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Can racism be reformed? A symposium over the Dutch "Zwarte Piet" (Black Peter) tradition.

    Marieke Hemstra

    Can racism be reformed? A symposium over the Dutch "Zwarte Piet" (Black Peter) tradition.

    Started by Marieke Hemstra Replies (3)




    Beste Mensen,

    On 5 November, there is a symposium at University of Amsterdam over the Dutch tradition of "Zwarte Piet".  A "tradition" investigated by the United Nations Human Rights Council for racism.

    For those who do not know what "Zwarte Piet tradition" is; It is a parade done on every 5 December whereby someone dressed as "Sinterklaas" (Saint Nicholas) and one or more people with African looking makeup (blackened faces etc) parade on the streets of Dutch cities. The relationship between the Sinterklaas and "Zwarte Piets" strongly resembles to that of "Master and Slave". 

    While Sinterklaas walks in a cool manner (often rides a horse), his slaves (Zwarte Piets) jump around making funny-intended gestures and distribute candies to the children.

    What kind of effect such a relationship will lay on the future of the observing children? If this is not institutionalized racism, what is?

    A racist tradition which has survived this far!

    This is a tradition deeply mixed with racism in and out. It is very strange that this has survived for so long. Netherlands has a very large immigrant population from its former colonies where there had been a practice of slavery for centuries. So, it is not surprising that some people are very sensitive to a tradition reminding them those sad days.

    In recent years there have been some protests. When the protests started in 2011, it was only by a handful of people. The reaction of the police has been pretty harsh:


    Trying to Reform Racism

    The Dutch society is deeply divided over this matter. Some think it is just a tradition and try to save the tradition with some revisionist and sometime comical explanations: like explaining the blackness of Zwarte Piet with his presumed task of delivering presents to children from the chimneys of houses.

    It is so much that, some national institution has come up with a "new look" for the Zwarte Piet. His hair is no more curly. He does not wear big earrings anymore. Still blackened though. They claim now the relationship between Saint Nicholas and Zwarte Piet will be "more equal" (careful: not "equal" but only "more equal"). Another shameless and pitty effort to reform racism.


    It is on 5 november. The title of the symposium is "Moving Traditions - the story of Zwarte Piet". You might find it interesting. I'll be there...

    For more information on the event, click here.


      • Arie Wieldraaijer

        By Arie Wieldraaijer

        nonsense. it is just a traditional entertainment for kids. nothing more nothing less. overloading things with irrelated meanings seems to be the full time occupation of a lot of people.

        • Miriam

          By Miriam

          I think it is a shame to have this parade at this age. I am proud of out many traditions and this is not one of them. BTW, this is a tradition only from 1850 or so. So it is not such a long "tradition". It is best to leave it asap.

          • Marcus Theo van der Veen

            By Marcus Theo van der Veen

            Completely agree. It is a shameful act.

          Universiteit van Amsterdam (University of Amsterdam)

          Universiteit van Amsterdam (University of Amsterdam)

          The University of Amsterdam (Dutch: Universiteit van Amsterdam) or the UvA is a public research university located in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.