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Zwarte Piet: Holland’s Christmastime tradition racist?

Zwarte Piet: Holland’s Christmastime tradition racist? | Geography Education |

In the Netherlands, Santa doesn't have little elves; he has a helper (slave?) named Zwarte Piet, literally Black Pete.  He delights kids with cookies and a goofy persona.  Foreign visitors are startled by his resemblance to Little Black Sambo.

Seth Dixon's insight:

Is this a harmless cultural tradition or is it racist?   Why might some Dutch not see this as offensive?  Why might someone not from there react so strongly to this caricature? What do you think?  (Note: a Dutch friend of mine was quick respond: "Sinterklaas' helpers are black because of the ashes in the chimney."  I'm curious to know whether that was always the case or if it's a way to 'whitewash' an old tradition from a bygone era.  And yes, this is an annual controversy). 

Kaitlin Young's curator insight, December 13, 2014 12:44 PM

Zwarte Piet remains a staple of Dutch culture, but today people are enraged by the racist connotations that the character portrays. Zwarte Piet was brought back from Spain by Santa. At the time of the traditional story, the Dutch, along with much of Europe, was exploring and exploiting the continent of Africa. Many people believe that "Black Pete" is a racist representation of black people, and that the tradition should end. Others argue that a tradition is a tradition.


Can traditions be considered racist? Or are they historical anecdotes chronicling the development of a culture, thus unable to make a modern stance? 

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