A new-look Zwarte Piet: no curly hair, no red lips, but he’s still black

Zwarte Piet, the black servant who helps Sinterklaas on December 5, should remain black but the curly hair, thick red lips and golden earnings may go, according to suggestions by the Dutch folk heritage centre.

The centre has been holding talks with other interest groups in the wake of last major year’s row about racist stereotype which many people say Zwarte Piet has become.

The centre’s director Ineke Strouken presented the results of the discussions on television on Tuesday night. Thirty people were interviewed and over 9,000 people sent emails. About half of them were hate mails, she said.

Strouken said she did not want to make recommendations but said the Dutch want an end to the constant discussions about Zwarte Piet. And that means changes are needed, she said.

In particular, Piet should be an equal to Sinterklaas – the precursor of Santa Clause and that he should not talk like an imbecile.

Straight hair

The research showed people are most sensitive about the curly hair, earrings, red lips and his colour. The ‘new look’ Zwarte Piet presented on the show had no earrings, red lips and straight hair. But he remained a white person in black make up.

“Traditions remain alive if they change with the times,” she said.

Last year some two million people signed a petition calling for Zwarte Piet to remain. But in Amsterdam a group of activists have gone to court, calling for the character to be banned from the annual Sinterklaas procession.

Artist Quinsy Gario, one of the most fervant anti-Piet campaigners, said the new look Piet is ‘sad, a complete failure.’ ‘Straight hair, no earrings, slightly less pronounced lips but he is still black. That’s just not the way.’

Gario said he doubted this effort would lead to any changes. ‘You can’t have a discussion and reach a compromise on racism,’ he told Nos television. ‘That is one of the problems. Th racism behind the figure as he is now is still not being recognised.’

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