‘Secret talks underway over future of Zwarte Piet’

The Dutch folk culture centre has instigated talks with a wide range of groups and organisations about the future of Zwarte Piet, the character who assists Sinterklaas in the December celebrations but is considered by many to be a racist stereotype.

The centre’s director Ineke Strouten told the AD on Friday that the ‘Zwarte Piet is Racisme’ campaign launched by Quincy Gario is one of the organisations involved.

Amsterdam city councillor Dehlia Timmerman (D66) and the very pro-Piet Sinterklaas society are also taking part.

Ideas and advice is being sought from the makers of television programme Het Sinterklaasjournaal, and from teachers and children at primary schools in Enschede and Amsterdam’s Zuidoost district.

The aim is to draw up a list of common standpoints about Zwarte Piet before the summer, Strouten said. ‘Some people don’t agree with the existence of Zwarte Piet at all. But what does everyone agree on?’ she told the AD.

It could be years before there are fundamental changes in the character, Strouten said. Zwarte Piet is played by white people with blackface makeup and curly wigs.

Last year the debate about Zwarte Piet was particularly intense following the involvement of a United Nations advisory committee. In Amsterdam it was decided Zwarte Piets in the traditional Sinterklaas parade should not have big earrings.