On September 11, the city of Groningen announced that the festivities regarding Sinterklaas’ arrival in November would take place without Black Pete if they were to happen.
With the on-going Covid-19 crisis, the city of Groningen is still not certain how the annual arrival of Sinterklaas will be celebrated this year. Event planners in Groningen hope to go ahead with celebrations, unlike other Dutch cities that have cancelled them, such as Amsterdam and Dordrecht. Amsterdam and Dordrecht, have already cancelled their traditional Sinterklaas entries because of the corona measures in place.
Whether or not the arrival should be celebrated is not the only problem concerning Sinterklaas and his associates. Zwarte Piet, Black Pete in English, is known as Sinterklaas’ faithful companion, but for many his portrayal is a big problem. Right in line with his name being Black Pete, people portraying him are painting their faces black and are putting on wigs to finish off the look. This is known as black-facing and is nowadays considered disrespectful and controversial. There has been an ongoing debate on abolishing this character once and for all.
„I am fiery against the current tradition of Sinterklaas celebrations that depicts Black Pete as a racist caricature,“ says Tamar Esperanza, a person of color living in Amsterdam. „My black father has always been against the celebrations, and besides school, has never allowed us to participate in the celebration. I saw first hand how the caricature made my family, my friends, and myself very uncomfortable. Teachers would tell my Ghanaian best friend that she was lucky she didn’t have to paint her face black or wear a wig.“
Alex Zondag, a dutch student from Amsterdam, represents the other position in the debate. „I am celebrating with Black Pete because I have never seen it as something racist when I was a kid and I think that most people who are pro are thinking the same way.“
In the light of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, Tamar figures that people who are connecting with the Black Lives Matter message but who didn’t recognize their own ignorance by still celebrating this racist tradition, might have changed their way of thinking through all of this. „For this fight, we need everyone,“ she adds.