UN working party surprised the Dutch don’t see Zwarte Piet problem

A UN working party in the Netherlands to look at the position of people of African origin in the country said on Friday it is ‘surprised’ that so many people do not understand the ‘problem’ with Zwarte Piet.

‘We understand that Zwarte Piet is part of a long cultural tradition, but we do believe attention should be paid to this subject in education,’ the working party’s chairwoman Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France told a news conference on Friday.

The current discussion is a good step forward, broadcaster Nos quoted the committee as saying.

The five-strong group have been in the Netherlands for the past few days and have had talks with a number of people, including social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher. They will now write up a report and present it to the UN later this year.


One member of the team is Verene Shepherd, a social historian and expert on slavery, who generated a media storm last year when she said Zwarte Piet was a throwback to slavery and should be stopped.

During the press conference, Shepherd said she was surprised how little Dutch people knew about their slavery past.

‘This lack of knowledge about history feeds intolerance and racism and contributes to the fact that people do not understand the feelings of those of African descent towards Zwarte Piet,’ she said.

Shepherd also said the university where she works was forced to close her email account because of the hate mails she received last year.


Yesterday Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan was 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 is a negative stereotype which is insulting to black people.

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