A Triple Crisis of the Face: Justice in the Tradition of Zwarte Piet

Rietveld & Madeleine - Neither Black nor White

Rietveld & Lot Madeleine (photo: Gwen Denswil) – Neither Black nor White

December 13th, 2011

Act I: A Strange Boat Arrives on the Shore!

The Dutch national event around “Sinterklaas en zijn Zwarte Pieten” is celebrated with great enthusiasm by the population, however, already for decades, with growing complaints by some about its racist meaning or connotation. This form of protest is spearheaded by activists from Dutch minority groups whose history is partly rooted in the colonial epoch of the Dutch. Recently this yearly form of protest has become more eventful when two activists were violently arrested for attempting to protest during the arrival of Sinterklaas in Dordrecht.1

At the same time, it seems very clear that any attempt to condemn the character of Zwarte Piet provokes a defensive reproach from a large part of the native Dutch population. The message seems clear: tradition is here to stay. For years, Sinterklaas has been the most popular Dutch national holiday around, and it encompasses not only commerce but also primary school education. Those who want to change the tradition ask: whom to face in this deadlock?
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