Zwarte Piet is a negative stereotype: court orders parade rethink

Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan has been told by a court in the capital to reconsider the licensing of the Sinterklaas parade through the city last year, which became mired in controversy because of the Zwarte Piet character.

The administrative court says the mayor has six weeks to look again at the decision to allow the parade to go ahead last year and determine if the correct one was taken.

The administrative court said in its ruling the Zwarte Piet character a negative stereotype which is insulting to black people and the mayor must decide which interest is more important: that of black Amsterdammers or society in general, news agency ANP reported.


Critics of Zwarte Piet – played by white people in blackface make-up – went to court last year in an effort to have the parade halted, arguing Sinterklaas’s servant is racist.  That request was rejected by the courts, resulting in an appeal to the administrative court.  

Van der Laan is already in talks with both the pro and anti Piet lobby about this year’s parade. Earlier this year, the Dutch folklore institute recommended making changes to Zwarte Piet’s appearance but did not suggest removing the blackface make-up.

The court’s ruling has no implications for Sinterklaas parades in the rest of the country, Nos television said.

Opponents of the Zwarte Piet character said the court’s verdict was an important victory. ‘The court has said Zwarte Piet is racist. You have to eradicate racism and the Dutch state has a role in this,’ said Barryl Biekman, chairman of the national slavery heritage platform.


Social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher, who in charge of integration issues, said the Sinterklaas celebrations should be a party which everyone enjoys.

Sinterklaas is a children’s event and should remain so, he said. But it is also subject to change, he said. ‘We used to sing ‘who is naughty gets a switch’ and that has changed,’ the minister said.

But Asscher declined to comment on the court case, saying it is up to Amsterdam city council.

Asscher is due to meet Verene Shepherd, the UN official who last year criticised the Zwarte Piet tradition, later on Thursday.

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