“The tradition is supposed to be about inclusion and solidarity. So why do we want it to be connected with something racist from our past?"
Quinsy Gario is a poet, visual artist, and television/filmmaker, who lives in Amsterdam. He was also part of the “Zwarte Piet is Racist” project.
What we’ve been doing since June is trying to start a dialogue with people so they can get the facts about the history of Zwarte Piet. What happens a lot when you talk with people here is that they lose themselves to an emotional view. They tend to get stuck in what they see as something good from childhood, something that is intrinsically Dutch and shouldn’t be changed.
The image of Zwarte Piet first appeared in a book in 1852 as the slave of Sinterklass. This was around the same time blackface was appearing in America, and 11 years before slavery was abolished in the Netherlands. It’s also important to note that the US and the Netherlands have more than 400 years of cultural exchange between them. It was a time when racism was the norm.
Since then the figure has been changed according to the times. In 1966 Zwarte Piet was transformed into a child-like buffoon, to make him more child-friendly. In dong so, however, Zarte Piet also fulfilled the African stereotype of being simple and child-like. Later on, Zwarte Piet became pretty much Sinterklass’s manager. This new role can be linked with a mimic-man, which means he takes on the role of his one-time oppressor.
Aside from that, Zwarte Piet is shocking on a visual level. Every year the Netherlands tries to portray itself as an international, tolerant country – home of the international court, tulips, football and all that. But no one knows about Zwarte Piet, which makes you wonder are we really that proud of it?
The tradition is supposed to be about inclusion and solidarity. It’s about giving and sharing and receiving. The question is, why do we want something so beautiful to be connected with something racist from our past?”