Home / Dutch Tolerance / Dutch tolerance and Zwarte Piet a personal view

Dutch tolerance and Zwarte Piet a personal view

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This is the first and last post that the Shallow Man will write about Zwarte Piet this year. Like many of you I’m sick of the whole thing. Today the Raad van State will make a decision with regards to the appearance of Zwarte Piet and the recent court ruling in Amsterdam that Zwarte Piet is racially offensive. Amsterdam city council, being reasonable people, plan to make some minor changes to the appearance of Zwarte Piet, so that he actually does look like a white man that has been down a chimney. Most sensible people would agree that this is a reasonable compromise, however, there’s a hard core of what I’ll call neo Zwarte Piet supporters who insist that there should be no changes to his appearance at all. I’ve decided to use and explain the logic of the neo-Zwarte Piet supporters

The logic of neo Zwarte Piet supporters

A well dressed black gentleman is walking along a street in Amsterdam. There are several Dutch women standing outside a bar smoking. One of them says to the black man,

“You’re a well dressed neger”.

The rather shocked gentlemen replies

“what did you just say?”

“I just said that you’re a well dressed neger”

Her friends whisper something to her

“Oh are you shocked that I’m calling you a Neger? Don’t be offended, I’m Dutch and we Dutch don’t use the N word in the offensive way that it’s used in the US or the UK. The intention is not to cause any offence, so actually, I’m offended that you would take offence at something I said when it’s not meant in that way. I’m Dutch and I have the right to tell you, a black person, what you should find racially offensive, that’s just the way it is.

You can’t come to the Netherlands, the most tolerant country IN THE WORLD and tell us which words we’re allowed to use. You’re attempting to import the American racial experience to the Netherlands and cause problems that we don’t have in this country.  In fact, ninety nine percent of Dutch people think the same way, and two million of us signed a petition on Facebook that gives us the right to continue using the N word.

We’ve been calling black people the N word for over a hundred years. It’s a traditie! It’s our right to continue doing so, no matter who it offends. It’s anti-white discrimination, to tell us, the majority, to adapt our language to not offend a minority.  In fact if you don’t like it, you should go back to your own country, and if you’re a “nieuwe Nederlander” well you should go back to your country of origin if you don’t like our traditions”.


The downside of understanding Dutch

I wish that I couldn’t read Dutch. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have been exposed to, or understand the many comments posted on the forums of AT5.nl, Het Parool and the Volkskrant on the Zwarte Piet debate. There appears to be a huge undercurrent of intolerance and downright racial hatred that is brought to the fore whenever the subject of making changes to the appearance of Zwarte Piet is brought up. I’m aware that many of these people are internet warriors, saying things that they would never have the guts to do in person, but it’s still pretty disturbing to read.

Dutch Tolerantie

Dutch tolerance is fine for same-sex relationships, attitude towards drugs and prostitution, but there appears to be a blind spot, or better said a black spot when it comes to Zwarte Piet. Anger, hysteria, and hatred are often displayed by ZP supporters with even death threats being made to people that suggest making changes to the appearance of Zwarte Piet. Last year the Dutch singer, Anouk, who happens to be in a relationship with a black man, made some negative comments about Zwarte Piet. She was called a black man loving whore and received death threats.  There wasn’t much evidence of the famous Dutch tolerance visible there.

My personal view is, by all means, keep Zwarte Piet, don’t make any changes to him, in fact, do as Groningen are planning this year and make him even blacker, by all means. My only request is for the Dutch to stop describing themselves as ‘tolerant’ when the actions of so many neo-Zwarte Piet supporters in recent months appear to prove that the opposite is the case and that the famous Dutch ‘tolerantie’ is a thing of the past.

The Netherlands is no more tolerant than many other countries I’ve lived in or visited, and the general attitude towards people using their democratic rights here to attempt to make changes to something that they find offensive is overwhelmingly negative and downright hateful in many cases. The Polder model and the famous Dutch attributes of open-mindedness and willingness to hold a civilized debate have been replaced by hatred and now violence as well.

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Dutch tolerantie, nothing offensive about this at all
Dutch tolerantie, 2014
Zwarte Piet example
US Lynching 1889

Yes, I’m a bloody foreigner, and what gives me the right to comment on a “Dutch” issue? Well this allochtoon lives, works and pays taxes here, and the Netherlands is toch een democratie hoor!

No open minded Dutch female singers were hurt during the writing of this post.

A prize to the first person that tells me “if you don’t like it here, go back to your own country”. Why do people say this? Do they not realize that there’s Internet access in the UK as well? If I was to move back to London, why would that stop me commentating on Dutch society? Dom, dom, dom.

Till next time. Speak your mind, freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Dutch constitution.





About Simon Woolcot

Infamous blogger, annoyance and self confessed Shallow Man . Simon is a British expat who has lived in Amsterdam for over 11 years, and due to Brexit may soon be applying for asylum. As well as writing this blog, Simon also has a YouTube channel of the same name, writes and directs videos, and hosts seminars about life in the Netherlands

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  • ArjanCK

    I totally agree on the fact that The Netherlands aren’t a tolerant country. We never were, so I’m not sure why the rest of the world thinks we are. Being a born and bred white male Dutchie, I think I know what I’m talking about although i’m not typically against foreigners. As long as they obey the law and don’t tire me with religion, I’m fine with them.

    As for Zwarte Piet, it’s a bloody festivity for kids. Not one single kid looks at Zwarte Piet and thinks anything but receiving candy from him. That’s it. So what his face is black. Who the fuck cares? Certainly not the kids. And do these kids become little racists after years of celebrating Sinterklaas? I don’t think so. I think the world has more pressing problems to worry about.

    • Do we have any data to prove or disprove that exposing children to racial stereotypes early on has no later consequences? How do we know that growing up as a black child and seeing how you race is there to “help” the whites is not going to affect you in some way in the long run? I mean we see how the stereotype of the perfect body has made a society with a lot of weight-related problems, even deaths… Just sayin’.

      • MelanieB

        In fact, there is a LOT of data showing that exposing children to negative racial stereotypes has a great effect on them. Addressing inequality across race/religion/social classes is one of the most pressing problems worldwide to address.

        • Just what I thought, is not my area of expertise therefore I can’t really talk about it, but perhaps somebody with the right qualifications can steer this conversation in the right direction. Thankfully we are not living in the dark ages anymore, lets put science into good use folks.

          • David Farias

            Karla, Melanie: I am with Arjan in this one. This is a festivity for kids, and honestly, I do not see how kids who enjoy this sinterklaas party see de pieten as a racial stereotype, even less a negative one. I’ll give you that teenagers (and naturally adults) can do so, but not young kids. Young kids just see them as playful, funny characters that are helping sinterklaas; they do not see slaves, they don’t even know what words like slavery or racism mean or that they even exist.

            The facts are the facts, and the slaves that sinterklaas “freed” where not Asian, Indian, American, green or orange: they were black; and when the moment comes when you kids asks you why de pieten are black, well, just give them a proper history lesson. I know we did with our 8 year old, and will hopefully do again with my 2 year old; on the other hand, I do not know how to explain her why zwarte piet is not zwaart anymore…

          • David Farias

            And then again…there are clearly more serious issues in the world that would demand the attention that this issue has taken….

          • Those clearly more serious issues in the world that demand our attention start in the way we understand the world, in the way we educate ourselves, our youngsters, that’s culture. Include in the mix latter on the way media informs or manipulates, etc… The way I see it, this issue is interesting because it shows in a very gross (immediate) manner how far we are from understanding each other, and far even from the willingness to understand each other.

            Portraying another race as bellow the dominant one is not unique to the Netherlands, you can find it in cinema, in many and probably every country through history and in the present, etc. I understand that for the (present day) Dutch that is not the intention, at least not the conscious one, but I also understand that to most humans grown outside the NL this really looks grotesque. Sorry, we can’t help it, is just pretty obviously charged with racial connotations, whether is in purpose or not -anymore. The fish can’t see the water, I understand that… And I’m neither white nor black. This is just the opinion of a non-Dutch human.

            What entertains my thoughts regarding this issue in the Netherlands, is perhaps the lack of experience or mastery at managing this kind of sensitive issues. I love the Dutch, I have a Dutch partner and I may have half Dutch children one day, but some times, many Dutch seem incredibly naive, while others seem incredibly mean, yet both groups seem incredibly stubborn.

            Finally, if I may. What I think is actually very important in all of this, is what is bellow this issue, why some (most) people feel so strongly about it, I can allow myself the luxury not to care about the ZP, however, what really truly worries me, is not the lack of racial sensitivity the Dutch seem to have, or the lack of memory, so to speak, as we all share a bit of that, not even the sense of entitlement, but the underlying issues, the insecurity perhaps? If the Dutch traditions disappear it may be more likely caused by the race disappearing itself, the birth rates are lower than what is needed to replace population, and why is that? I really don’t know, but I think that is, for example, more likely to cause a real effect rather than the changing of a tradition a bit so that the Dutch don’t look like an uncivilised barbaric race to outsiders. I really don’t know what is the real fear underlying this (disproportionately strong?) reactions, but I hope you guys figure it out. Otherwise this kind of situation may keep coming back with different triggers. And is quite frankly tiring, and for me, a bit scary to be honest. For the first time in my LIFE I’m quite scared to voice my opinion about an issue. And I have quite strong opinions about a lot of things. And I would have never expected to experience that fear in Europe, of all places.

            That’s what I think, and I really was trying to keep my thoughts to myself. But now is out.

            Btw my intention is not to hurt or offend, sorry if I put my ideas too bluntly. Is contagious.

    • RudselS

      ArjanCK, you are right that (a) it’s a festivity for kids and (b) it does not necessarily turn kids into racists. I was pro-ZP before and changed my mind because of 2 main reasons; (a) it is not a festivity for ALL kids. Unfortunately there is a small minority of black kids being pestered by white kids during the festivities and (b) although I still would not call these pestering kids racists, apparently the parents are not able or motivated to change the behaviour of these kids. It is for this reason that I would like to see some important changes being made to the St.Nicolas festivities.

  • Maarten

    Dear Shallow Man! This post honors your name. Please be aware that the vast majority of the Dutch do NOT approve of these terrible racist tendencies and do support a different approach to Sinterklaas. However, the PVV people scream a lot louder on the internet. It puts the whole country to shame, and indeed many are feeling ashamed.
    Please don’t make the mistake of condemning an entire nation based on what you read on internet fora. I’d say that’s rather shallow of you 😉

    • Simon Woolcot

      Maarten, I tried to make the distinction about “neo” zwarte piet supporters. As I said, the Netherlands is no more or less tolerant than many other countries. I certainly don’t mean to condemn the entire nation. 🙂

      • Rob

        Your paragraph just before the video (and gruesome picture) suggest you DO feel like this is the way most Dutch people think. I agree, very shallow indeed and not correct to most Dutch people who are very tolerant.
        As for me, I really don’t care if ZP is changed or not, and I do have small children. Make him orange for all I care. What I find most annoying about the whole discussion is that pro and con supporter apparently think this is the most pressing issue in the world. Look around you, the world around us is on fire, Ebola, IS, people starving an dieing … And we are fussing about ZP. Those are the times I feel ashamed to be Dutch

      • NoNeo

        Mhm… a few things are very noticeable to me about this blog… First of all, Mr. Shallowman, you are constantly in all your blogs, stereotyping the Dutch. No problemo to me, but when YOU feel stereotyped by someone, all of a sudden it IS a problem. Second of all, I have NEVER witnessed or heard of a conversation as you have described here where someone calls a colored person a ‘well dressed neger’ or would talk to someone in that way. I’m not saying it never happens, but again, you are stereotyping a group of people (I hope not the Dutch in general) as if they’re some kind of ‘racists in disguise’. Third, you are only showing a very small part of the Pow news item, where a very dumb young man hits a woman. However, if you’d watch the entire pownews item, you’d find the coloured lady and other coloured people are being very unfriendly to the interviewer. Also, especially the lady with the short hair is very ignorant about the subject. She keeps pointing out to the interviewer that ‘YOU people’ (meaning white people) have killed us, and the indians… etc. etc. Pointing out facts that happened several centuries ago and have NOTHING to do with the celebration of Sinterklaas (and ironically makes her a racist as well in a way). I’m not trying to make right what the young lad did by hitting that lady, because obviously, that is VERY wrong. But it does show however that YOU, Mr. Shallowman, use only what suits you. You don’t show the ignorance and stupidity of the other folks around.
        Also, where did you hear or see a Dutch person ever say that they are the ONLY or MOST tolerant country in the world? This seems to annoy you a lot for some reason. I think Dutch folks consider THEMSELVES to be quite tolerant. They don’t speak for anyone else though…
        All in all I find you very shallow on this subject. You only highlight one side of the story and only the parts that suit your arguments…

        I’m not saying btw that Sinterklaas is not a weird tradtion. Defo needs some explaining to an outsiders view, cuz I can understand some folks might see it as the Piets being coloured people and that thereby coloured people are being portrayed in a certain way. Having said that… Doesn’t that also imply that white people are being portrayed as lookimg like the pope…?!

        Just so you know, I am NOT a racist, I am AGAINST discrimination in any form or way. I just don’t see any link between racism and this tradition for children.

  • ArjanCK

    I forgot to mention, the reactions of some of my fellow Dutch in topics like these are gruesome, harsh and bluntly racist. My thesis that at least 50% of the inhabitants of Holland are utterly stupid, sees it’s evidence in the comments in those topics.

    • Hans

      Your thesis is probably correct. But probably also applicable to every other country in the world.

  • I think you’re wrong about this issue. We do tolerate everything, also the things we dissagree with, but this is not a matter of tolerance, this is how we need to change. Animals day was on the same day as the moslims sacrevised an animal, but did we change that? No because no matter how cruel it is to us, it’s what they believe and do.

    Everything is allowed here and people can do what they want. You’re black, yellow, gay, or whatever, fine. But if we tolerate you, then don’t ask us to change our traditions.

    Look at traditions in other countries like the bull fighting in Spain, this is harmless and makes children happy, is that then really so bad?

    Beside, if you know the real story then you know this is really anti-slavery. The zwarte Pieten were being saved from slavery and god a paid job from Sinterklaas, so what is the problem? People need to stop turning this into something it’s not!

    • Simon Woolcot

      Apjee, the Dutch are no more tolerant than most nations. Surely a sign of tolerance is a willingness to debate and seek compromise, something that’s been missing from the ZP issues. It’s just two sides shouting at each other.

      • Is there any debating on the things for people who come live here? No matter what religion you have, we accept it. You want a churge or something else, here you go, have it. It’s all fine, but now we have to change our traditions in our own country for the few people who turn this into something which it’s not. Yeah that upsets me.
        I’m not screaming and i won’t hit someone for it but i just don’t understand that now our traditions need to be changed while we don’t ask that of any other traditions. I don’t know how other countries would react to certain things, i just know what we do.

        • Simon Woolcot

          What most people do is attempt to reach a win/win compromise. I would hope that would be possible. As far as I can tell, no one is asking for the Sinterklaas feest to be changed, just the appearance of the Piets.

          • And normally i would be the first, but that’s like changing history, hiding the real story. The big guy saved them from slavery, should we change the story bout WW2 also because it still hurts the victums? I know theres a difference between WW2 and Sinterklaas, but still, you know what i mean? He was a good guy and made his statement against slavery. That’s something we should honor if you ask me and not change it because a few people change the story.

  • Thank you for writing this piece. I have a Dutch partner so I decided not to share how I feel about it with my in-laws because I don’t want to come out as, you know, uncomfortable. So for the first time in my life I was going to keep my opinion -on something so grotesquely obvious, to myself, however my blunt, sorry, Dutch partner already told them… I have no idea what I’ll say to them when I go to the celebratie. Pfff. I think if they ask (which I’m starting to realise they won’t) I’ll just say I can see how people here think it is not done with racial connotations, but that it really is neither my fault nor my doing to have come from the outside from where it does looks and feels very racists. And I’m not black or American, I’m just a non-Dutch human. But anyway, just to read your piece was already cathartic. And I agree, with all of it, and more. Thanks!

  • MCJ

    “Speak your mind, freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Dutch constitution.” Exactly, and it is also time to get rid of the BS about offending religion in the constitution.

    Oh and by the way: “f you don’t like it here, go back to your own country!” 😉

  • Erik

    There is no Dutch tolerance, and never has been. The Dutch are indifferent. They’ll tolerate a lot if there is some way some one makes a buck out of it, such as selling drugs to tourists, but as soon as it influences them directly, i.e. they have to adjust themselves, the tolerance is gone and the complaining (national hobby no.1) starts.

  • Alice

    Speaking of which, this is what I came across yesterday about the makeover of ZP. Personally I think this is a positive move. The page is called “Pietmakeover”.

  • Gerard

    What strikens me in your post is that you stereotype all the Dutch to an intolerant bunch of assholes. It doesn’t generally mean that there are no tolerant people in this country. Don’t read all comments on AT5, nu.nl and certainly not on telegraaf.nl. As soon as you do you really start to wonder in what country we are actually living in.

    • Simon Woolcot


      Stereotyping ALL Dutch people was not what I intended to do. I was referring to what I call neo ZP supporters. Blind fanatics that issue death threats and make comments about minorities being on uitkering.

  • Emilie

    A lot of people in the Netherlands are against changing Zwarte Piet. Not for the fact that we want him to be a black man ( because I have been tought that he is black from the chimney and never saw him as a black man), but we want to keep him the way he is. They are scarred that people want to change parts of our traditions and culture.

    In a lot of other ways we are very tolerant. Sometimes even more then some people would want to. But being SUPER against changing Zwarte Piet is in my opinion more the fear of not knowing where we draw the line. In The Netherlands we have a lot of people who’s for-fathers are not from here. Many are asked to come here to do jobs ‘us dutchies’ didn’t want to do (gastarbeiders), and many have come here because their country isn’t safe anymore (vluchtelingen) and some are just here to seek luck, money or love. In a lot of cases we have tried to make these people feel welcome. But trying to change Zwarte Piet is for a lot of people trying to change their Dutch culture, and they are scared about what will be next.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with changing Zwarte Piet into a chimney blacked guy (but with red lips, gold earrings and everything), because he is not supposed to be a black male.
    Unfortunately we have come to a point where it’s not actually about Zwarte Piet anymore! It’s about just not wanting to do meet in the middle in this discussion.
    I grew up on Aruba, a country which has a big history in slavery and also has a lot of coloured skinned people, and on the 5th of December Zwarte Piet would be black! And nobody would make a problem about it.
    It’s no longer the discussion about the skin colour of Zwarte Piet, we are just doing what we Dutchies are good at as well: ZEUREN EN ZEIKEN. You are not typically Dutch if you have nothing to whine about. But when we start hitting and hating each other then something is desperately wrong.
    So let’s do the following: everybody who is pro Zwarte Piet should say ‘Zwarte Piet is not supposed to offend anyone. But if you feel discriminated about Zwarte Piet, then we are sorry.’ And everybody against Zwarte Piet should say ‘we are sorry, we don’t want to change your tradition, and we didn’t realise that it would offend you so much.’ And then we will change his black painted face into a chimney blackened face.

    • Simon Woolcot

      Great comments. Thank you

  • thetributefashionjaszmin

    I can only speak as an outsider coming into the Dutch culture as an admirer for many things. This country has proven to be very progressive on numerous globally controversial topics from my perspective. As an African American I was very excited to move here and be apart of the culture. Which is why I was so shocked to visit here 3 years ago and see Zwarte Piet plastered everywhere during celebrations. My Dutch partner then explained that this was a children’s character and has been a permanent fixture in Dutch culture. I then explained that he has no idea of the wave of emotion that comes over me when I am confronted with that figure and to then see children at his daughter’s school dancing around with Zwarte Piet faces stamped on bright pink hats. It’s infuriating to say the least, that there isn’t more empathy offered to those who’s families have been affected by slavery, especially when there is so much inequality today. I think it’s wonderful that this country celebrates it’s history, however, not all parts of history are great. For my partner, I asked him if it would be okay if I celebrated a character very similar to one that might have been used in reference to the Holocaust…since his family is half German and he has faced childhood traumas because of his heritage…..obviously he was not okay with that. No one wants to feel emotionally threatened walking down the street during the holidays…but as a Black person, that is what I’m a subjected to.

  • RSdone

    I think the N word in dutch actually is “Nikker” which literally means “Nigger”. Nikker is the insulting term for the word “Neger”. However many black people nowadays also feel that Neger is offensive. I don’t know why it has changed over the years. I think in the eighties the word Neger was used normally and it still is being used actually. It has turned into an offensive word but I don’t know if that is correct.

    In the US for instance it is better to use Black (or Afro-American) instead of Negro. Even nowadays also some black people want to be referred to as Negroes so it’s really personal I guess. Mainly “black” is generally accepted and Afro-American is getting less because it’s longer and the black people generally feel there’s no real connection with Africa anymore but they are of course just Americans.

    In the Netherlands most people don’t like to be called “zwart” (translated from black) but it is preferred to use the term “getint” (tainted) or person with a “getinte huidskleur” (tainted skin colour).

    Anyway, it is all relative depending on what culture you’re part of etc. In the latin countries a lot of people call each other “Moreno” (brown), “Negro” (black), “Gordo” (fat) or “Flaca” (skinny) etc. and they don’t care about using this to describe a person. It’s just practical.

    In the Netherlands this is not done and is made an issue, you can’t say this “bruine” (brown) or “zwarte” (black), that is considered to be offensive. Nobody knows why really…not really tolerant I think. It would make it easier to describe somebody if necessary to use “bruin” (brown), “donker bruin” (dark brown) or “zwart” (black).

  • crazzo

    do you feel strongly about this because you are black? (no hate)

    • Simon Woolcot

      I know Dutch natives that share my views on this. As for my color being an influencing factor in my views…I’m not sure. 🙂

      • crazzo

        man, i understand your point but most people are idiots and sheep. So if I were you, I wouldn’t care.

        Now here is the fun part, if I were a black guy I would troll Dutchies with the most outrageous stuff that would turn on their ”white guilt” 😀 (semi srs)

  • Ellen

    I really don’t see, what Zwarte Piet has got to do with slavery. Yes he is black, but he is a happy working person. The history goes back to the 4th till 6th century when slavery had all colours (not only the USA southern states color). The good bisshop bought the children free and gave them paid work. They devoted their lives to working for the good bisshop.
    And I also don’t see what Zwarte Piet has got to do with rascisme. Children learn at a young age that Zwarte Piet can be trusted. So what is wrong with that? It’s a positive character.
    btw the pownews item misses the part where the woman starts hitting the young man. And the Zwarte Piet dolls were not hung by the neck, but attached in a normal way. Should they have thrown them on the streets? The text says “we want to stay”. So not a very objective way of reporting.

    • Simon Woolcot

      Hi, nowhere in my article did I make the link between ZP and slavery. As for the rest, I respect your views, even if I don’t agree with them. 🙂

      • Flo

        I have to agree with Ellen that the photo you posted of the doll and under it the photo of the lynching is totally out of place. If you do not want people to make the wrong assumptions, and I don’t think you do, you should change where they were placed or explain

        Because the way you put them there now, that is just hete koolen op het vuur gooien.

        • Simon Woolcot

          Flo, when I saw the picture of the Zwarte Piet doll tied to a lamp post, the first thing that came into my mind was the lynching of black people in the deep south. I wasn’t the only one that made that connection, I was at a meeting with a couple of native Dutch people on Thursday who thought exactly the same thing. My lynching photo is in the same bad taste as the people who distributed the dolls in that way.

  • Nou, as a white American (originally — well, I still am white) I shouldn’t have a dog in this fight, but in proud Amsterdam tradition that invisible dog will now proceed to shit everywhere 🙂 Standing with the ZP tegenstanders has certainly gotten me my share of “rot toch op naar je eigen land” comments. But guess what? I already did. My family is Dutch but left NL in the 1840s. And when they left, THERE WAS NO ZWARTE PIET. Schenkman’s odious opus had yet to appear. How oer-Hollands can ZP *be* then?

    What crystallizes this for me as a completely irrational enterprise on the part of the pro-traditie folks is that not only would making small alterations to ZP make a lot of people feel better, it would make the visual appearance of the character actually conform better to the story! It’s like listening to the privileged white Christians back in the US who are howling mad at being “persecuted”, when the reality is that they’re simply uncomfortable with the fact that they’re not going to get their way every single time on every single issue. The desperate rationalizations of the pro-pietenkamp are kind of pathetic. Of course traditions change. They change all the time. ZP was a change to the original Sinterklaas verhaal.

    There’s the slavery angle, which seems obvious to all but the wilfully blind, plus there’s the age-old “white=good, black=evil” trope. (Sinterklaas, the good white holy man, has conquered evil and made it his servant. Piet is still naughty, but it’s a neutered sort of evil, one that the holy man has brought under control. Etc.)

    It’s been said so often it’s a cliche by now, but 15 years in NL has really taught me the difference between tolerance and acceptance. I think NL actually is above average in tolerance, but is sadly lacking in acceptance. “We’ll let you live here and almost treat you as equals, but we’ll never let you forget you’re different. Try to change us and we’ll show you who’s really boss.”

    Certainly it can now seem that the “debate” consists of the two sides screaming at each other. But let’s not forget that it didn’t start that way. A peaceful, tiny, low-key demonstration of the idea that Zwarte Piet just might be a racist caricature was met with hatred and a violent reaction from police (thanks, Dordrecht!) and the public alike. That polite call for change was shouted down then and has since escalated to death threats on a routine basis. I think that’s the point at which I would try to make my voice louder, too.

  • Ashlee

    Going down the chimney makes you get soot on your face. I see that. But how does it also make you have curly hair and big lips? Never understood that part.

  • Erik

    Hi, I normally never leave messages on any internet forums so I thought lets have a go! I am a middle aged white Dutch guy that has spent most of his live outside the Netherlands as an expat. When the whole ZP discussion started my first reflex was also what the F…? This is a children’s party – with no political or racist intention – what a none discussion I thought – in light of all the world’s real troubles. Then I decided to listen to the other side of the story – the people that do have an issue with this and I thought, ok clearly my own reference to what I consider to be discrimination / racism is different, however, this is suposed to be an enjoyable festival for all. And afterall we are in 2014 so what does it hurt if we adjust the formular little so that everone can enjoy the party, with his own ethics. I like to think that most of my fellow countrymen & women think along the same lines…. I think the manner in which the subject has been raised & exploited by the press has a lot to with it. I think the majority of Dutch people are like myself, mostly keep their opinions to them selves, get on with live and no spare time for all day activity on forums ……

  • M.W

    Painful lack of empathy on (part of) both sides. The ‘Neo’s’ can’t (or don’t want to) understand why a black person is hurt by a blackface character. They lack sensitivity and often knowledge and have absolutely no idea (as a majority) what discrimination feels like. Then there is an aggressive group of protesters that have absolutely no idea how change in a society works. Nobody likes to be called a racist, especially when you honestly believe you are not, and your tradition is innocent. The world is changing fast and people are trying to hold on to things they probably best not hold on to. Oscar Wilde once said if you want to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh, otherwise they kill you. Judging by the tone of the debate, something goes wrong. Both sides are hurt (‘you are a racist’ vs. ‘you are calling me a racist and try to take away my culture’). As long as both sides are not open to the pain of the other side, little progress can be expected. Shamefully, because a lot of simple compromises are available.

  • Crem

    As a french expat living here, I’d finally recap by : Netherlands is as tolerant as France is the country of human rights. A good cover. Personal opinion tho.

  • According to the Sinterklaas story, Sinterklaas was a Turkish man who freed all the black child slaves. They were free to go but could also come and live with him and he would provide work for them.

    So yes, they were black, but not slaves at all, afterall they were free to go whenever they want.

    The word “knecht” does not mean slave. Because a “boerenknecht, slagersknecht etc” they are not slaves, they are helps. Because, let’s face it.. without his Pieten Sinterklaas is just an old man who will probably get lost at sea.

    As for the children, when I was little I wanted to become a zwarte Piet. They were our heroes, the different charactors they have were something to identify ourselves with.
    We got “Pietengym” at school where we learned how to become a Zwarte Piet, and I have always seen him as an equal to Sinterklaas. If anything, Zwarte Piet is the brain that keeps Sinterklaas from getting lost en forgetting stuff.

    Listen to the old song “Hoge daken” written in 1890, where they talk of smart, smart Piet “want vergeten kan hij niet”.

    • Simon Woolcot

      Daisy, I don’t care if they are slaves or freed slaves, or just plain ZZP’ers of color, both sides need to reach an amicable compromise, without threats of violence and racist name calling.

  • Kasekopf

    Good busy!

  • Suzy

    First of all, as other have stated as well, the ‘n-word’ is not the same as the wors neger. Nonetheless, if someone would say ‘you’re a well dressed neger’ to someone else while I’d be anywhere near that person I’d smack them in the face for being ignorant and rude!
    I think the Dutch are relatively tolerant towards other cultures and religions (trust me, if I’d move to an Islamic country they would not have me laying in the sun topless, giving me my own church to pray in, having me open up my own Dutch shops, growing boerenkool, let alone having me celebrate my cultural traditions in their country).
    I find you very shallow about this subject. I suppose I’d fall into what you describe as the neo-category. I’d never tell anyone to go back where they came from for disagreeing with me on the ZP subject, nor would I be handing over death threats or call someone names. But I do want to keep ZP as he is. The way you describe it here there (ironically) is no grey area when it comes to the ZP supporters.
    I hate being made out to be a racist by some for wanting to keep ZP as he is. Kids become racist by their upbringing, not because of a tradition (otherwise we’d all be racists). I think a lot of children are hurt in the joy they get from the celebration of SK by the discussion that is being faught by adults. ZP is a caricature, not a real person!
    Also, why can they happily celebrate Sinterklaas in Curaçao and Aruba, where even there they paint their faces black and nobody talks about racism there… ?! What’s the difference between there and here? (http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xdA6O1pa-78)

    I don’t want Holland to become like the UK, where piglets have to be taken out of the Fisher Price farms and Christmas is no longer celebrated in certain schools because it could offend some people.

    When I was in Southend on Sea last week there were these fridge magnets of scarcely dressed white women on the beach. I felt very offended by this. Where can I complain to the English government so we can get those things banned?! Or at least have them changed! 😛

  • VincentDV

    I was a Pro-ZP at the beginning. I felt changing Zwarte Piet would do harm to my cultural identity. I read and heard and discussed a lot and hat to change my views.
    Yes, changing Zwarte Piet *does* harm my cultural identity. And it was about time as well. Some changes are necessary, even when they are painful.

    In the process, I stopped being ‘tolerant’ and began being respectful. I don’t ‘tolerate’ black people in “my country”, I now respect them and their feelings and because of that I have to accept that not all our tradities are something to be proud of.

    Also in the process I discovered a lot about the Dutch history and felt ashamed and wondered why I never learned anything about the Dutch role in slavery.

    • RudselS

      I went through almost the same experience Vincent. I was pro-ZP until a cousin of mine told me that there are some kids in Amsterdam actually chasing and pestering coloured kids during the St.Nicolas festivities. Eventhough it is a small minority of kids engaging in this behaviour, for me it became clear that the present way we celebrate St.Nicolas and the ZP is not an all happy event for ALL the small children! That notion changed my mind. I don’t want to ban ZP; I would like the blackfacing to stop and a multicultural figure introduced. It could still be called ZP because of the all-black outfits that they wear, but otherwise help St. Nicolas as the different people that they are (Dutch, Chinese, Black, Brown, Turkish, etc.). And these helpers can be just as skilful and funny etc.
      This also means that I would prefer this community to step back from the discussion whether ZP is racist or not. It doesn’t matter! Also we must realise that even if ZP is racially motivated, it does not mean that people in favour of it are racists. They just want to keep things as they are. At the same time, people who are against are not a threat to the Dutch society or way of living. They just want to keep a healthy development going for a better future!

  • Paulien Nabben

    I never said something like ‘go back to your own country’ . But I’m disappointed that they won’t understand our way of thinking about zwartepiet. Nearly every kid I know (including me as I was younger) think zwartepiet is a hero! Zwartepieten are smart and nice, they can solve all the problems Sinterklaas can’t handle. Al most every child in the Netherlands wants to be come zwartepiet when they are older! Why Should we take that away from them?

    And also we don’t see zwartepiet as something racist. .. nobody i know ever thought about that ,until people stared discussing about it…

    So pleas stop with being hate full, because i and most people I know aren’t.

    Xx a Dutch girl

  • I must say that the reaction of shock and disbelief was exactly how I felt the first time I saw a group of Piets running around Amstelveen. To make things even more surreal they were speaking with mock Surinaams accents (It was 2004). I’m aware of the cultural context of Zwarte Piet, and while I would never accuse anyone that likes Zwarte Piet of being racist, it is a racist tradition. I was watching the Sinterklaasjournaal and the chocolate coloured Piets really do speak as if they are slow witted. There’s nothing intelligent about them at all. The Minstrels in Hollywood movies from the thirties and forties behave pretty much the same way as the Piets in the Netherlands in 2014. While watching the Sinterklaasjournaal I was surprised that the Zwarte Piets didn’t start singing
    My oh my, what a wonderful day

    Zwarte Piet is a tradition, but it’s also pretty damn racist. But I know that many Dutch people will keep putting their heads in the sand and scream ‘TRADITIE’ or the rather patronising ‘you don’t understand the context of ZP’

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  • Eamonn Conlin

    Your use of the Zwarte Piet discussion in regards to tolerance is illogical and misplaced. Whether you are for or against the tradition of Zwarte Piet is an argument based on the principles of tradition vs. racism. Tolerance has nothing to do with it, except in so far that the Dutch tolerate the discussion and legal protests from both camps.
    You are free to argue that the Dutch are not as tolerant as they may think. I agree. Their language skills are also overrated.
    The failure of your argument is that it tries to measure the Dutch myth of tolerance utilizing an argument that has no direct correlation with the subject.
    Like using “gun-control” to measure American patriotism.

  • wavemachine007

    People say Zwart Pieten are black faced from chimney soot…. but when they arrive each year on the boat with Sinterklaas they already have black faces… wouldn’t they have cleaned their faces at some point ?? ZP is an obvious reference to slavery or freed-slaves so why does this myth of chimney soot persist among commentators?? Father Christmas and Santa Claus both go up anx down chimneys but still have PINK (no-one is white – not even albinos!!) faces and very WHITE hair… point made I think 😉 Just teach kids ZP are freed slaves to stop perpetuating this sooty face lie. TY drom the Wavemachine007 – English Spy in The Netherworld for 13 years now – unlucky for me 😉 “Sooty” is an orange colour usually. .. would it not be better if Zwart Piet became Orange Piet ??