Young children are more likely to identify Zwarte Piet with a clown than a person of African descent, according to preliminary research carried out by Leiden University.
Children’s image of Zwarte Piet is positive and he is considered to be clever, kind and important, the survey of 200, mainly white, middle-class children shows.
The research, which is still ongoing, is led by Judi Mesman of the university’s family studies institute. She advertised online for families with children aged five to seven to come forward. The children were visited at home and their attitudes tested using games and play.
The children were more likely to be aware of Piet’s colour the older they got, the researchers found.
Asked to sort out pictures of clowns, Zwarte Piet, white people and black people into two piles, just 3% of the five-year-olds did so according to colour. By the time they reached the age of seven, 20% were sorting on a skin colour basis.
One in three Dutch primary schools has this year changed the appearance of Zwarte Piet in their own Sinterklaas celebrations, the Volkskrant said.
‘Change is underway and there is no stopping it,’ Mesman said. She herself is not opposed to the movement. ‘There are other arguments at work in the Zwarte Piet debate, so as not wanting to hurt others and his dubious history,’ she told the paper.
One-third of the parents in the survey supported change.