Holiday chocolates: Zwarte Piet or racist cop?

Has the concept of Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten left you scratching your head?

I’ll admit that even after observing hoards of white Dutch people in black-face, I was still surprised by a storefront display featuring an illustration from the beautifully illustrated, award-winning book, Sinterklaas (Charlotte Dematons 2008):

Illustration from Sinterklaas by Charlotte Dematons

Illustration of Sinterklaas' steamboat from Sinterklaas by Charlotte Dematons

A closer look at the Pieten quarters

I think most observers would agree that the ship looks rather too similar to a slave ship that the Dutch East India Company might have used in trans-atlantic slave trade.

Even after observing a jolly holiday display with a slave ship, I was still surprised that these chocolates were being sold in the Jumbo grocery store:

Chocolate Zwarte Piet from Jumbo _

Shocking, right?

I could easily spend all day walking around Utrecht, looking at store displays and being shocked.

I come from a country, however, where racism results in police killings of unarmed black men and boys (Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, etc), rather than a country where racism results in cringe-worthy children’s books and chocolates.

So I will now spend my time being less shocked by Zwarte Piet and more shocked by the inappropriate use of police force against minorities in America.

And maybe I should design and market a line of racist cop white chocolates.

15 responses to “Holiday chocolates: Zwarte Piet or racist cop?

  1. I’d think you’re perfectly capable of being shocked at both at the same time. The racism is at different levels, but both are uncalled for. What makes the Zwarte Piet issue so aggravating to me is that it would be so easy to solve.

    • Nah, it’s not meant to be, but from a non-Dutch the whole Zwarte Piet thing is at minimum unthoughtful at tacky.

      And your right, I certainly have the capacity to be shocked at many, many things at once!!

  2. Gotta admit passing all the Zwarte Piet displays (and munchable chocolates) all over Amsterdam and especially Haarlem… kept doing a double take. There was a special Sinterklauas display at the library too. And definitely appreciate your shifting attention to the race challenges in the US than fuss overly about chocolates!

  3. There was a piece on NPR a few weeks ago about Black Pete, and I was going to email and ask you about it and here you go posting about it. It’s like you can read my mind.


    In the piece, it said people are trying to move away from the stereotype (slowly but surely) and are making Black Pete neon, multi-color rainbows, and so on. Is that really happening, or is NPR just being hopeful?

    PS: The painting is super racist.

    • Utrecht is pretty progressive in many ways, and yet the town was crawling with adults in black-face the day Sinterklaas arrived in town.

      That said, I did see a small fraction of Petes with colorful paint on their faces. Plus, many national shops have said that next year they will no longer stock “traditional” Zwarte Pete merchandise. So, I think it may change. But rather slowly.

      Glad I’m not the only one who thinks that painting is super racist. Many Dutch people think I’m overreacting.

  4. Pingback: CHRISTMAS LINKS - Charlotte Steggz·

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