Who is (Zwarte) Piet? A Continuing Evolution
Who is this character that inspires both love and antipathy? Where did he come from? Why is he now such a controversial figure? These illustrated articles help explain who Zwarte Piet is and how he is changing.
Background and Development
Change Becomes More Widespread
More Sooty Piets
A Turning Point
2020 has seen significant changes following the Black Lives Matter protests around the world. Public attitudes in the Netherlands in support of traditional blackface Zwarte Piet have shifted from 89% in 2013 to just 47% in June, 2020. Changes in policy for images on social media sites, more retailers banning blackface goods, and more cities using just Chimney or Sooty Piets all indicate more widespread cultural change.
The Tide Has Turned
2021 has brought a sea change in attitudes and practice regarding Pieten in the Netherlands. Surveys show that a majority of local Sinterklaas arrivals, in all but the smaller towns and villages, will use alternatives to blackface Piets. As one spokesman said, "the adjustment is inevitable."
What will be next for this ever-evolving character?
More in other sections
Six to Eight Black Men by David Sedaris
An American humorist tries to understand Dutch Sinterklaas traditions
How do non-native residents of the Netherlands view Zwarte Piet, St. Nicholas' blackface servant?
What immigrants from many places think about Zwarte Piet
- Dordrecht Arrest Video, November 14, 2011
- Amsterdam Arrest Video YouTube, November 15, 2012
- Zwarte Piet niet welkom in Amerika, RTL, December 2012
- Zwarte Piet and Cultural Aphasia in the Netherlands
by John Helsloot, Quotidian: Dutch Journal for the Study of Everyday Life, Vol. 03 (2012)
- Should the Dutch keep Santa's popular blackfaced pal, Black Pete?
by Peter Teffer, November 15, 3013, Christian Science Monitor
- Where Dutch Racism Lurks: Why I Changed My Mind About Black Pete
by Harriet Duurvoort, December 5, 2104, The New York Times
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- 4 reasons to reject the racist Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet
by Ishaan Thoroor, December 5, 2014, The Washington Post
- A New Holiday Tradition for the Dutch: Arguing About Blackface
by Robert Mackey, The New York times, November 14, 2014
- The Dutch don't think it's racist for Santa to have black slaves
by Caitlin Hu, Quartz, December 10, 2014
- Holland's Zwarte Piet Problem
by Timothy P. Schilling, Commonweal, December 1, 2014
- Kick Out Zwarte Piet from Stop Blackface, anti-racism action group
- Raising Racists? Rediscovering my Dutch childhood tradition
blog by Fauve Amelie Vertegaal, December 2016–
- This Sinterklaas Season Too, Black Pete Stays (Mainly) Black
by Frank Jacobs, Big Think, November 19, 2017
- 5 Years of Monitoring Blackface in the Market: ERIF Sinterklaas Brand & Product Study 2020 by European Race & Imagery Foundation. A comprehensive look at the Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet tradition including a report on major retailers' products.
- Curriculum package on the history of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet. From NLWB (Nederland Wordt Beter). The four lessons: Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet, Caricatures, and Fun. In Dutch.
*St. Nicholas Center joins with the St. Nicholas Society, taking a position that does not condone nor wish to perpetuate in any way customs that include characters with a dark side, such as the horrific Austrian Krampus. We encourage the St Nicholas tradition and its revival in our time, while abhorring the imagery of these characters. We hope that St. Nicholas will be accompanied by necessary helpers needed for practical reasons, but suggest that these helpers have no real significance in the overall celebration. The Dutch Zwarte Piet has become over time a more benign figure, but he, too, still presents serious difficulties. It would be wise, in our thinking, to do away with the black-face and simply call them jesters, or just Piets, making it clear that all can be St. Nicholas' helpers. St Nicholas is a symbol of good and good alone. He does not need, and should not have, violent and frightening sidekicks for comparison. Support the good St. Nicholas!