverty because of a broken society. I see white laughter. When I see Zwarte Piete, as portrayed by thousands of white people painted jet black with giant red lips and big afros, yeah, its always accompanied with white laughter.

      And Pip this is a little example of how and when black face is acceptable.

      fair use: http://images.inmagine.com/img/blendimages/bld155/bld155017.jpg

      overboard:

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    • Lord, please grant me the strength ….

      “The fact that you bolt out of the gate immediately comparing Zwarte Pete to blackface exposes your ignorance, poor research, and emotional bias. Blacke face has nothing to do with Zwarte Pete. Other than the fact they both wear black face paint… ”
      –Pip

      I don’t know where to begin on this statement. I have honestly tried to walk away from this conversation, but your posts, whether an attempt to provoke debate or promote discussion have sucked me back in. Over the past few days, I have come to realize that the problem is not that you are not American, but it’s because you aren’t black. It simply doesn’t matter to you in the sense that it doesn’t cause you any grief. Trust me when I say this, I really am not overly sensitive about such matters as race as my posts may indicate. But I do cringe at injustice and insensitivity in any form when I see it. You don’t think Zwarte Piete is insensitive and racist, I understand that. Because you (the collective you), just haven’t experienced anything that has subjected you to racism whether subtle or blatant. I get that. My point is not that you are wrong because you think blackfaced Zwarte Piete is harmless and does good deeds for the spirits of children all over Holland, my point is you are wrong because unfortunately, his image, in its current form today, is one thats associated with things used as instruments of hate around the world in the past and present.

      Humor me. Replace Zwarte Piete with people dressed up as Adolf Hitler, and instead of candy, he climbs down your chimney to deliver chocolate, Nazi swastikas in your wooden shoes. There would be public outrage to the highest degree and people will go to jail over the parades. Why? It’s certainly nothing wrong with dressing up as Adolf Hitler, cause there clearly are people in this world that adore him. The problem is, there were millions of people effected by him and his nazi regime that still causes psychological trauma today. Swastikas, blackface, dumb blonde women imagery, illegal mexican immigrant imagery, savage native american indian imagery, yellow rice paddy worker asian imagery, big, nosed cheap frugal jewish imagery, Prophet Mohammad muslim imagery with bombs on his back. All of these are visual examples of stereotypes that are designed to perpetuate ugly -isms, whether be they racism, sexism, religious intolerance, etc.

      Rather than engage in conversation as to why its wrong, you simply sweep it under the rug as it’s not wrong for you, so its OUR problem? How is that not racist thinking? There are people of your culture that are clearly affected by that view, yet you dismiss them as an anamoly(sic?).

      This is racism at the subliminal level. You won’t even address or at least acknowledge that yeah, there are millions of people in the world that have hung from trees for being black. History has shown that white people, not just American white people, have had significant racial insensitivity against those that arent white. Whether it’s conquering other continents or sending missionaries to the deepest part of the indigenous forests to spread knowlede of a blonde haired, blue eyed supreme being that is the saviour of their souls.

      I’m only 4 generations removed from slavery so when I see zwarte piete, I don’t see a good hearted black kid, I see an abomination ready to break out into humiliating song and dance for the pleasure and laughter of white people. I see nooses in trees and burning crosses and white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan. I see white audiences laughing. I see the gnarled hands and feet of my grandmother from having to pick cotton and live in abhorrent conditions of abject poverty because of a broken society. I see white laughter. When I see Zwarte Piete, as portrayed by thousands of white people painted jet black with giant red lips and big afros, yeah, its always accompanied with white laughter.

      Like

      • The character is called Pieter, Pieter-mijn-knecht to Saint Nicholas, Pieter-me-knecht to Saint Nicholas talking street level Dutch, Pieterbaas when it has to fit with Sinterklaas or Nicolaas. Piet for short, and he is nicknamed Zwarte Piet on account of having black hair or so. The plural is Zwarte Pieten… Your misspelling of the name of the character shows that you have not studied the topic seriously.

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    • Pip, thanks for your comments. The insult of my intelligence and name-calling, however, aren’t necessary. If you’d like to engage in a productive discussion, I’m happy to oblige. I’m curious to hear your theory of Piet’s origins.

      I’m also somewhat curious about your impressions of the images I included of other Dutch uses of blackface imagery, which so closely resemble Piet. My intention here is to show that the use of hurtful, comic portrayals of black people as a form of entertainment was not limited to the U.S. 100 years ago, it was widely accepted throughout the world. And those images are associated with a time when black people were treated as less than human – degraded, assaulted, murdered. This was not only in the U.S. I’m sure you’re familiar with the history of Dutch colonialism.

      Regarding your later post(s), it seems your lack of respect for my opinion is based on the fact that I come from the U.S. You’re certainly entitled to your opinions about Americans and American traditions – I have plenty myself. But this post has nothing to do with that. I’m talking about something that should apply to all of us – respect for others. Dressing up as black people in a way that always has been intended to mock and degrade is disrespectful, not to mention mean and hateful. Black people don’t like it. And critically thinking white people don’t like it either. It has nothing to do with the U.S.

      And finally, I think you should check-in with more people in the Netherlands. Plenty of people are beginning to think differently about the tradition. Even V&D has come up with an alternative for Piet as a white boy without the offensive make-up and wig. A way to celebrate the holiday without making fun of an entire group of people? Now that is progress!

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      • Well, to be honest, I think your position on this, has quite a lot to do with you being from the US cultural sphere, I would be ASHTONISHED if you had written this if you were from Angola, Kenya or Namibia, of course there is nothing wrong with being from the USA, and it does not mean you are wrong either.
        V&D is selling a Piet costume, wig, black paint and red lipstick sold separately. If the child had been made black, the partially black costume would have shown less well. I’m too cynical to credit them with any motivation past that.
        On the other hand, Piet’s skin color is seen more and more as a natural part of Piet, and children dressing up like Piet (both colored and native looking) seem to skip the face painting part, more and more. And I’m actually quite happy with that.

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  20. Americans can never understand this. It’s why black and white folk in the US are so segregated from each other. If you put a zwarte Piet in a window in the US, a gun fight would break out in seconds, and people would die. You should ask yourself why that is? Your anti-racism actually keeps racism alive well past it’s sell buy date. You know you’re made progress when people of any colour and creed can wear whatever colour face paint like that, acting as fictional characters, without ex-patAamericans trying to moralize the situation. Please, go home. Look at your racial inequalities in the US, look at your prison system, your deep seated mistrust of your nieghbours. We in Holland are simply more advanced than your nation in terms of our social evolution. My colleague is black… he bought me a chocolate Zwarte Piet for secret santa. This is something you refuse to understand, because, sadly, you’r anti racism is really just racism itself. ‘Whte me have no right to parade around in black face paint”. Guess what, we do, and you have the right to wear whatever face paint you please, too.

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  21. While we at it, lets talk about America’s use of ‘little people’ as Santa’s helpers/slaves… Does this offend you too? Are you offended that American Santa depicts physically challenged disabled people as little elves slaves? Or is that OK? If it is OK, why is it OK? Is it because they are white? Again, this is what so irritates me about Americans pontificating on Zwarte Piet, and is surely the same motivation behind the dismissive Dutch you try and lecture to. America is a melting pot of racial inequality, hatred, segregation, and brutal gangland mentality. The fact of the matter is, in Holland, we’ve moved beyond colour, to such an extent we can all look at a white guy with black face paint on, no mater our colour, and we see progress. I would rather live in a world where people are free to put on face paint of any colour, than live in a world where people such as yourself use it as an excuse to vent your historical anger. You only expose the chip on your shoulder, the chip you won’t let go. Ask yourself why you won’t let it go, and you’ll meet a terrible truth… you let your racism/anti-racism feed a negative social observation so as to help define your personality. You are perpetrating a form of racism, because you cannot move on and look beyond the painted colour of a man’s skin and see it for the harmless fun it is. Do you really want to live in a world where something so silly offends you? Or would you like to live in a world where black and whites have moved passed their pain and anger, and into a new world where racism, on the whole, simply doesn’t exist in society like it does in your country? Zwarte Piet ought to be an ambassador for racial re-alignment. Sadly, he’d be shot and murdered the moment he touched down in the USA. Quite possibly by a an angry black gang who generally refer to each others as Ni**ers. American liberals are some of the msot racist people I’ve met, you just don’t get that by stoking fires like this, you are fuelling racism, not combatting it. You’re trying to crate problems where none exist, because you cannot accept a country could of ‘moved on’. Why? Because you’ve not moved on. Plain and simple.

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    • Santa’s little helpers were mystical beings called elves. You may have heard of them, they battled along side dwarves and men in The Lord of the Rings. The Keebler tribe of elves bake delicious cookies also, I recommend the fudge striped shortbread ones. You may have seen some of the more famous elves in the world. Yoda (from star wars fame), Doby (from harry potter fame), and lucky leprechaun (from ireland/irish fame). How do you know when you are upon an elf? The most distiguishable characteristic is their pointy ears. Next, but not required (see Lord of the Rings), is that they are usually, unusually short.

      Now that we have cleared up what an elf is, let’s address your separate question about little people/midgets. They are human beings that are born in nature with a recessive gene that stunts limb growth. Their physical disabilities usually restricts the types of activities and/or jobs that they can qualify for. Obviously they can’t be able to drive or handle heavy weights or large machinery. Generally, the forms of work that you see little people perform are things regarding entertainment, like parties, movies, modelling, etc.

      So now that I have answered all of your questions, how does this relate to the topic of zwarte piete? Midgets, are well midgets, not regular sized people on their knees pretending to be midgets. The midgets that you see are usually free society midgets, not the evil secret society sex slaved ones. (sarcasm) By free, that means they weren’t stolen or sold from midgetland and forced to do degrading things to your shoes.

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      • Daz, consider why ABOLITIONISTS would make a black man the companion of a patron saint of children, sailors and prisoner, esp. the wrongly condemned, innocent prisoners. If that black man is showm as wearing a slave suit, but with shoes, which is a sign of a free man,we are seeing a liberator saint combined with a man who has just (re)gained liberty. That makes SENSE!

        Much more than connecting the faerie with the birth of Jesus Christ and St. Nicholas.

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      • a. I don’t know what and NSB is, could you kindly inform me to what that acronym stands for, and who those people are? I am interested in learning.

        Well it has two main meanings in Dutch history, the one of lesser importance is the Nederlands Softball Bond, the Dutch Softball Association, which quickly changed its name to NDSB, Dutch Ladies Softball Association, which seriously hurt the development of boys softball, on account of EXTREMELY unfortunate implications, you see the more famous NSB, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland, was the Dutch Nazi party. If you want to find something Dutchies are supposed to hate, on general principles, it is the NSB. In case you wonder, their militant wing wore (at least when they started) BLACK uniforms,NOW there you have the people quite some Dutchies would smile when they saw their lynched bodies, membership of the NSB was prohibited by the two most powerful churches and for public servants., and that was before the war. Now I have to say that the NSB did defend more than any other party, the interest of the deaf, blind and farmers,oh and their leader wanted as title “Leider”, which is german for Alas”.

        b. Adolf Hitler was a painter, a racist, and the leader of a movement of hate. And yes, mass murder often comes along with racism and hate… you know, just like how black face is used to degrade. But I admit, Adolf Hitler is such a polarizing figure, it’s clouded your judgement already, as I intended for it to do. Let’s just stick with the peace-loving symbol of love, the iron cross, that the nazis used. You know, the swastika? Walk around graveyards in your country and I’m sure you’d find thousands of tombstones with them on it. Positive, yes? Put it in the hands of Adolf Hitler, now you have hate. I love the image of black faces… on black people! Paint a white man’s face black, and it no longer is beautiful. It no longer represents anything positive you can muster up. Your defense of the tradition to use it as an uplifting positive message in regards to black people is a nice try, but thanks, it doesnt work. Your argument is just as valid as the embracement of the term “Nigger” or “Nigga” as a term of endearment among black people. It was a term used as hate and used to divide and control our (black) people. It still does today. There are people of color that believe it’s ok to use amongst other people of color, and there are others that fight to stamp out the words usage whenever and wherever possible. I can assure you, black people the world over, did not come up with the term happily for themselves. There is a reason why white people aren’t allowed to say it freely in the capacity of black people without getting attacked.

        Yes the reason for that is that those black people are RACISTS. You either accept that name or you do not, I stand by:”All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.”, not by your politically correct racist statements. You can say the N-word, which I always understood as stating “I’m so stupid I don’t know how many G’s go into blagk”. I can do it too. If you want to fight about my right to insult myself you’re welcome. Though I have no desire to do so.
        I also hope it is clear now to you, why protesting with “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” is provoking an attack, I can understand why people do this, and they may be right, but if you do that you get attacked, not because it is not true, but because Zwarte Piet is Geen Racisme is true too.

        “I believe you think I am here and somehow have to convince you on how wrong you are in your beliefs. That, my friend, is not arguing a point. I am giving you things that are similar in nature, which you refuse to equate to this degrading custom of yours. Fair enough, you are entitled that opinion. ”

        No, you made a statement, your statement is wrong. I know more about this Dutch custom than most Dutch people do, and more about black people than you do about Dutch customs.To tell you the truth, I’m very upset with US-folks, yesterday I was looking for news about the Halman-case (Father and two sons have played in the Dutch national baseball team, three baseball internationals in one family, OK? It seems the brother playing professional in the Netherlands has stabbed his US playing brother to death) and I came on a site called chimpout, I have seen there such hate, I am a bit paranoid about people claiming to be black and showing too much ignorance now, OK? I am not looking for a fight, I just try to show you the cloud of manifestations of the phenomenon called Zwarte Piet. And I am trying to find out what you are having a problem with.
        My beliefs concerning this are simple, I am a strict Mono-Pietist of the Schenkman-Poortvliet denomination, There is one Piet, African type of guy, bit west-African, with cool ninja like skills, a good looking cousin, and a big aunt who supervises the bad children, that is if there are still bad children left, they have stables where the best bad children take care of the horses, one is called Amerigo(better for crowds), another Slecht-Weer-Vandaag(for the somewhat tricky roofs in Flanders, and a donkey, for the really tricky roofs), and acouple more, Piet has his own roof riding horse too, while Gloria and her mother have the more common type of horse, they als have a moor (that is Dutch for black horse, for stealth operations but she and a couple of other horses are staying all the time in nothern Eutrope in case there is an infectious horse disease in the channel or so.
        Saint Nicholas is most often out, their hidden manor in Spain is by the three adults managed a bit like the old plantation, children who do not work are hit by a cookie gone wrong by Piet’s aunt, who is a mean pitcher on the baseball field. Agriculture goes the old style, exactly like Jesus would do it, who often passes carpentry tips to Pieter by way of St.Nicholas who is in heaven too. They do a bit about toy making, but most stuff is bought. Religiously they are some sort of unaffiliated Greek Orthodox, Gloria keeps the episcopal palace clean. So they are all very busy, with Piet supervising everything, though with his relatives that is just for show, and they don’t whine because they remember the old plantation, and will never tell how they met Saint Nicholas, as that is a secret between Pieter, his family and Saint Nicholas. And all of this is more true than that there is a Santa Claus, because somewhere, there has to be justice, there has to be a place where the roles are reversed, sonmewhere there has to be a place far from bigotry and hate, where heaven is close, racial profiling means that the whites get caught, somewhere, where an old steamer lies in the river, in his homeport Madril, often mistaken for Madrid because of Dirt, in the 19th century Saint Nicholas and Pietand the horse just traveled with the regular passenger steamers, but nowadays they own their own… I’m not sure there are still bad children there, but there has to be that place, where heaven touches Earth, and the sinners can come and repent. It’s all a game, a dream , but is a lie and a truth at the same time, because it teaches generosity.It’s all highly disambiguous, except for the following, there is a Saint Nicholas, there is a Pieter who serves him, and he is black,in a just normally pigmented sense, and there is at least one horse, everything else is highly disambiguous and there is nothing wrong with that.Did I mention anything about this before ? 🙂

        “”You want to engage in “scholastic debate”? According to Wikipedia,
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery_timeline
        slavery was abolished in the Netherlands in the years 1818-1819:
        1818: France and Netherlands abolish slave trading
        1819: Treaty between Britain and Netherlands to abolish slave trade
        Could you tell me what are the benefits, in your eyes, of honoring a custom that praises the imagery of a benevolent white saint and his abolitionist-approved barefooted black slave walking around town giving out treats almost 200 years after that stuff should have stopped?”

        Oh boy,
        1) Who says that the saint is white? Old art suggests he looked rather “colored” when he was younger. He may look white, he does not have to, it’s not important.
        2) Abolitionists did not approve of slaves, never. They went like the only good slave is an ex-slave, and that’s no slave.
        3) Piet is not Sint’s slave as Saint Nicholas is legally dead, since somewhere in the 4th century, and dead people do not own slaves.
        4) Piet is wearing shoes, so he is anything but a barefooted slave.
        5) Piet is shown in free territory (reach that and you are not a slave anymore), OK, conveniently situated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocea from the nation’s slave territories, so it’s hard to make it there as slave.
        6) Slave trade here is about trade in slaves, you know, trans-Atlantic and such,, slavery is about the exploitation of slaves on the big bad plantation and all, which continued for more than forty years after that.
        Are you sure you ain’t Dutch? So much ignorance about the difference between Slave Trade and Slavery, is not typical for US-folks.
        7) Look at what you did to poor old Uncle Tom.

        “As is putting “Afro” in front of any nationality of African decent. That term has been frowned upon for many decades, but of course, no one is accusing you of attending diversity sensitivity classes.”

        1) Caribbean is not a nationality
        2) That replacing of Afro-American started in the 80’s, that’s three decades and counting, three is not many.
        3) Hardly anybody is seriously frowning upon this one, it is just a bit unpopular now.
        4)Unlike you I amblessed with natural colorblindnes, diversity insensitivity and a culture caring about other things than race.

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    • Teddy wrote:
      “The character is called Pieter, Pieter-mijn-knecht to Saint Nicholas, Pieter-me-knecht to Saint Nicholas talking street level Dutch, Pieterbaas when it has to fit with Sinterklaas or Nicolaas. Piet for short, and he is nicknamed Zwarte Piet on account of having black hair or so. The plural is Zwarte Pieten… Your misspelling of the name of the character shows that you have not studied the topic seriously.”

      Really dude? That’s all you got? Are you trolling me on grammar and my lack of owning and using a Rosetta Stone Dutch program? Please say you have some legitimate reply to me. I don’t speak Dutch. I am an American and I never claimed to have been able to speak or read your language. While I’m at it, I can’t double Dutch, I dont pass the Dutchie (upon the left hand side), and I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I made my date go Dutch when we went out. Eye mispel engliish werds two. Now, please, give us something to think about, other than me tacking an e on the end of “Piet”. If I weren’t preparing for law school final exams, I’d spend the time scouring your past posts for all of your english writing mistakes to show you up. But I’d rather dissect the merits of your posts, if you have any.

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      • No, I am pointing out that your consistent use of an extremely rare way to spell the name shows that you are unfamiliar with the Zwarte Piet phenomenon.

        I also wrote that that post showed you to be a stuck up, stupid Yankee, whose shown prejudices about Dutch culture, and whose equation of disguising oneself as a direct victim of slavery with disguising oneself as the third worst tyrant of the 20th century suggest a lack of knowledge concerning the topic at hand and being unable to arguue your case, I also wrote that I consider the typical Zwarte Piet disguise as very different from the typical blackface one, though I grant that you may not want to come close enough to either to notice that, but I deleted that all not to start a flame war.
        The way you worded it, rather suggsts that US-history should determine the contents of NL-celebrations, for some unmentioned reason.

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      • Teddy,

        Thanks for your earlier thoughtful replies. I now consider your responses mean spirited and lacking any effort in scholastic discussion. If all you plan to do is insult and disregard anyone’s posts based on your arrogant attitude of who is more correct based on Teddy’s law, please, I would politely suggest you “houd je rotsmoel!”

        The fact that you can’t see the analogy of thousands of Adolf Hitlers handing out candy swastikas is as wrong as white people in caricatured blackface handing out chocolates tells me you dont understand the whole matter of what is being argued here and you are now just wasting our time. Both are symbolisms of hatred and racism. Both are wrong, however, only one is wrong in your eyes. And let me guess, the one that you don’t think is wrong is… *drumroll* the one that is racist to black people.

        I can only word things from a US point of view, because thats the only country I have lived. But what gives me the slight edge in this debate over you is that I have lived as a black person for well, all my life, and you have no experience at that. I could give a rat’s ass about your Dutch customs, unless of course they have consequences for all the world’s citizens, not just your small country. The fact that I am arguing passionately from North America shows just how wrong this is globally. I’ll argue about Asia’s sex slave trafficking. I’ll argue about the Russian exploitation of baby adoption. I’ll argue about Blood Diamonds and the conflicts they cause in Africa. We as human beings have the responsibility to the entire world to be good neighbors. Why can’t you see that?

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      • OK, they are somewhat mean spirited, but only because I mirror your behaviour.
        1) I never noticed any effort to scholastic discussion in your posts, Daz.
        2) Claiming that you are in Law-School and that you don’t know the meaning of Afro-Caribbean, suggested to me that you are a troll.
        3) In a culture without blackface taboo, a comparison betweem people dressing up like black people and a people dressing up like massmurderers is a comparison between black people and mass murderers. I grant you, if you had used NSB’ers as typical Dutchmen, you would have had a point.
        4) Your use of Hitler, was badly thought out and suggested you cannot argue your point.
        5) The topic here is a Dutch custom and how it relates to black people and all, and as you are not interested in those customs, your being black is not giving you an edge.
        6) Putting wooden in front of shoes, like you did just shows that you are thoroughly ignorant about Dutch culture, and that annoyed me slightly.

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      • Teddy wrote:
        “1) I never noticed any effort to scholastic discussion in your posts, Daz.”

        Teddy, the sun only shines when you open your eyes.

        Teddy wrote:
        “3) In a culture without blackface taboo, a comparison betweem people dressing up like black people and a people dressing up like massmurderers is a comparison between black people and mass murderers. I grant you, if you had used NSB’ers as typical Dutchmen, you would have had a point; and

        4) Your use of Hitler, was badly thought out and suggested you cannot argue your point.”

        a. I don’t know what and NSB is, could you kindly inform me to what that acronym stands for, and who those people are? I am interested in learning.

        b. Adolf Hitler was a painter, a racist, and the leader of a movement of hate. And yes, mass murder often comes along with racism and hate… you know, just like how black face is used to degrade. But I admit, Adolf Hitler is such a polarizing figure, it’s clouded your judgement already, as I intended for it to do. Let’s just stick with the peace-loving symbol of love, the iron cross, that the nazis used. You know, the swastika? Walk around graveyards in your country and I’m sure you’d find thousands of tombstones with them on it. Positive, yes? Put it in the hands of Adolf Hitler, now you have hate. I love the image of black faces… on black people! Paint a white man’s face black, and it no longer is beautiful. It no longer represents anything positive you can muster up. Your defense of the tradition to use it as an uplifting positive message in regards to black people is a nice try, but thanks, it doesnt work. Your argument is just as valid as the embracement of the term “Nigger” or “Nigga” as a term of endearment among black people. It was a term used as hate and used to divide and control our (black) people. It still does today. There are people of color that believe it’s ok to use amongst other people of color, and there are others that fight to stamp out the words usage whenever and wherever possible. I can assure you, black people the world over, did not come up with the term happily for themselves. There is a reason why white people aren’t allowed to say it freely in the capacity of black people without getting attacked.

        Teddy wrote:
        “5) The topic here is a Dutch custom and how it relates to black people and all, and as you are not interested in those customs, your being black is not giving you an edge.”

        I believe you think I am here and somehow have to convince you on how wrong you are in your beliefs. That, my friend, is not arguing a point. I am giving you things that are similar in nature, which you refuse to equate to this degrading custom of yours. Fair enough, you are entitled that opinion.

        You want to engage in “scholastic debate”? According to Wikipedia,
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery_timeline
        slavery was abolished in the Netherlands in the years 1818-1819:
        1818: France and Netherlands abolish slave trading
        1819: Treaty between Britain and Netherlands to abolish slave trade

        Could you tell me what are the benefits, in your eyes, of honoring a custom that praises the imagery of a benevolent white saint and his abolitionist-approved barefooted black slave walking around town giving out treats almost 200 years after that stuff should have stopped?

        Teddy wrote:
        “2) Claiming that you are in Law-School and that you don’t know the meaning of Afro-Caribbean, suggested to me that you are a troll.
        and
        6) Putting wooden in front of shoes, like you did just shows that you are thoroughly ignorant about Dutch culture, and that annoyed me slightly.”

        As is putting “Afro” in front of any nationality of African decent. That term has been frowned upon for many decades, but of course, no one is accusing you of attending diversity sensitivity classes.

        Like

  22. it’s very obvious from this blogger’s ‘handle’ — Blackgirlgone, that she wishes to make a point of her race. Lets call that pride. She wears it on her sleeve, and seeks justice for all blacks! … ergh, just not in America, apparently, but oddly in the Netherlands, where silly men and women (of all races) like to put a bit of boot polish on their faces and hand out free sweets to kids once a year. God those wicked, wicked white men! At some point you have to let go of the past. Four hundred years from now, should ‘white men’ still be hated upon if they choose to wear black face paint? Must we always live with these chips on our shoulders? Don’t you seek closure, resolution, the next level? Don’t you want to live in a world where people can dress up as they please, free from the threat of being called racists? or is this really about you wanting to let the ‘white men’ know you will never forgive them for their evils, slights and transgressions of centuries past? Can you at least recognize that your behaviour is in itself a form of disguised, subtle, racism? Your friend who pulled that stunt the other day invited violence and fear into the day’s celebrations. he did it front of children, and he rightly got reprimanded for it. If you think him some sort of hero, I really think you ought to consider returning to America and engaging in such violent activity there instead. If any nation is slighted by the whole Zwarte Piet thing, it’s poor old Spain! Where’s your defence for those guys? And I’m still waiting on your bleeding heart campaign for American Santa’s little disabled midget slaves. I know those guys are generally white, but… there was a little black one in the movie Bad Santa! You make no mention of these things, showing only an interest in perceived black issues. Shame though, that for 99.999999999% of people who live here – a country containing the most diverse populas of global nations of any country – there is no issue whatsoever. my only fear is a perforated ear drum from a Dutch sweet being hurled at my head. Now i’d like to end my spamming posts by saying that I see this a lot – Americans coming here and bringing their own nation’s racial baggage with them. Let me make one thing clear, there is a reason that the world in general dislikes/mistrusts/eyesrolls at Americans (of all creed and colours), it’s because you think you know better, when quite clearly you do not. Your country is worse than a mess, at all levels. it’s close to ruin, to be fair. Americans take note: Do not come to Holland thinking you know what is best for our nation. You do not. Padawan, much to learn, you have.

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  23. Pip and Klaas, please , though I agree that the “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” -group is wrong in their statement, fails to come with any thoughtout arguement, and is making a claim which cannot be true considering the size of the Zwarte Piet-phenomenon, they do have a point. Though I do think that Piet’s red lips can be explained quite well with the use of lipstick, which is just what one would expect from a guy living together with a guy in a dress, (I’m looking at you, Klaas!!!), not that there is anything wrong with that. They have a point, but as much as I look , I cannot see the Dutch as very racist. Greedy selfish rotten bastards, who would sell their own mothers-in-law for a dime, and consider “political correct” as fighting words, OK, but not people who would want white -only-crews on their slaveships!

    But still, look at Piet’s representations when you are shopping, if they are charicatures, no problem compare them with the charicature of Saint Nicholas, are they much worse? Are they insulting, dehumanizing human characteristics less well featured in European stock? Random sampling suggests that without being oversensitive, about one in three manifestations in the shops is that. Look, anybody who has a problem with one of the playmobil Sint & Piet sets is insane, but some of the other things, Piet with a mouth which could cause envy in a hippo is going much too far, much too far. Because though Piet is a character in his own right, he is one of those characters who is black, like the Black Panther is black, like Static, like Rocket, like Uncle Remus, like Uncle Tom, and a charicature of Piet is a charicature of a black person, and seeing that again and again and again, will rather ruin it for some people, and that is quite understandable. And though it is quite understandable that groups like the chance to pretend for a short period they are beautiful and have good hair (the racism some of the black people have suffered was that bad that they think white is beautiful, and boring blue eyes are good, and blond type 1 hair is something to be imitated, while it is obvious that beauty is black). So please, have a bit of patience with Blackgirl.

    By the way, did you know that Schenkman’s book was written in the Jordaan, which was at the time an abolitionist neighbourhood? The saint employing somebody still in slave clothes but wearing shoes (which slaves were not allowed to do, it made running away too easy, I guess), might thus be a silent contribution to the abolitionist cause. The hood, a rebellious lot, would probably not have tolerated an unliberated slave.

    Nevertheless, if the figure started, or at least was canonized as a sort of abolitionist statement, the text “Al ben ik zwart als roet, meen het toch goed” fits rather well in that context and should not be used by people to justify the replacement of this unerrant negro charachter with some dirty cracker. I mean soot covered people one should not desire to kiss, Schenkman’s book describes the servant as both black of colour and as as kissable as saint Nicholas himself, which is sufficient for me to conclude that Piet was never intended to be white and dipped in chocolate or some other dark and dirty substance.

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  24. If I were King of the world… ALL mankind who have the right to dress as they so wished, in combination with any colour facepaint they might choose to put on their faces. They may also take their silly clothes and their silly faces and in engage in silly rituals, if they so wished. Additionally, I would be quite willing to permit the giving away of free candy to strangers. In Fact, I’d make the free candy part compulsory.

    I’d be such an evil King…

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  25. Pingback: Sinterklaas comes to town | Waffles and Windmills

  26. There are two stories of Saint Nicholas of Myra (3rd/4th century) that are meant to stress his good nature (Sinterklaas goedheilig man). One is about throwing money through a window in the shoes of girls whose father couldn’t pay their bridal treasure. The other is about his ‘servant’, and comes down to this: One day Saint Nicholas saw a man being sold on a slave market, and he disapproved deeply. He bought the slave free. As a free man, in gratitude, he put himself in the service of the saint.

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  27. @Tsjerk, Goedheiligman, does refer to Saint Nicholas as a patron of marriage. Not to his good nature, which is not to be denied of course..
    Though your second story seems somewhat artificial in connection with Pieter, it is a fact that Saint Nicholas in many legends either liberates slaves or prevents their enslavement, with your first story being an example of the latter, the alternative for those girls in the first story, would have been being sold as prostitutes, sex slaves thus.
    As such, giving Saint Nicholas a free “slave” as companion, makes sense, and in the 19th century your typical slave was black, it cannot be proven, as far as I know, but it fits perfectly. And it explains why Pieter is indeed connected with slavery, but not owned by St. Nicholas

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  28. I fail to see how ‘goedheiligman’ refers to marriage, but maybe I’m staring blind at the literal meaning.
    In any case, I think the Saint Nicholas of old can be plead free from racism and slavery. So talking about the roots, they are ‘clean’. But it’s not the roots that are important. It’s the current image that people have, and most Dutch people share the thought that Zwarte Piet is indeed a servant, that finds its origin in slavery. And it’s very true that the current image of Zwarte Piet traces back to a 19th century caricature of black people, drawn by people that had never seen people from other continents, but relied on stories of stories. Yet they were also given a rich clothing style that reflects the image of the (free!) Moors from the Iberian peninsula, which were not slaves, but slave keepers.
    So how to deal with the current image? Swapping them for blue or green Pieten? Might be a solution. Unpainted ones? Nah, that would make them recognizable as neighbours and television personalities. But what about education? As soon as the magic has worn off, we can use Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet to walk through history, explain who they were, and how he evolved to what they are. As a freer of slaves we can use Sinterklaas to stress how wrong it is to treat people as goods, as property. The current image of Zwarte Piet can be used as a starting point to treat and discuss the slavery in which the Netherlands played an important part. And we can take the pictures like shown in the original post (thank you for that) and use them to show how our ancestors drew pictures of things they’d never seen and knew little or nothing of, and how we are still inclined to do just that, even in the discussion above.

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  29. Quite Simple, it used to be written Goet-Hylik-Man, which should have modernized to Goed-Huwlijk-Man but became Goed-Heilig-Man instead.

    Do you really think that CURRENT Piet costumes resemble those of Moors? They look rather christian to me.

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  30. That makes sense. And it stresses how we should not rely too much on what we think we know 🙂

    The CURRENT costumes resemble dressing-up-store-zwarte-piet costumes 🙂 I think they fail to bring up any other association here, even in mid summer, even in a historical play or movie. Their origin is definitely not northern/western European: too much colour and too much gold. In southern European countries (Spain!), I can imagine that the clothing was more along those lines, so maybe it’s not Moor, but of later (Christian) date. But the clothes too are based on stories of stories about people from far away. To me it seems an impression of rich fashion, associated with a free person. If the aim would have been creating an image of a slave or servant, this would not have been the clothing. Of course you may be able to recognize Dutch elements. Foreign elements will always be mixed with the things that are found closer by and are in the mind. Everything is put in an existing frame of reference. That’s just how the brain works 🙂

    This stuff sure is a brain-teaser. It gets me wondering. To me it makes a lot of sense to have a Moor as Zwarte Piet, also because:
    Zwarte Piet is the personification of the dark side, subdued by the good. In the Middle Ages and later (not my belief ;)), the Islam was seen as the establishment of evil on earth, and a Moor would thus be a suitable embodiment. The Moors were known, at least in stories, to enslave captives, and that would likely be the fate of the children that ended up in the sack for being bad.

    BTW. I think Zwarte Piet would make a nice sociology Master’s thesis 😉

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    • Exactly, mind that “Moor” was used except for the real Moors for Africans in general, Muslims in general, and black people of clearly African descent… A young slave born on a plantation in the West would do the trick. I mean Charles Darwin, quite a shooter of game in his young days, but otherwise a polite inoffensive man and a fierce abolitionist, (it has been claimed that abolitionism was the driving force behind the Origin of Species and Descent of Man), described his taxidermy teacher(ex-slave from Guyana) as a “Blackamoor”, on the other coast it was acknowledged that Saint Nicholas himself was dark, “maar zeker geen Moriaan”.
      I’m not sure those kids were always really servants,I guess often they were more pets, exotic creatures to be admired, you know, to show off with.The reason that Piet is wearing those, is I guess quite simply that artists looked at older artworks to see what the well dressed negro companion to the mighty would wearing, and this style was selected. Not really a core issue.

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  31. Hmm. But the concept of the Moor as Muslim as paradigm for the dark side would suggest against the Moor as reference to sub-Saharan Africans, and thus against someone from a plantation. Of course that would already be unimaginable for a bishop from well before 1492 :p As personification of evil, Zwarte Piet also has to be adult (and an adult male :p), not a sweet pet child. Although many parents will argue that what looks like a sweet child may actually be a small devil. 😀
    On the other hand, a 19th century school teacher writing a story about Sinterklaas and seeking for an image fitting a Moor, would very likely end up with images of sub-Saharan Africans, due to a generalization of the concept, and so with images of slaves on plantations. Not from malevolence, but from ignorance.

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  32. WOW this was the most engaging, emotionally charged dialogue that i have read in a long time. Usually i steer clear of these types of conversations because they are clearly based off of frame of reference. I am from America. I am colored. LOL!! I say that because a Austrian friend of mine when I lived in Spained was appalled that I referred to myself as black. Black is offensive to them. Colored and Nigger, not to be confused with the urban “nigga”, in which has been the source of contention, even within our community has a whole new meaning to me, because of the historical meaning. MY FRAME OF REFERENCE. My frame of reference did not change because I moved to a foreign country. It took some work, but it expanded for several reasons. One, there are people who have NEVER seen a black person. SAY WHAT?? As crazy as it might seem they haven’t. They only know what television, parents, books, word of mouth have defined and described us as being or characterize us. Just like all white people are not a like neither are all blacks, but remember all blacks have different derivatives and a lot of their derivatives are slave and oppressed based. I cannot separate that from my memory back. I can’t just get over it, but I under be tolerant and understand that everyone in this world does not have my frame of reference. All I can do is share my perspective and keep it moving. I understand all of the perspectives i have read. Have you ever gone to another country and had an opinion/expression that no one else seemed to understand untill that lone person who shared your same frame of reference? This is one of those cases. The black people/people of color/oppressed/ survivors of those oppressed get each other and until you have been “that” person or link to someone like that you won’t get it. Changing your (Dutch) position or traditions would be absurd, especially when they don’t see the harm. Would it be nice, of course because it does offend some, but obviously not enough that the change would come. If this was the US and the little helper was affectionately painted, hell yeah there would be a rumble in the jungle, but that’s because there are enough people who know the origin. From where I sit as a black female, who has been blessed enough to obtain status in society of which was once carved in the US for whites I see that there have been changes, but not enough to ever believe that racism, which is driven by ignorance or just pure hate will be dissolved in my lifetime. This debate i am sure could last for years to come, but what neither side should do is try to discredit the other’s argument because its real to that person. The live it or feel it passionately enough to affect them and the way they live. You don’t have to agree, but until you have walked a mile in there shoes, you will have no clue to exactly how those shoes will affect you. I am not as much of a pacifist as my post may seem, but I do understand this argument from one country to the next because I was taken aback by a lot of customs and ideologies of the Spanaird and many of the other cultures I lived with during my time abroad.

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  33. Exactly! We perceive the world from a certain frame of reference. And we approach the world through a certain frame of reference, overlooking how it may be perceived from another frame. The best we can do is to try and broaden our frames. Not neglecting the past or negating our roots, though, but shoving aside the prejudgments that may have grown from them. I usually assume that people do not mean to offend, yet sometimes unintentionally do. Of course there will be a few that find pleasure in offending, but they are a minority. In most cases the offense arises from ignorance, or a ‘mismatch of reference frames’. Those are good reasons to start talking, take interest in each others background and try to understand the others’ point of view, both ways. That was the intent of my contribution; adding a few layers that are usually unperceived and add depth to the view, yet without labeling views with values. It’s not simply good or wrong, and feelings of hurt or insult should never be negated.

    Funny though, you mention the concept of ‘black’. In the Netherlands the word is not to be used to refer to a group of people. It is considered insulting, and the denomination ‘donker’ (of dark complexion) is used in stead. Likewise, white people are not white, but ‘blank’ (of light complexion). I think it’s far more accurate really. Black people and white people are quite rare. Most of us are somewhere in between 🙂

    It’s not that we’re unaware of slavery over here. We have plenty of people from the Dutch Antilles and Suriname, and in history lessons the role the Dutch played is actually highlighted. But the slavery is pushed further to the past and the issue is less sensitive.

    By the way, you do know who provided the Dutch and others with the slaves to bring to the Americas? The slaves were taken captive by a number of African tribes, hunting rivaling tribes, selling them. It’s not only a story of black people against white people. Foremost it’s a sad story, which we should read side by side, dig out, take lessons from. And if we can, start to make some fun together. Then, only then, we will be free 🙂

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  34. dana,
    thanks for writing this. i just ‘discovered’ your post after doing a bit of research on the history of zwarte piet.

    i’m of dutch ancestry, born in the states. only within the past several years have i really started learning more about the culture my ancestors came from. to be honest, this one bothers me the most. as someone who earlier in life would have reacted in the same defensive fashion as those at the beginning of your article, i have since learned how much traditions like zwarte piet truly hurt people of color. as a fellow human, it hurts me too.

    this tradition and stereotypes around it really serve to dehumanize people of african ancestry. to explain it away as soot is really an attempt to gloss over the real issue and avoid getting to the real hurt and depth of the issue.

    you’re right. why does piet even need a color? why does sinterklaas for that matter?

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    • “why does sinterklaas for that matter?”

      What makes you think he does? It’s quite simple with Piet, the canon of the Dutch celebration is contained in songs, which is nicely traditional and all, “zwart als roet” “black as soot” is used in “Daar wordt aan de deur geklopt” and “Sinterklaas die Goeie Heer”, remarkable that in the latter song that rhymes in different versions with a chain on his foot, an ostrich feather on his hat and being the one who has to carry the toys, with lips as oxenblood used to rhyme with it in the sescription of the victim, whose racist torturers were punished by Nicholas and their fathers…

      Nicholas can ba any color he likes.

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    • “you’re right. why does piet even need a color? why does sinterklaas for that matter?”

      This is why:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_and_evil
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_and_yang

      Of course which colors the two sides are given is open, but black and white is a natural choice. It could have been the other way around, though.

      “this tradition and stereotypes around it really serve to dehumanize people of african ancestry”

      The stereotypes shown in the original post have come in at some point. Whether they were actually *meant* to dehumanize people is a hypothesis that should be investigated. What *is* dehumanizing is disallowing people to go from certain places, where other people are free to go, to force them to make way. That has happened during the war here with the Jewish, and it has happened until more recently in the US with black people. Dehumanizing black people has not actually been part of the culture in the Netherlands, and we are probably less sensitive to things that may be perceived in such a way from a different frame of reference. Yet to state that we have a tradition to actively attempt to dehumanize people from African descent is quite an allegation! Because that’s what it says: ‘the tradition .. serve(s) to dehumanize’, suggesting that it’s an active goal.

      Trying to understand your roots can be pretty daunting. Don’t jump to conclusions, but try to dig to the bottom.

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  35. Tsjerk, you are right about duality and all, but Sinterklaas gets a white face by the beard and all, so skin color is of less importance,

    And indeed, Piet, probably one of the most used black characters of all, got innocently about all prejudices against black people, except some of the really nasty ones, incorpotated in one or another version of him. And I guess it all came rather innocently to be.

    You start with the nice beloved, loyal companion. You nickname him Zwarte Piet, which may for various reasons not be such a good idea.
    Than you you make him a stealthy spy and from that into a bogeyman, and you start to represent him as charicature, after that you make him nicer and endas you don’t stop making him funnier you end up with a dumb clown. Than you discover that the character does not resemble actual black people and instead of changing the character you go into denial about the actual nature of the character and you end up with something like entire parades of figures in blackface done with such abandon that Al Jolson seems a bumbling amateur, really unaware what they are dessed up like?

    It’s completely insane, I grant you.

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  36. One more day to come, and then the discussion will calm down, probably… Yes, it’s completely insane. Yet as a process, it’s quite intriguing.

    The reason I started the first post was not to justify the celebration in its current form (and I haven’t done so in later contributions). There were some references to how rotten the roots of the tradition were. I wanted to go to the roots to show that they are not rotten, although some of them are stained. I didn’t state that there was nothing now to be offended by. Actually, it’s always as simple as that: if someone feels offended, there is something to feel offended by. And I can see how black-face painted white people can manage. Especially if the frame of reference of the observer does not include the tradition in full historical detail. And that is true for most all Dutch, regardless of their color. You could argue in favor of a tradition like that if you were certain there was nothing bad. But most Dutch people see a reference to slavery. This does call for a change.
    Sinterklaas has already gone through a lot of change. Teddy’s overview of the evolution of Zwarte Piet is relatively accurate, except that Odin’s ravens are missing – although already named before – and the morphogenisis of these as a metaphor of the night remained unnamed. That shortening night that appeared so frightful to the original inhabitants here, and needed to be conquered by the light. In addition, I think there is a last step already taken: the real smurfication of Zwarte Piet. Like the Smurfs, Zwarte Piet currently represents human nature. There is one in charge (Hoofdpiet), there is one to find the way (Wegwijspiet), there is a singer, a baker, a poet, etc., etc. Every one has a single task/skill/characteristic. Like Smurfs, every one is silly, except the one with the beard, who stands a bit apart in this set due to his color. Furthermore, there already is a story about ‘Witte Piet’, and I think that that will/should be expanded. To me, it would be dear, in a few years from now to see white people in blackface and black people in whiteface (mind they have to be unrecognizable) jumping together in outdated clothes, handing out pepernoten to the kids, enjoying them as well as each other.

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  37. Pingback: Blackface Is Back | The Mic Movement

  38. Pingback: Zwarte Piet: Go back to where you came from | Black Girl Gone

  39. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.
    In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

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  40. Hi blackgirlgone. I (Dutch living abroad) just want to share a simple story…When my brother was about 6, he had a problem.. He wondered why Sinterklaas was white. His conclusion was that he had put on white face make-up so that he would look as nice as Piet and so that he could be as “belangrijk” (important) as Piet. That year Sint was black and Piet was white. You see, sometimes you don’t need to force the subject, but let nature takes it course.

    As a last thought I would like to explain a bit more about the Dutch culture. We have been conquered by anybody and everybody… And every time we had to adapt to other cultures. When other people come to our country, most of us welcome them with open arms and think no more of it. “You are my neighbour, so come in for a coffee”. My little niece went to a school were she was the only white girl, where swimming lessons were scrapped because of the amount of girls from other religions couldn’t participate for religious reasons. Not a problem, she just went swimming elsewhere. All her best mates were coloured, but she wouldn’t have known as colour wasn’t an issue – to her they were just people.

    I believe that most Dutch aren’t racists. I personally believe that this is the reason why we react so strongly: we feel falsely accused of being racists in general, not just about Sinterklaas /Piet issue. If somebody would say: listen, this whole thing with Zwarte Piet doesn’t really fit in with your open mindedness. Let’s meet up and discuss how we can slowly change this…. Please show us the courtesy of tolerance that we have showed everybody who we have welcomed over the years. And you never know, we might turn round and say: you know what, I get you and let’s sort this out.

    I have been subject to racism myself, despite being white, european, woman or human…. It’s horrid and wrong. So, go for it girl, change the world. But please, be gentle with us fellow humans. Thanks for listening.

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    • Hi there, thanks for your comment. I appreciate your thoughts on the subject. And I don’t think I’ve ever been anything but “gentle” when explaining the troubling history and offensive nature of the character. There’s a difference between being gentle and patient – patience is what we cannot have when people (including children) continue to be negatively affected by the tradition.

      Also, you suggest that the Dutch have been conquered by “everybody.” Perhaps you’re not aware that the Dutch “conquered,” colonized, and enslaved African people for hundreds of years? And it’s the descendants of those enslaved who are (historically and presently) mocked by this practice of “blacking up.” How can that be excusable?

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  41. A very interesting discussion.
    Sadly, what could have been a genuinely respectful and reciprocal interchange of opinions, that would have most certainly led to a change in the Sinterklaas tradition, has led to very distasteful comments in the social media (from both sides as I might add).

    In my opinion, one of the reasons for the very emotional reactions of some people, has been largely overlooked in the media. The discussion about this subject is valuable, because it sensitizes people to the downside of a tradition, which most Dutch people honestly had not been aware of. It is understandable and probably inevitable, that zwarte Piet would have transformed one way or another.

    A whole different notion though are the feelings of the ordinary people. Zwarte Piet has been a steady companion in their joyful December holidays. Every single Dutch child has sung to him and Sinterklaas each evening and has been on exceptionally good behaviour during the last weeks of November and the first week of December. Oh and when Piet and Sint have put a gift in their shoe the next morning… They have seen zwarte Piet, timidly shaken his hand, watched out to see if they saw him at the neighbouring rooftop, sung for him at school, welcomed him in their living room, imagined him watching over them in their sleep before bringing them presents in the night through the chimney. They may even have been him, bringing sweets to those children, full of expectation.

    For the ordinary people, Piet, even more then Sinterklaas, has been like a family member, who has been there, as long as you can imagine. Like a favorite uncle, who knows you, and you know him. Now, roughly awakened from their wholesome dream, they will have to come to terms with the fact, that other people find him offensive and effectively want to euthanize him. Just as it would be unthinkable to take away your uncle, or your childhood friend an replace him with someone else, they feel as if someone takes a piece of their life away, which has brought them nothing but joy.

    If the process had been more gradual and less abrupt, I am convinced, that no protest would have ensumed. The reasons for high emotionality of the reactions is not because people want to promote slavery and racism, but because
    1. they are fond of this family member
    2. ordinary people who have friends, family members, coworkers and neighbours with African, Asian and other roots, feel they are now labeled racist, for not having seen Piet as a problem (I second Cloggy’s reaction)

    It is regretful, that some hooligans use this valuable discussion, that should ultimately lead to more mutual understanding to villify the other party and to make very distasteful remarks about people of the respective out-group. Be it racist remarks about “foreigners” or the general denunciation of Dutch people.

    I hope we will ultimately be able to handle our cultural differences, preconceptions and customs respectfully. With elegance and understanding for the standpoint and feelings of the other. People will always have different opinions, cultural backgrounds and feelings. To understand this and to learn to deal with differences as a society is an absolute necessity for long lasting peace and tolerance.
    Brainstorming without constraint will be a decisive avenue to arrive at standpoints that will satisfy society in its entirety.

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