Zwarte Piet wiedewiedewiet
July 12, 2014 5:10 AM   Subscribe

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.
It's official: Zwarte Piet (previously) is a racist, negative stereotype according to the Amsterdam courts.

Last year an UN commission already warned the Netherlands that Zwarte Piet might be racist:
"Some practices, which are part of cultural heritage, may infringe upon human rights," said the letter.

"Negative media and other cultural, social or traditional portrayals of persons belonging to minorities may constitute racism and may be degrading to members of those communities, in the present case persons belonging to black populations and people of African descent, and can perpetuate negative stereotypes within society."
(The original lettre is up on scribd.)

Though this was swiftly backtracked last year, an UN working party is currently in the country to investigate the tradition.

Foreign commentary on the ruling at e.g. Al Jazeera or the New Statesman seems mostly surprised that it took so long for any ruling on this to occur.

For background on Zwarte Piet and the protests against it, Jessica Olien in Slate has the best English language overview I've seen.

Meanwhile moderately leftwing Dutch magazine HP/De Tijd put up a picture gallery saying goodbye to Piet.
posted by MartinWisse (17 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Colour me surprised.
posted by Segundus at 5:27 AM on July 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

which interest is more important: that of black Amsterdammers or society in general

I wish things wouldn't get framed that way -- something that is harmful to a minority group is usually harmful to society, even though it may be beloved by the majority group.

Colour me surprised.

I see what you did there.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:38 AM on July 12, 2014 [28 favorites]

Yeah, to my mind, if you're publicly perpetuating racism, that's bad for everybody, including you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:02 AM on July 12, 2014 [12 favorites]

Well, yay, Amsterdam courts! I kind of wish more people would get the issue, but this seems to get the job done.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:07 AM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's too bad that ethnic Dutch are so anxious about their national identity that Zwarte Piet feels like one of their last remaining cultural traditions...
posted by anthill at 7:06 AM on July 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Doah! I was reading the story with only one cup o coffee as
"Amsterdam mayor ... has been told by a court ... to reconsider the licensing ... which became mired in controversy because of ... Piet Zwart ...."
posted by xtian at 7:22 AM on July 12, 2014

A quick recap from the last thread, so I don't need to have this fight again.

Blackface isn't strictly an American tradition.
Not everyone in the Netherlands is white.
People of colour in the Netherlands do find this offense.
The Dutch do have a past that of slavery, so this isn't just about American hang-ups.
posted by thecjm at 7:24 AM on July 12, 2014 [25 favorites]

Good job, Dutch courts. Zwarte Piet is a fucking disgusting caricature and I am astonished that anyone post 1960 or so would think it's an okay thing to do.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:24 AM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived in the Netherlands for a few years and I found this tradition shocking. I'm glad that there finally seems to be some push to stop it, although that will come up against huge resistance. It seems that the defence of it boils down to either 1) it isn't racist (for any number of completely laughable reasons) or 2) that's the way we've always done things and anyway, America is much more racist than the Netherlands. Seeing as most white Dutch people genuinely believe that racism is something that basically doesn't exist in their country, (with oh, so much evidence to the contrary) this is going to be quite a fight.
posted by ob at 8:33 AM on July 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Surely it should be "which interest is more important: that of society in general or racists"
posted by fullerine at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

"Earlier this year, the Dutch folklore institute recommended making changes to Zwarte Piet's appearance but did not suggest removing the blackface make-up."

They literally proposed to straighten his hair and lighten his skin. I kid you not.

I swear the Zwarte Piet proponents couldn't be more racist if they tried.

Meanwhile, parade organizers in Amersfoort are doubling down: by having not one, not two, but hundreds of people in blackface they plan to show how fantastically not-racist the tradition is.
posted by monospace at 8:52 AM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

We need to try to remember all the good Santa did aside from owning slaves.
posted by gerryblog at 10:02 AM on July 12, 2014 [12 favorites]

I vaguely recall that some communities have done "rainbow Petes" to try to move away from the Zwarte Pieten, has that caught on at all, and is that considered a better way to go, or is it still too tied to the racist tradition?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:18 AM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

We need to try to remember all the good Santa did aside from owning slaves.

I know I favorited it, but I also just want to say about this comment: LOL
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:55 PM on July 12, 2014

(Switzerland, incidentally, "gets away" with this by having St Nick's companion be, not black, but a man called "Schmutzli", which literally means "little dirty one". His face is black, yes, but with soot)
posted by Omission at 2:52 AM on July 13, 2014

It looks like Schmutzli has a beard and a monk robe and no red lips too. Not really in the same region though I don't know much about the characterization.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:42 AM on July 13, 2014

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