Zwarte Piet tradition should move with the times: Dutch justice minister

Dancers dressed as Zwarte Piet

The Dutch government recognises that Sinterklaas’ controversial helper Zwarte Piet, played by a white person in blackface make-up, ‘can upset people and encourage racism’, justice minister Ard van der Steur has said in response to questions from MPs.

At the same time, the minister said in his answers, ‘the cabinet wants to stress that celebrating the event does not make people racists.’

While not directly calling for change, Van der Steur said: ‘The Sinterklaas celebrations must remain a party for all children and that is why the cabinet supports a festival which moves with the times.’ The government can play a role in facilitating ‘respectful dialogue,’ he said.

He also pointed out that it is difficult to explain the Zwarte Piet tradition abroad in its current form, particularly in the US, the minister said.

This year, there has been a marked shift towards having Piets with sooty faces to fit in with the tradition that they climb down chimneys to bring presents.

The Sinterklaas festivities take place on Monday.

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