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The Zwarte Piet debate 2013 – week 1

zwarte piet week 1

Screenshot: Pauw & Witteman

Just like in 2012 Arnold Lubbers has compiled a selection of zwarte piet articles. To note the changes that happened from week to week Arnold decided to hand us his 20 page compilation to in sections. He only focused on the coverage and debate within the Dutch discourse. This is week 1.

On Monday October 7 Quinsy Gario appeared on one of the major Dutch late night talk shows, Pauw & Witteman. He was there to expound on the complaints he and 20 others launched regarding the permit that the municipality of Amsterdam gave for the annual arrival of Sinterklaas. Quinsy was met with ridicule of Henk Westbroek, who was by then a candidate to become mayor of the city of Utrecht and who used to be a music artist – one of his most well-known hits has as a chorus ‘Sinterklaas, who doesn’t know him, Sinterklaas, Sinterklaas and of course Zwarte Piet’.

Already during the appearance of Gario on Pauw & Witteman, both supporters and opponents of Zwarte Piet starting speaking out through social media, much more than in any years before. This is the first year that the vitriolic, racist backlash were picked up by the general media, which raised concerns about the possibilities to debate this topic. Some of the most racist comments were captured on Tumblr-pages Nederland spreekt and Afspiegeling van de maatschappij.

On Friday October 11 Asha ten Broeke wrote an op-ed for one of the leading national newspapers, de Volkskrant, in which she argued that the debate shows that pain that black people experience is worth less than white pleasure. The op-ed was widely circulated and credited for swaying a lot of people to understanding the issue at hand.

A day later on Saturday October 12 events took an interesting turn. Writer Robert Vuijsje published an op-ed in de Volkskrant. Vuijsje is most known for his breakthrough hit novel Alleen maar nette mensen, which was made into a movie last year. Quinsy called the film a racist spectacle but most other film critics glossed over the racism and misogyny on display, which says something about the current state of debates in The Netherlands. In the op-ed, even though he called Gario a ‘zeurpiet’ (basically, a ‘whining Piet’ – still using the word Piet to refer to a black man), he outlines how he changed his vision on Zwarte Piet. It was namely after his black wife and black best friend from primary school told him how they have always objected to Zwarte Piet and never experience a festive mood in their childhoods, it dawned on him that it’s not the perspective of white people that matters in this debate.

On the same day, the director of the Dutch Centre for Folk Culture and Intangible Heritage, Ineke Strouken, spoke out saying that a conference should be organized to find a compromise for a new appearance of Zwarte Piet. After ratifying the UNESCO resolution on intangible, immaterial heritage, the centre is the Dutch organization that canvasses The Netherlands for intangible heritage, in order to create a list of which some heritage will be proposed to be included on the UNESCO World List of Intangible Heritage.


See also:

The Zwarte Piet debate – week 3

The Zwarte Piet debate – week 2




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  1. Pingback: The Zwarte Piet debate – week 2 | Roet In Het Eten

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