10 excuses most Dutch people make for racism
Chandra Frank | December 5th, 2013


Today is the day Sinterklaas and his little black slaves give candy to children, although nature got in the way somewhat. As you’re aware, “Zwarte Piet” (translated: Black Pete) is how the helpers of Saint Nicholas are known — he is white and they come complete with golliwog-style wig, pronounced red lips, speak with funny accents. Dutch authorities felt Zwarte Piet can’t be racist anymore because they removed his gold earring. This year, the Dutch can’t hide how racist this “tradition” is anymore. Everyone from the New York TimesBBC to CNN has covered it. We’ve had a few spats on Twitter, Facebook and on the blog with people (mostly Dutch, it seems) who still think blackface is clean fun. Anyway, we compiled a list of the 10 excuses most Dutch people make for racism:

1. Slavery was such a long time ago; slavery has nothing to do with Zwarte Piet. It’s just those who like to be victims who still complain about slavery. The Dutch only had a small percentage of slaves either way. Rather let’s just talk about the glorious VOC period and how the Dutch pioneered in trade.

2. The Dutch don’t even see color; everybody is equal here and blacks and whites are totally treated equally. Why else would they want to live here, right? Discrimination on the labor market? That happens to everyone, also to blonde people, you know.

3. All children like Zwarte Piet; you can’t take Zwarte Piet away from the kids, it’s all for the kids, the kids will not understand, they love it. Racist images are of course not normalised and accepted.

4. My black neighbors’ daughter likes Zwarte Piet; see even black people dress up as Zwarte Piet. Are they racist too? And people on Curacao also celebrate Zwarte Piet and they love it. If they do it then there must not be anything wrong with it, right?

5. Zwarte Piet is not Blackface; blackface is only in the USA, here it’s just different. Zwarte Piet came through a chimney and that made him black. There’s of course plenty of neutral and non-biased research done on that. And his afro wig, red lips and golden earrings are just funny. Nothing to do with stereotypes.

6. If Zwarte Piet is racist white bread is too; everything is reverse racism. You talk about the ‘Dutch being racist’? That’s racist! You want to take away Zwarte Piet from us? That’s racist! You need to respect the Dutch culture or go home. That’s not racist.

7. Opponents of Zwarte Piet are extremist; opponents must at all times refrain from trying to say anything about the national blackface hero in relation to racism. If you speak up in the public domain on Dutch institutional racism and white hegemony you are an extremist by default.

8. By opposing Zwarte Piet you are actually creating racism; we never had racism but now that these extremists and other folks kept talking about it, well yes, now you have created a divide that didn’t exist before. Racism is just magic.

9. Americans just criticize Zwarte Piet because they are so PC; it’s only folks in the USA and all the other countries that don’t understand Zwarte Piet. How do they dare criticize Dutch culture?! Let them look at themselves first. They don’t understand our Zwarte Piet and us.

10. It’s never our intention to be racist; if you think Zwarte Piet is racist, which he is not, you must understand that if the intention is not racist it can never be racist. You shouldn’t be using the word racism so lightly either way. Just don’t be offended so easily. We make fun of Dutch people, Chinese people, farmers, Negroes, everyone! That’s just Dutch culture — not racism.

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Chandra Frank

Writes on feminism, slavery, colonialism and cultural heritage. Follow her on Twitter

16 thoughts on “10 excuses most Dutch people make for racism

  1. I have heard EVERY single one of those “explanations”, every day since November 16th! Thankfully, as from tomorrow, I have another 365 days rest until I have to go through it all over again…..

    I especially love, “2. The Dutch don’t even see color; everybody is equal here and blacks and whites are totally treated equally. Why else would they want to live here, right? Discrimination on the labor market? That happens to everyone, also to blonde people, you know.”


  2. It’s a shame that all good things The Netherlands did in the past to promote equality are being washed away by the discussion of Zwarte Piet. The Dutch fought strongly against Apartheid and racism and when segregation was normal in the USA, in The Netherlands there was a safe multicultural climate. The reason Nelson Mandela visited The Netherlands not long after he was free, was because the Dutch strongly supported him and made big (political) efforts to help set him free.

    I live in The Netherlands since 1980, originally I’m from Spain. I learned about the Dutch culture and it’s customs and adapted myself to their way of life. It’s the only way to live in harmony with your enviroment. Be part of the community.

    I never encountered Zwarte Piet as racism. But that’s because the connection is not there for the Dutch people. However, I can understand that when others take a look at this tradition without any explenation, they might experience it as racism. Specialy Afro-American and African people.

    I also regret that some Dutch people try to protect the tradition of Zwarte Piet, saying it’s not racism, but at the same time they start behaving as racists. Shouting words like: “And if you don’t like it, get the f**k out of this country’. I regret that, and I truly hope that the world realises that that’s not the Dutch in general. It’s a percentage of the Dutch that lack empathy and don’t care about what others think or feel. Such people live in every country.

    So, ultimately the question remains: is Zwarte Piet racism?
    It’s not easy to answer. Today, to a lot of Dutch people it’s not racism, because they associate it with a positive cultural phenomenon. It’s a children’s festivity, and they get presents and are therefore very happy.

    However, you can’ deny it’s origin. It’s clearly that Zwarte Piet looks like the children slaves the rich white elite used to have in their homes. Maybe they were not beaten or abused. But that’s not important. They were slaves, not free. Their apperaence is therefore one that can be associated with slavery. In several paintings of that era you can see these children slaves, dressed the same way as Zwarte Piet. Someone must have taken that as an example for Zwarte Piet when the tradition was formed. Furthermore it’s totally clear that in origin the role of Zwarte Piet was of the servant and Sinterklaas the master. So yes, in that context you can say it has connections with racism.

    So it’s like a coin, it has two sides. The majority of the Dutch love the tradition of Zwarte Piet and never associated it with slavery. So to them it’s like someone is trying to steal something valuable from them.

    I think that it’s a good think we have a discussion about it. And I think we have to listen to eachother. It’s the only way to build a bridge to better understanding one another.

    The tradition might change in the future, but I think it has to be a process of awearness by the Ducth themselves. This year, they’ve decided to loose the golden earrings Zwarte Piet wears. And there are already Dutch who say it would be a good thing to have Piet in different colors. So there’s something going on already.
    Small steps…

    Meanwhile I would like to stress once again, that I have experianced The Netherlands as a very open country, supporting equality and making itself strong to protect fairness and justice.

    (Please ignore the grammatical mistakes I’ve made while typing this response. I had little time to reply and no acces to auto-correction)

  3. I say if it’s not a big deal, then they should have no problem making this Pete character white and then we can call this a day. I hear that is what happened in the US when the tradition hit the shores with the elves and all. They can act as silly and goofy as they want in their own skin.

    • Uh oh, it appears that someone is having difficulties coping with the fact that someone is making a point about a phenomenon I’d like to call Dutch hypocricy: Self-centered jiveness and delusions about one’s own (imaginary) superiority. And, ironically, the phenomenon is clearly reflected on this foul comment of Swaggr.

  4. The black people on here just hate white people…you can see how the envy us….they have to write stuff about us. Just leave us alone…go back to where you guys come from. Then there wouldn’t be racisim. Ok

  5. quote:”Anyway, we compiled a list of the 10 excuses most Dutch people make for racism:”

    no you didnt, you compiled a list of 10 excuses some Dutch people make for zwarte piet.
    I understand that zwarte piet is considered racism, but making an excuse for zwarte piet is not the same as making an excuse for racism.

  6. The true meaning of Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas is, that Zwart Piet is a symbol against slavery. Sinterklaas was a saint who freed slaves and took them in as paid helpers. Every time someone saw Sinterklaas and his black helpers, they were reminded of the fact that they were free men and women and that they were paid for their labor. It is sad that an act of kindness from such a long time ago, is twisted and turned into the exact opposite.

  7. Hello Chandra Frank,

    correction: “his little black slaves” are servants (knechten), and they’re moors, not blacks.
    About the points you mention, these are not “excuses”, they’re facts. I’ll discuss a few:

    The first point, ” slavery has nothing to do with Zwarte Piet” is stated literally on the Meertens Institute’s website (Zwarte Piet FAQ). It’s written by historians and ethnographers, ie, people that actually know what they’re talking about. But I suspect this would be what you sarcastically refer to as “neutral and non-biased research”, while of course it’s white supremacist propaganda created by blue-eyed white devils.. it’s all a conspiracy, quick get your aluminum hat!!

    “Zwarte Piet is not Blackface; blackface is only in the USA” that is correct (well, it existed in the UK too). The Netherlands has never had a tradition of minstrel shows.
    Can you provide any shred of evidence to the contrary?

    “Americans just criticize Zwarte Piet because they are so PC; it’s only folks in the USA and all the other countries that don’t understand Zwarte Piet”
    This is mostly correct. In my experience, Americans are completely obsessed by/paranoid about `race’, `diversity’, etc. They start talking about it 5 minutes into any conversation, and have ready-made opinions on societies and cultural phenomena they don’t know the first thing about. Does that sound familiar?
    Concerning `all the other countries’, do you realize that festivities exist all over the world that involve black masks or black facepaint? There’s Moros y Cristianos for example, which is celebrated in the spanish-speaking world. It refers to the moors that ruled spain and portugal for seven centuries, well before the period of transatlantic slavery.
    St Nicholas has black(ened) helpers all over Europe, they have pre-christian roots:
    There is no historic proof that these were the origin of ZP, but there are striking resemblances (birch twigs, chains, abduction in bags)
    And it exists in the US as well. At Mardi Gras in new Orleans you will see hundreds of african-americans in blackface. I’m not aware of anybody complaining about that.

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