Zwarte Piet: Some Predictions and the Involvement of the United Nations


In the past days the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas has been criticised more severely than ever, or so it seems. The discussion culminated in the involvement of the United Nations a few days ago. U.N. reporters apparently received information that the tradition of Sinterklaas is in essence racist, and that Zwarte Piet, stupid and a servant, feeds the stereotype of Africans as second class citizens. Dutch citizens, activated by explicit racial accusations and demands to abolish their much-loved tradition, somewhat to my surprise revolted. Online petitions received hundreds of thousands of ‘likes’. Maurice de Hond, mostly known as a the most important ‘pollster’ about elections in the Netherlands, reported that a staggering 92% of Dutch people says that there is nothing to worry about, that there is no racism involved, and that it’s just about a great feast for children. Similarly, De Telegraaf (a Dutch newspaper) surveyed 5.000 people, finding similar conclusions.

I don’t wish to reiterate all the points one can find in public discussions; I do however want to make 3 points:

  1. The tradition is already lost: A prediction
  2. The tradition is already lost: The influence of current discussions on future celebrations
  3. The U.N. – WTF?!

The tradition is already lost: A prediction

More than 10 months ago I already predicted that the tradition will be changed to answer to racial claims anyway, sooner or later – but most likely sooner. The public discussion raging on these days is not new; it’s just fiercer than ever before. This year, some groups who will want to have a scoop will already have Zwarte Pieten that aren’t black. Indeed, the first of such initiatives can already be noticed. Such intiatives will spread, possibly already booming this year.

But if this would not happen (quickly enough), Dutch citizens will, in time, forget about how they currently feel about the Sinterklaasfeest. One must admit that it does look suspiciously like slavery, if that’s what one is determined to see. Feelings of guilt will grow, accompanied by thoughts like, “Well, it wouldn’t really matter if Zwarte Piet is not black, right? Who cares whether he’s black or purple or green?” They are probably right. Political correctness will eventually tip the balance of the discussion, sealing the fate of Zwarte Piet – because we will no longer be able to call him by that name.

The tradition is already lost: The influence of current discussions on future celebrations

But even if we assume that what I predict won’t happen, or won’t happen fast enough, the tradition has already been lost. I have been lucky to celebrate Sinterklaas for years, never ever knowing of even a hint of racism in the tradition. I asked many friends from my age and older – and they all say the same: we never ever concretely connected the tradition of Zwarte Piet with racism. (This does not mean that there never was any racism in the tradition, because it seems there was.)

Current parents and children will no longer have the luxury that I had as a child. It doesn’t matter anymore whether there was racism in the tradition or not – there is now. Parents will think twice about painting the faces of their innocent children black. This doubt can only be expected to grow stronger in future years. Even though it is a super-small minority that claims that (alleged!) racism within Sinterklaas is a problem, they now made it everyone’s problem. And therefore, the tradition in its original shape – a completely innocent feast for children – has been lost already.

The U.N. – WTF?!

I was shocked when I heard that the United Nations interfered in the debate about Zwarte Piet. The United Nations – do they not have any important work to do? Like, saving children from hunger? Or saving gay people from being tortured? Or saving the world from global warming?

Professor Verene Shepherd, acting on behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (and already embarassing herself by not knowing that Sinterklaas and Christmas are not the same), found a nice little project where she can score some easy points. Who can argue in favour of racism, right?

I’d like to challenge the U.N., and Mrs Shepherd personally. If you have some significant balls, and if you are analytically consistent, please address and solve the following points first, please?

  • The suppression and torture of gay people in, for instance, Russia
  • The suppression of women in certain Islamic countries
  • Or even the bull runs in Pamplona, Spain

I do not say that I think that the U.N. should necessarily do so in all 3 cases, but analogies can be found. At least a minority of outsiders feels that because of local traditions some (beings) are being mistreated – in these 3 cases even physically.

Mrs Shepherd, if you solve these cases, which are far more important than our silly Zwarte Piet tradition, you’re most welcome to return. We could even talk about Zwarte Piet a bit.

But for now, no snoepgoed for you, I’m afraid.

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