Is Zwarte Piet Racist?

Siobhan White

I was made aware of Zwarte Piet for the first time ever this year when my cousin, who lives with her young family in Amsterdam, set a Facebook status about being worried for her daughter who was going to school on the day of this tradition.

Her anxiety triggered my inquisitive side and so I looked up this Zwarte Piet to see what it was all about…

On the 5th of December every year the Netherlands celebrates Zwarte Piet, which translates as Black Pete. It is regarded as bigger, better and more exciting than Christmas itself for children and adults alike in the Netherlands but unfortunately, not everybody is able to enjoy it.

Zwarte Piet is a tradition dating back to the 1800s where it was said that Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) would come from Spain on a boat, accompanied by a his black-faced servants to give out presents to the good children and threaten to take away the naughty ones to Spain where they would have to pick oranges.

It is a tradition that, until recently, was carried out annually without much objection. White people would don blackface with bright red lips and a curly wig to dress up as Zwarte Piet. In recent times however, the increasing number of Dutch citezens of Caribbean descent have taken offence to the tradition, saying it is racist.

The main uproar began in 2011 when Quinsy Gario- a Curacao- born Dutch man began protesting at a parade by wearing a tshirt that said “Zwarte Piet is racism” and was arrested.

Since then Gario has gone on to express his views on national television and a fair few people have backed him up however the majority of the Dutch population are standing by their tradition, insisting that Black Pete is not racist.

Some people say that Pete is black from climbing down chimneys and others say yes he is black but so what, he is fun and friendly…

To me, it seems that no offense or racism was originally intended, however things have taken a sinister turn over the years and not just due to political correctness gone mad. My cousin’s anxiety was because every year, her daughter comes home from school crying because other children have been calling her Zwarte Piet.

Zwarte Piet has definitely been a ticking time bomb and there is more than enough reason to regard this as a racist tradition because, as my cousin pointed out, “why can’t there just be a Plain Pete?”

So readers, what do you think of Black Pete? Racist or not? Fun or offensive?


Siobhan White

Journalism & media graduate living, writing, eating and sleeping in lovely Manchester. Expect a variety of articles on all sorts.

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