Zwarte Piet

No matter what your personal take is on Black Peter, be aware that Brits and Americans are liable to see him as an offensive racial stereotype, or backward and unenlightened at the very least.

A cultural rather than a linguistic issue today. As we’re into October and so the Dutch equivalent of Santa’s elves are soon going to be very much in evidence in the shops, on the advertising hoardings and (nearer the sixth of December) in person in large numbers. Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments:

  • “He’s got nothing to do with slavery.”
  • “He’s black from the soot going up and down the chimneys.”
  • “It’s all just harmless tradition.”
  • “Many people of colour in the Netherlands are happy to join in.”

I’m not taking up a position here – just telling you how it is. The fact remains that schminking up in blackface is socially unacceptable in the English-speaking world nowadays, to most people of any colour.
Remember that what it means to you (brought up with it and seeing it as a bit of fun for the kids) can come across entirely differently in other cultures where the struggle for civil rights has been more divisive and more painful and immigration has been less broadly welcomed. Be very cautious if you want to defend him.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

One thought on “Zwarte Piet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: