A year of campaigning for a Saint Nicholas celebration without black face in 2023
The Saint Nicholas festivities are officially over. Once again, this year many people celebrated the party without black Pete (Zwarte Piet). That's good news! Unfortunately, we are not there yet, because in many places in our country, the racist caricature is still part of the children's festival. Will the Netherlands succeed in achieving a Saint Nicholas celebration for every child without a Pete in black make-up by 2023?
In 2022, you would expect everyone to understand that a racist caricature can no longer be part of a children's festival. In recent years, many activist groups and individuals have made strong efforts to educate people about the history of Black face and successfully. New research by I&O Research has shown this as well. Indeed, the number of supporters of a black Pete has dropped from 66 per cent in 2016 to 33 per cent in 2022. In an Instagram post, Jerry Afriyie, poet and co-founder of Nederland Wordt Beter and Kick Out Zwarte Piet speaks of great news. In his caption, he shares how 12 years ago, 95 per cent of all Dutch people still supported black Pete. Fortunately, many people have moved past the question of why the appearance of black Pete is not of our time and does not fit into a healthy and inclusive society. More and more municipalities are choosing to change the appearance of Pete, for example, by explaining that Pete’s face is black with soot, but also by not using racist elements, such as frizzy-hair wigs.
Nearly 100 years of resistance to black Pete
The past decade has seen immense efforts to make it a more inclusive children's festival, but the fight against black Pete is one that has been going on for much longer. The first signs of criticism of the racist caricature occurred as early as 1927. This was mainly sporadic dissent of journalists or caretakers. The Groene Amsterdammer, for example, published an opinion piece on racist stereotypes within Saint Nicholas celebrations, among other things. Perhaps one of the most famous turning points in the anti-black Pete movement is the violent arrest of Quincy Gario and Jerry Afriyie during the national Saint Nicholas parade in Dordrecht on 12 November 2011. The images of the men becoming victims of excessive police brutality during their peaceful demonstration was reason for many people to speak out.
Right-wing radical activists who are pro-black Pete
As a country, we are moving in the right direction and making strides forward. At the same time, 33% is still a large number of proponents and among these is a dangerous group of radical right-wing pro-black Pete activists. On 19 November 2022, this group used brute force to prevent peaceful anti-Black Pete activists from demonstrating. Cars were vandalised, people were besieged, and serious threats were made. Both Amnesty International Netherlands and Kick Out Zwarte Piet have reported the violence that took place in Staphorst. In their statement, Amnesty Netherlands stresses that preventing the right to demonstrate is punishable and calls for a thorough and independent evaluation of the actions of the mayor in Staphorst, the police and the Public Prosecution Service. That all this could have taken place while the police were there has caused legitimate parliamentary questions. Party leader of Bij1, Sylvana Simons, rightly wondered how it is possible that even after 11 years of peaceful demonstration, people were beaten up by the police, or by others while the police was standing by.
Including Saint Nicholas party without black Pete
The fight against racist caricature is not something that takes place only from 12 November when St Nicholas arrives until 6 December when he leaves the country again. It is incredibly important to continue the conversation beyond the Saint Nicholas period, especially given that black Pete is a symbol of institutional racism. Action group Kick Out Zwarte Piet has launched a campaign in which they are actively campaigning against the racist caricature until 5 December 2023. For instance, they have sent 250 inclusive Saint Nicholas gift sets to schools in Staphorst. In any case, it is a great effort to close this racist chapter in history. And a good time to accomplish this, and at the same time, long overdue, celebrate 150 years of the abolition of slavery.