Thursday 20 January 2022

Sooty Piets take over, blackface out of favour in most towns and cities

Photo: Brandon Hartley

The traditional blackface Zwarte Piet is disappearing fast from the Sinterklaas celebrations and sooty Piets now have the upper hand, according to research by the AD.

The paper asked Sinterklaas committees in more than 210 different local authority areas about their plans and found the blackface version had been replaced by sooty Piets in 123 towns and villages and by a combination of both in 32.

Just 10 local authorities told the AD they were sticking to the original version – played by white people in blackface makeup, while the rest had not made up their mind or declined to say what they were doing.

In 2019, when the AD last carried out the research, the blackface Piet had the upper hand in 239 towns and villages and just 19 had made the switch.

‘Last year the parade was digital and we had a couple of sooty Piets to let people get used to the idea,’ said a spokesman for the committee on the Wadden island of Terschelling. ‘This year we are switching completely.’

Campaign

The campaign to get rid of the blackface makeup began in earnest in 2011 with the launch of the Kick Out Zwarte Piet action group.

Amsterdam started introducing sooty Piets in 2014 and that year, the popular seasonal television programme Sinterklaasjournaal began phasing out the traditional version. Since 2019, all Piets on the programme and in Amsterdam have been sooty.

By 2020, prime minister Mark Rutte also said his position on Zwarte Piet had undergone ‘major changes‘. Rutte, who has admitted playing Black Piet in the past, told MPs he expected that in a few years there will be ‘almost no black Zwarte Piets any more.’

‘This is a folk culture which changes in time under pressure from debate in society,’ the prime minister said.

Social media

Last year, Google said it was banning advertising in the run up to the Sinterklaas festivities using sooty Piets as well as the traditional blackface version. And in summer 2020, Facebook said it would ban blackface Piets from its social media channels as part of a decision to bar content that includes ‘implicit hate speech’ like blackface or anti-Semitic stereotypes on a global scale.

Dutch online retail giant Bol.com has also banned all portrayals of Zwarte Piet which show a stereotyped caricature or people in full blackface make-up.

The Sinterklaas festivities this year kick off on November 13.

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