Is Dutch Sinterklaas celebration racist?

October 20, 2013

Two Zwarte Pieten [660x300]

(Two blackfaced white Dutch girls walking the streets during the Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet celebration)

Although not directly related to human rights defenders, as a Dutchman I feel obliged to alert readers to the issue of whether the longstanding tradition of ‘Zwarte Piet’ (black Peter) is an innocent cultural exception or an expression of deeply ingrained racism. It has become a hot potato in the Dutch media after a letter by four UN Special Rapporteurs asked for a clarification from Dutch authorities on whether a Dutch caricature called “Black Pete” who accompanies Saint Nicholas during a traditional children’s festival is racist. “Please indicate to which extent your government has involved Dutch society, including African people… in the discussions regarding the choice of ‘Santa Claus and Black Pete’ as expression of cultural significance in the country,” it said. According to information we have received… the character and image of Black Pete perpetuate a stereotyped image of African people and people of African descent as second-class citizens, said the letter, dated January this year and published Saturday on the NRC’s website.

In the Netherlands itself emotions are flaring over the sensitive issue. The big majority of Dutch people clearly feel that a marvelous old tradition (I certainly have very fond memories of the Dutch Sinterklaas festivities) is being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness ( according to the Dutch newspaper the Telegraph some 66 percent said they would prefer that the entire Saint Nicholas festival be dropped rather than stripping it of the Black Pete character).  On the other hand, when Amsterdam held a public hearing on Thursday, 21 complaints about Black Pete were filed asking the Dutch capital to revoke the permit for this year’s festival. Mayor Eberhard van der Laan is to rule on the permit in early November, his spokeswoman Tahira Limon said.

But Black Pete’s supporters called for the children’s Saint Nicholas festival to go ahead, arguing that it has been part of a Dutch tradition dating as far back as the 16th century, with the Black Petes first appearing around the 1850s.

Seen from outside the Netherlands the tradition argument seems not get much track. A blog post in the UK Telegraph makes strong arguments against its continuation and refers to a a piece in This Is Africa, where the journalist Siji Jabaar mounts a “formidable evisceration of the tradition, in which he forensically lays bare the history and evolution of Zwarte Piet, and demolishes one by one the arguments in favour of the practice“, which has this nugget of a question:  “If the Dutch government thinks that Zwarte Piet is correct, just invite Barack Obama over for dinner on the 5th of December. But we all know they ain’t gonna do that; they ain’t that dumb.”.

Judge for yourself by reading the full references below:

But please note that the phrase: ‘In the United stated you have Santa Claus, in the UK he’s Father Christmas, and in the Netherlands he’s called Sinterklaas” is not fully correct. Sinterklaas is celebrated on 5 December not 25 December and the Dutch now also embrace a different Santa ClausRelated articles

5 Responses to “Is Dutch Sinterklaas celebration racist?”

  1. Melchior Says:

    Never mind the hot potato. What’s the big deal? Are we not allowed to continue this tradition in which really nobody sees any violation of what so ever? Come on!
    Inviting Obama for dinner on the 5th of December? He’s very welcome to my house, with my children, to celebrate this (I admit) odd but oh so warm and delicious tradition. He will discover that we’re talking about an abstract character, about some old lad with one or two hyperactive assistants. So what?

  2. Sophie Says:

    Oh. We’re racist? Then why do you Americans have more racist swearing words than the Dutch speaking people? Stop making useless drama about people’s values and standards. We are who we are. Accept it. Live in peace and stop complaining. It’s not like we’re going to complain about all what you Americans do wrong in our eyes, cause it’s a lot more! Now hush. Let us be. And if you don’t want to let us do what we want, then aren’t YOU racist? 😉

  3. sylfory Says:

    Removing the tradition is racist. You would basicly say, Only white poeple are allowed to work for sinterklaas.


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