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

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

  1. You hit the nail on the head with this article.
    I’m embarrassed to say it but I avoid this subject with Dutch people now because a lot of them are so persistent/not open-minded to my arguments and just completely miss the point when it comes to racism as a social construct.

    A lot of it has to do with lack of education, Dutch people are not educated at all when it comes to non-whiteness in my opinion. They ignore slavery and colonialism, and when they do pay attention to it (in schoolbooks for instance), it will only be covered in the most minimal way possible. I don’t think Dutch people are awful people at all, but I do think they do not understand racism and therefore a lot Dutch people seem ignorant to me.

    • Dear Niya,
      My compliments on the way you put it down. This is the first reaction that agrees with the article but doesn’t generalise the dutch as a racist people.
      Thank you for your wise words.

      • Dutch people know everything about slavery, they just don’t bring it up every minute. We have better things to do. We live and let eachother live.

        Americans find everything racist, seriously, it’s ridiculous.

      • To evii:

        Your such an idiot.

        Dutch have better things to do, you say, than worry about racism.

        Let me tell you why USA does give a damn about racism, an example:

        Donald Sterling, owner of a team was BANNED for life because of saying ‘nigger’.
        Why is that good? because it ENSURES that USA citizens will REFRAIN from using racial language.

        Now, Dutch have ‘better things to do’ is it? That’s why they didn’t ban Mr Gordon when he called out racial slur to the chinese, and made worldnews headlines?

        You are proud of that, aren’t you? you stupid WHITE PIG. Everyone wonders why prominent Dutch are murdered every now and then…well, it doesn’t seem too much of a mistery to me AT ALL.

    • You just can’t stop rascism. And I don’t understand why people are busy with Zwarte Piet after so much year. If 1 dutch man is rascist not whole Holland is. It’s like everyone wants to give us a bad name. Zwarte Piet is part of the story from Saint Nicholas. In my opinion it shows everyone how good black people are. But I don’t mind what skincolor you’ve your personality counts.

  2. Oh for goodness sake, the world wouldn’t suffer if Zwarte Piet went away. Why are people so persistent when it comes to justifying their need for something when it offends others, when that thing is of no real importance. They should just have a burial for him, mourn his death, if need be, and get on with it.

    • dude

      I’ts a really big tradition in the netherlands. It would be like taking away thanksgiving from the Americans.

  3. I find this article remarkable. The writer writes down ten arguments to defend Zwarte Piet, but none of them are refuted. All these arguments seem pretty legit if you ask me. The whole debate isn’t even about if Zwarte Piet needs to be adjusted or not, if people are offended by it and we have to make a compromise or not, it has become a polarised war on alleged ‘racists’. These people have never had bad intentions nor taught their kids to hate black people. It has never been an issue. So as long as these arguments aren’t refuted but implied to be non-legit, this article lacks any underpinning for the statement that these arguments aren’t legit. Sorry.

    And then let me state again, since people don’t seem to get it. The Dutch hang on to this tradition first and foremost not because of Zwarte Piet, but because they are made to be racists when this has never been the intention from day one.

  4. *sigh*
    This debate is getting really tiring. I get how other countries and cultures look down upon the ‘zwarte piet’ tradition, i really do. It’s just a matter of persistence of cultural legacy versus political correctness.
    What i can’t handle though, is this bunch of arrogant individuals generalizing an entire country on one subject, it’s sickening really. What about traditions in the USA? Last time i checked there’s a link between thanksgiving and slaughtering the native inhabitants of the country… Maybe thanksgiving should be banned too? Oh, and don’t forget the Spanish religious fests. The costumes look like KKK rags. Ban it?
    The search for racist intentions in a totally not-meant-to-be-racist thing is just as despicable as someone being intentionaly, whole hearted racist.
    The dutch don’t celebrate having slaves, just like US citizens don’t celebrate having almost completely erased an entire culture with its people from the face of the planet.
    If anything, feeding this debate is just another foothold for actual racists to persist their ideas.
    With every line i type the chance of getting a huge bucket of proverbial shit thrown my way (“check your facts”, “you’re an idiot”, the regular ‘grammar nazi protocol’ etc.) increases, so i’ll leave it at this.

    Lots of love.
    - I’m not here to preach, only to share my personal look on things -

  5. In my humble opinion the whole discussion about Zwarte Piet is the tip of the iceberg for a deeper social unrest.
    What i hear ( as a Dutch guy) from a lot of foreigners is the following comments:
    ….but the Netherlands were so very well known for their tolerance towards foreigners.
    ….the Dutch are always so hospitable and friendly towards foreigners
    …. the Dutch (let’s generalize) are so racist these days, look at their tradition where the let countless of black pete’s work for a whealthy and (even worse)….white person.

    Like Miss Shepperd from the UN even said: It is not necessary to cancel your Sinterklaas tradition at all. The only thing is say is that the relationship between Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet is problematic.
    The relationship between a black subject (with the features of african descend)
    and a white master needs to change.

    For the record, the Zwarte Pieten were slaves that were freed by a wealthy man called Sinterklaas.
    This figure of Sinterklaas could not stand to see those black people being treated like slaves.
    So he bought them and gave them their freedom.
    Out of a deeply felt thanks towards Sinterklaas the freed slaves offered him to come and work for him. Not as slaves but as employees who would be paid for the work they did.
    So now, Sinterklaas is a wealthy man with employees. Nothing wrong with being an entrepreneur with employees.
    But…. since the Zwarte Pieten have unmistakebly African features, there seems to be a problem.
    The whole discussion about Zwarte Piet being a racist image does not concern his golden earrings, or his big red lips, his afro hairdo or colorful clothes….. nope.
    The whole racist discussion had been triggered by a handful of colored people in Amsterdam that “felt” discriminated (and that’s a whole different thing then actually “being” discriminated) by the festivities of Sinterklaas. A wealthy white man with black people as his subjects.
    So the discussion is about the fact that a white man, having black employees is by definition a white slaveholder? I know, it sounds totaly ridiculous and far fetched, but this is it.
    I repeat Miss Shepherd form the UN once more: The relationship between a black subject
    and a white master needs to change.

    That having said, i like to get back to the fact that indeed there is more racism in my country then let’s say 20 years ago. I fully agree on that and its a bad development.
    What i totaly miss in the discussion is the question why.
    Why have the people in the Netherlands more problems with foreigners then before?
    Why do the people defend a fictional character like Zwarte Piet with all their might?

    Maybe because our borders have been open to anyone who wanted to live here.
    You’re welcome if your black, brown, yellow, red, white. The Netherlands were probably
    one of the first countries where so many nationalities found their safe haven.
    Whether they came her by choice or by accident you and your funny culture were welcome here.
    Let’s admit it, we all have our funny things in our culture that will raise eyebrows to those who are unfamiliar with them.

    I know Dutch folks that lived downtown and that have seen their neighbourhood transform throughout the years.
    First everyone was Dutch and we understood eachother like no other.
    Slowly new cultures came into the neighbourhood. We got to learn new cultures en we tasted new and unfamiliar foods. The Dutch welcomed all in their neighbourhood and gave them space to be themselves, with all their cultural peculairities.
    Slowly but surely the tables started to turn. More and more people from abroad came into the Dutch neighbourhoods, bringing their own cultures. But a lot of these different cultures seemed to have a problem with the way certain Dutch people live.
    The Dutch way of living was not holy enough, or not descend enough to the taste of some of our guest-cultures.
    The original Dutch have been driven out of their own neighbourhoods and if you come in there now, you need a pocketbook with different languages to even ask for directions in your own town because no one speaks Dutch there. You have to be respectful to believes you have never even heard of, but the religious and cultural background from foreign people became more important then those of the dutch.
    That’s why you can find Mosque’s nowadays in old Dutch neighbourhoods.
    And if you were having a hard time coping with all the new foreign changes, the first thing all them new cultures were ready to say is: You Dutch are so intolarant and racist towards colored people and people of different believes.

    I beg your pardon??????
    We welcomed all of them different cultures, we tried to accept all your funny cultures and now “we” are the ones who need to addept to the imported cultures by denying our own culture and tradition because someone might be offended by it? Any idea how offending that is?
    What if i come over to your house and start demanding that you change all your routines because they don’t suit me or my beliefs?
    How offended would you be?

    And there is the reason that the Dutch so fiercely defend Zwarte Piet.
    They are fed up. They are sick and tired of hearing that their way of live, their way of practicing relegion, their way of raising up their children and their stupid racist traditions are not good enough and offending.
    That they are infidels, that all dutch girls are whores because they don’t dress properly enough
    It has been an accumulation of decades where a lot of Dutch people feel that all cultures count in the Netherlands, except the Dutch culture. That feeds anger, and that anger came unfiltered forward when a handful of colored people started to “feel” discriminated by Zwarte Piet.
    The feelings of 22 colored people seem to be more important then the feelings of a whole nation.
    This is how a lot of Dutch people feel, that there own cultural background is worth less then any culture that was imported into the Netherlands.
    The political correctness made it impossible to have your freedom of speech, because even questioning a new culture was being racist even before you had the chance to ask about it.
    The whole Zwarte Piet discussion therefore exploded in an avalange of angry, underbelly reactions in the Netherlands.
    No nuance to be found, just an explosion of “being fed up and now we are gonna say it all”

    Another funny thing is that when a white man says bad stuff about any colored group of people it’s called racist.
    When a colored man says bad stuff about white people we call it: cultural differences

    Concluding: I can very well understand that there are people who might be offended by the figure of Zwarte Piet.
    Thing is, this whole story started because 22 people “felt” discriminated by a tradition that is celebrated by more then 16.000.000 people. If you live in a open multicultural society, you might get offended by people who see things differently then you, because of there different cultural background. You deal with that, because the world still doesn’t evolve just around you.
    You don’t have to like the Sinterklaas tradition, just as much as i don’t have to like, let’s name something, the fridayprayer by Muslims and their noisy guys on top of their mosque tower.
    I don’t have to like it, i don’t have to embrace it. I am free to think about it whatever i want.
    But i try to respect the background of it. I try to respect the cultural differences.
    Point is, that it’s usualy a one way street.
    The Dutch feel they have to accept and respect any culture that is imported, yet the imported cultures do not return the favor.
    That’s the part that most of the time is being forgotten.
    If the reason for shutting down any tradition, religion, or culture because someone might get offended by it
    then human culture as a whole can be thrown away. There will always be someone offended by something or someone.

    For the record i had no intention whatsoever to defend Zwarte Piet, i merely am trying to show that there is more to the whole thing than just a white guy, painted black, acting funny.
    Not saying i am the beholder of the truth either. It’s basicly a long and boring observation i wrote here.

    If you actually made it to the end of this loooong reaction, congratz and thank you for taking the time to read it, whether you disagree with me or not. :)

    Have a great day

    • Hello Elon,

      That pretty sums up how many Dutch feel today.

      I hope the mutual respect between cultures can florish again. But that’s a door that has to open both ways…

      • I really hope it will come from both ways but after reading a few more comments on here i can see that might be a long wait. The imagery some people have of white people in general does not leave much room for conversation. All white men are racist, some seem to think. I can not undo what my ancestors did. I am disgusted by it and feel angry when i read our history. Therefor I try to treat everyone equal. I try to do it better, but some people that left reactions on here, still rather see me hanging from a tree. Why? Because my ancestors have wronged black people in the past and nowadays i am wrong because i live in a western world and western countries all abuse black people. You know… the end, i am afraid people don’t want to reconciliate. they want more hate,anger, pain and bloodshed. It seems to be the only way humans are able to solve their problems. Kill the other guy and its solved. Truly sad that humans can not rise above that :(

      • That write up was long! Nonetheless I understand your point. I wonder if there is a way immigration officials can provide ways for people to assimilate into Dutch culture; it may improve the situation. Or maybe NGOs can host events that allow people understand other people’s cultures. Where I am from this kind of dialogue has gone a long way in helping different religious groups understand each other and we have seen some improvement in the last few years. Maybe it will help different ethnic groups understand each other too.

      • Dutch have had multiple chances, in 2014 alone, to show they are honourable people.
        You say that you can’t be held accountable for your ancestors: agree, BUT you can be held accountable for voting for people in office who do NOTHING about reprimanding a guy on national tv yelling racial slur to a poor chinese on a singing contest.

        YOU are, whether you like it or not, represented by a group of dutch in parliament. And as far as i am concerned, if they truly represent you, being an honourable man, they why, oh why, are they letting guys like Wilders get away with racial slur? or letting that gay guy get away with racial slur on national tv when he yelled at the poor chinese singer, who by the way was way, way, way more educated and skilled than most dutchies. The problem is: you still vote for those pro-racism people in parliament. And so, that’s why immigrants still have problems with the average dutch who thinks, but isn’t as innocent as he seems to be.

    • Elon, I’m an Englishman who’s lived in your country for a few years now (thereabouts anyway, I’ve been going back and forth for a while but now I’m settled with my Dutch partner). Your post was a fractal of the attitudes I’ve come across from the native Dutch since I became acquainted with the Netherlands. I suppose what I want to ask you is this – why do you feel so defensive when other cultures feel they have a right to an input into yours? Your idea of a model society seems to be very segregated – people with different beliefs living together but apart, and everything thinking that’s a darn good thing, thank you very much. Do you think there could be a small remnant of the verzuiling in your way of thinking?
      I’m a foreigner, so obviously I might be wrong, but in my daily interaction with the Dutch I am confronted quite regularly with this kind of thinking. Maybe that accounts for the tendency for you lot to dig your heels in when challenged on stuff like Zwarte Piet – “we keep our noses out of your affairs, so you do the same to us”. It’s not really helpful when there’s such an unwillingness to examine your cultural values and let things evolve. What would be useful is for people with opinions like yours to check their privilege, stop thinking there’s a bunch of PC lunatics out there trying to ruin the fun for everyone, and to try and let the discussion happen without feeling like you’re being attacked. It’s not that hard, mate, really it isn’t. I’m English, I honestly don’t care whether you respect my cultural heritage or not.

      • Hello Louis,

        Thank you for your reply.
        If the long observation i wrote gives you the idea that all that i said are my personal views i’m afraid my English might have failed me.
        I think we stand on the same page.
        What i have been trying to point out is that there are many people in the Netherlands to be found who have the mindset that i described. I for one disagree with most of the viewpoints i wrote down, but i encounter many fellow countrymen that tend to think this way.
        Whenever i discuss matters like Zwarte Piet i’m sometimes dumbfounded by the amount of short sighted Dutch people i hear. I have a neighbour who’s acting like he’s defending the country if he stands up for Zwarte Piet. There’s no talking to him and he gets p’d off with me if i try to reason with him about alternatives. He just doesn’t wanna hear it. (it’s like a kid putting his fingers in his ears and go: lalalalalalaaaaaaa i can’t hear you.) That’s the level of communication with these people.
        Your remark about the verzuiling sure has some truth. Never thought of that before. Good point.
        Might use that in a discussion with my neighbour. ;)
        So if i came across that i was the one who is being so defensive, i appologize.
        I tried to describe what many people in the Netherlands see as legit reasons to react so defensive.
        I don’t agree with them.
        I hope this clears things.

        Have a great day

  6. Actually, there are 2 story lines here:

    1) NL is known for its ‘tolerance’ for hundred of years, and it is tolerance in the International Trading Industry, what has led to that fame. NOT the tolerance towards the foreign immigrant per se

    2) of course there is a real problem in NL. 2014: a guy calls out racial slur to a chinese singer (a phd doctor, for God’s sake in NL because of his exceptional SKILLs). This made world news coverage. What do the Dutch do? they don’t even reprimande the man who yelled racial slur on tv!!

    THAT’s the problem in NL. In the USA, when that baseball team owner said ‘nigger’ to his gf, they banned the man from entering the baseball arena, and this guy was the OWNER!

    Immigrants in NL, feel second class. They are not represented in the judiciary. People yelling racial slur (including Wilders about Moroccans in 2014 on tv) are NEVER held accountable. Immigrants, actually feel abandonned. Most have no faith in the NL as a country. It is probably exactly what NL wants: they want to signal to them ‘get out of here, we won’t protect you / your honour / your interests anyway’.

    Recently the ICC High Court ruled that it was the Dutch army’s fault that the Sebrenica men died.
    We are 20 years down the road: not a single Dutch will ever bow and show respect to those dead. They rather hold on to their biased racism thinking for as long as they can.

    That is why Dutch are hated by Indonesians. That is why Dutch are hated by immigrants. It is exactly as it was during WW2. Dutch loved to turn in Jewish who used to be as Dutch. Dutch have no honour: THAT’s what is the underlying cultural DUTCH problem. They don’t know about showing courtesy, they don’t have manners, and they don’t know about knowing when to stop defending the wrong ideologies. NL will never ever change. Ever. And i’m taking care to get myself another nationality, even a Britisch one to me, seems to give more assurance than the Dutch do. I will bring all my wealth to the Brits. I am not on welfare, i don’t cost NL a cent. I fact, i am in the upper 5% of highest salaried people and pay a ridiculous 75% ‘crisis heffing tax’ (which most dutch don’t even knows exists, because they don’t earn that much). I am going to take all my wealth away. Not only that, my future income derived from NL soil, will be exported to the UK, and thus UK tax coffers rather than the dutch ones. That’s how much I ‘ve had it with the Dutch. To me, as an investor (and salaried member) i have more faith in the UK than in NL to protect my assets, and my family’s future.

    • Well Alexander, that was one big generalization of an entire nation. I would almost call it a racist point of view towards ALL DUTCH. (sorry for caps, i’m trying to get to your level of communication) I myself try not to generalize, then again, i’m only human (and oh lordy, Dutch too) and i tend to make mistakes.
      Therefor i like to address this to you as a person. Don’t even want to know bout any cultural background of you or color of your skin so i can be as objective as possible. Hell i don’t wanna be accused of racism. ( will be hard cuz i’m white, male and Dutch and thus by your standards a racist)
      I would like to encourage your plans of moving to the UK. Now there is a country without racism. A country with a spotless history. Take all your wealth and your big paycheck you claim you have and take it to the UK. Please go. We will all lament the fact you are leaving us deprived of your money and non-racist viewpoints. The whole of the Netherlands will probably fall to pieces without you. I for one, would like to take that risk, if it means we get rid of the likes of you as a person.

      FYI the extra crisis tax you refer to is by my knowledge 16% for people making more then €150.000. The 75% you dropped here is indeed an existing tax, but it is used for those topmanagers that receive exorbitant severance payments. If you have to pay that kind of tax…..GOOD! you moneygrabbing little winer. Take the money and go to the UK please, i’m begging you. It’s a shame that moneygrabbing scum isn’t a race. I would be proud to be a racist towards that group. Dammit. See what you did? You made me generalize an entire group of honest hardworking people like yourself.

      • I myself am a biracial young woman. My father is Dutch and my mother Surinamese. This appearantly puts me in the category of “allochtoon”.

        As a non-white, non-black person I have plenty of friends from all cultures. I don’t think all Dutch are racist. Most of them certainly are not overtly racist. However, as described earlier, racism comes in many forms. And there’s where the slope becomes slippery. I do believe that many white Dutchmen have racist beliefs about non-whites or immigrants. This manifests itself in making racist jokes but also in job-appliance discrimination for example.

        When the topic of Zwarte Piet is discussed, thats when their racist beliefs come to show. All of a sudden blacks should ‘fuck off’ or ‘are racist themselves’. A famous Dutch supermodel went from ‘beauty with brains’ to ‘dumb blonde bimbo’ for expressing the fact that she finds Zwarte Piet a racist tradition. It’s hypocritical. Off course there are native Dutch, usually the more educated ones, that aren’t that hateful towards anti-Zwarte Piet activists or people that are against Zwarte Piet in genersl. Not all white Dutch are evil or in denial. There are some gorgeous roses in between all of the weeds. I try to surround myself with these people.

        I pretty much agree with Elon. I would rather live in the Netherlands than in most other countries, but in general the Dutch certainly aren’t as tolerant, empathetic, moral and ‘nuchter’ as they think.

  7. I like you, Elon, you’re a smart guy. When I come to NL next year, we should chill. If you want to add me on Google+ you can do so through my blog, I’d love to discuss pretty much anything with ya. We can also help each other learn each others’ languages better as well.

  8. Racism and intolerance are imported from other countries. Unfortunately, there are indeed Dutch, who may have been infected. The irony is that the source of infection, has totally nothing to do with the Netherlands or its culture.

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