The Zwarte Piet controversy

Zwarte Piet or black Piet, is the black faced with curly wigs and bright red lipstick wearing companion of Saint Nicholas who is the focus of attention year after year round about the 5. of December. Every year people starting a polarized debate whether the traditional look from Zwarte Piet should be changed and “adjusted in time”. However, the question is, what is so controversial about this character which takes people to the street protesting for a change in the look of Zwarte Piet.  

As early as mid-November, according to the legend, Saint Nicholas and his assistants the Zwarte Piets arive on a steamer from Spain and travel through the country until the 5th Dezember. The Piet´s, often the children favourites, distribute sweets when moving in the cities. Actually, this is a happy feast for the whole family, yet this tradition is associated with hard accusations. The claims are that the tradition is racist. For the Sinterklaas parades, many white-skinned Dutch people dye their faces black, wear an Afro wig on their heads, paint thick red lips on their mouths and put on gold earrings. This style of dressing up is also known under the name of “blackfacing” which is often associated with colonial racism. The current allegations regarding “blackfacing” are that it reduces black people to their skin colour and stereotypical features such as wigs and ear or nose rings. In addition, the Zwarte Piets are only illustrated as the clumsy helpers who are unable to give gifts without the direction of the white Saint Nicholas. Despite strong criticism, there are still many supporters of Zwarte Piet. Its supporters are the opinion that this is an important part of the history of the Netherlands and that the black colour only comes from the chimney soot and therefore has nothing to do with racism or colonialism. Due to recurring protests around the holidays every year, of course, this issue can not be ignored by the government. Accordingly, new measures are increasingly being attempted to adapt Zwarte Piet´s appearance while still keeping the importance of Dutch history in mind. Therefore, the latest attempt was to change the look from a black Pete to a Pete with soot stains.  Even if this brought a lot of positive feedback, there are still many people who protest against the appearance and even the existence of Zwarte Piet. 

In summary, it can be said that despite the existing history of Saint Nicholas and Zwarte Piet, many people are against the illustration of the Zwarte Piets or want to completely ban them. Even if attempts are made to please both sides, the next holidays around December 5th will probably be marked by protests around the topic of Zwarte Piet again. 


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