The annual procession of Sinterklaas through Amsterdam takes place this Sunday on the 17th of November, but all eyes will be on his controversial “helper” Black Peter or “Zwarte Piet” as the Dutch call him.
Unlike Santa Claus, Sinterklaas already arrives on the 5th of December and the Dutch paired him up with a fellow called Zwarte Piet who sports a black- painted face, gold earring and some funky satin bloomers - curiously unspoiled for someone who supposedly just made a trip down the chimney.
Though the debate about whether this character is racist has been going on for years, it seems to have heated up with even the United Nations chirping in this year. The Dutch have countered by setting up a Facebook-page called Piet-itie (Pete-ition) in support of Zwarte Piet that has already gained 2,1 million “likes”.
Students at Wittenborg University also displayed strong opinions when asked about whether Piet should stay put.
Marius Zürcher (from Switzerland) says: “I think Zwarte Piet should stay, but they should change his appearance. In Switzerland, we also have a kind of Sinterklaas and there he comes with one helper. He is also "black", but unlike the case of the Zwarte Piet, he is clearly not black when it comes to race but only because he went through the chimney and stuff . Zwarte Piet can stay, but they should reduce the racial stereotypes and make it more obvious that he is dirty from chimneys and not black. I agree that in his current form, he can be regarded as racist and I think it's is something that needs to be taken seriously. I hate how people do not take these allegations seriously."
"However, I also want to point out that as a kid I enjoyed Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet a lot and I never ever made the connection between Zwarte Piet and the black people I grew up around. I always considered him some kind of fantasy figure, like elfs from Santa or something and not as a person of a certain race. I therefore also understand why some people just do not get why some people think it is racist.”
Ishebo Twijukye (from Uganda) thinks Zwarte Piet may as well stay. “Tradition at times outweighs change. If Sinterklaas has always had the Zwarte Piet, why should this change? I mean, Dutch people in their 40’s and above grew up with this image so changing it would mean wiping out and killing these folks' Christmas memories.... So as long as it’s not directly aimed at race or black, then I got nothing about Zwarte Piet.”
Noma Mabandla (from Zimbabwe) says: “Well, as a foreigner I can't exactly tell the people.of the Netherlands what to do with their “racially insensitive” tradition. The character Is sporting a blackface in the 21st century! If Dutch people think there is nothing wrong with that, I can't and will not get into a debate into wether he should be part of the celebrations. Every society has some horrid tradition they love that everyone else thinks is insane. Pity this one is kind of an insult to an entire race.”
Interviews by Anesca Smith
Dutch Text by Samantha Birdsall - a first year Primary Education student at Saxion University of Applied Science in Deventer.
©Wittenborg University Press
Anesca Smith is a Final Year IBA Hospitality Management student and has been employed as a writer for Wittenborg since May this year. Anesca is a journalist, writing for newspapers in her native South Africa, however is looking forward to working in the hospitality industry. Find out more at http://anescasmith.com/