Black Pete (c. 1850- ), known as Zwarte Piet in Dutch, is the bumbling sidekick of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) in the Netherlands. In parades he is played by White people in blackface.
Black Pete is a Moor who dresses like it is still the 1600s. He lacks intelligence, coordination and speaks broken Dutch. According to one song, you can trust him even though he is Black. He first appeared in children’s books in 1850, when the Dutch still had Black slaves. He was still called a slave into the 1930s, long after the Dutch had freed their slaves.
Every year on November 17th, Saint Nicholas arrives in the Netherlands on a boat from Spain. He travels the country with many Black Petes, some of them women. They give out candy and cookies to children at parades.
On December 5th, St Nicholas Day, Black Pete comes down the chimney to deliver presents for good children from Saint Nicholas. At least until 1928, he put bad children in his bag to take them away to Spain where they were made to pick oranges. He has nothing to do with Santa Claus, a US corruption of Sinterklaas.
White children love Black Pete. But he makes Black children feel left out. When they are called “Black Pete” it hurts, but they cannot say why.
In 2011, when Saint Nicholas arrived in Dordrecht, Quinsy Gario quietly wore a T-shirt that said “Black Pete is Racism”. The police knocked him to the ground, kneed him repeatedly, pepper sprayed him and dragged him away. He and fellow T-shirt wearers were arrested.
Others began to wear the T-shirt. Protests grew.
In 2013, the United Nations high commission on human rights wrote to the government saying that Black Pete:
“may constitute racism and may be degrading to members of those communities … and can perpetuate negative stereotypes within society.”
The prime minister said it was not for the government to tell people how to observe holidays.
Geert Wilders, whose anti-immigrant party was on top in the polls, said he would rather get rid of the United Nations than Black Pete.
In the media people said stuff like:
“Some black people like it.”
“How dare they take this celebration away from the children.”
“This is how it has always been and you just can’t go around changing things.”
“(Black) people are too sensitive.”
“These people have no sense of history.”
“We can’t let the minority tell us what to do.”
“Anyone who has a problem with Dutch traditions can go back to their
On Facebook, a page in defence of Black Pete broke all Dutch records for number of likes, over 2 million in a country of 17 million.
His defenders say his Black appearance comes from chimney soot. That does not account for his nice, clean clothes, bright red lips or Afro-style hair.
In 2015 when Saint Nicholas arrived, he was met by hundreds of protesters. But this time several of his Black Petes were not in blackface at all – they just had soot on their faces.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Saint Nicholas
- other beloved racist symbols:
- Santa Claus (US)
- Rihanna and the N-word – more “clueless” anti-Black racism in the Netherlands
- Grada Kilomba on racism in Europe