Since the Netherlands has played its part in the Trans Atlantic Slavetrade some people think there may be connection there. The website Zwarte Piet is Racisme states that: "Zwarte Piet is a figure based on the stereotypical depiction of black people in the 19th century. His appearance is a direct reference to Dutch past of colonialism and slavery. Despite the many stories that exist on the origin of Zwarte Piet, this is the only sensible explanation for the way the figure currently looks." In the next tab about blackface there is more about what are older/other explanations for what some people think we can see in Black Pete.
The Meertensinstituut has done some research on this. However this research is not very extensive and therefore doesn't provide a complete picture of this and futhermore contradicts known sources in many cases. As stated on our homepage it is absolutely necessary to have a complete and factbased picture of this tradition and not loosely use an American frame of reference without at least acknowledging that you do, and to realise that this in itself poses a problem for the conclusions you come to. Recently the Meertensinstitute have changed their website to where they acknowledge that their viewpoint stems from American theories about what racism is. It is our opinion that this view cannot be used the way they do to come to conclusions about an indigenous practice like the Sinterklaascelebrations. Even before this change the Meertensinstitute acknowledged that it cannot be concluded that there is a direct connection between Zwarte Piet and people of African descent. The evidence is circumstantial at best. It is important to note here that on this website the existence of predecessors with a black colour is proven and their connection to what we now know as Zwarte Piet is evident. The Meertens research still states that Sinterklaas always operates alone before 1850, which isn't true and is an example of their lack of interest in fact based history. Therefore they are very careless in describing Black Pete and fail to describe him correctly thus contributing to polarization in society. In almost all cases their description of Zwarte Piet fails to acknowledge the fact that harlequins and pictures of Saint Nicholas as noblemen exist that fully explain the current Black Pete with curly hair and clothes. It is absolutely ludicrous to consistently describe the hair as frizzy as they do on their website. Also earrings and a prominent red tongue in his more devillish predecessors are overlooked. This is more a reflection of their assumptions than of actual research or the wish to present the history properly so as to be able to differentiate between interpretation and what is actually there. More on the double role of the Black Clauses can be found in the article Black Claus is Black Pete. Also the work of Arnold-Jan Scheer shows a grand variety of black figures that show characteristics of the companions of Saint Nicholas in the whole of Europe and they are closely linked to our Zwarte Piet as well.
One can oppose Schenkmans choice for a black companion, with no specific ethnicty attributed to him. The sheer variety of pictures used with Schenkmans text proves that it is actually neutral in that regard. Furthermore we question the way in which Schenkmans booklet is portrayed as the actual start of the companion of Saint Nicholas in the Netherlands. There is enough proof that it wasn't. Further study of the Black Pete figure shows that the understanding the Dutch people have of Black Pete doesn't tolerate the elevated picture of the companion in Schenkmans first edition. There is also no concrete proof whatsoever that Schenkman chose this figure based on racist motives. Also in next editions we find many variations in the portrayal of the companion, one of which is used in the second edition of his booklet that is closely linked to the Saint Nicholasses portrayed as noblemen and the harlequins in it's lineage. It is noteworthy that the chain (one of the four characteristics) wasn't used in the booklet: Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht. However it remains present in the black figure for wel into the twentieth century, but this isn't strange knowing the history and is a very strong indication of the fact that this figure is a continuation of an older practice and persists in the masquerade where Schenkmans ideas about the roles of the Saint and the companion are mosly ignored by the Dutch people or switched around between the Saint and the companion. There is no straight lineage to be found in this only characteristics that can be found time and time again. It is evident that oral tradition has played the most important role in passing on the tradition and not Schenkmans booklet. The dark appearance, the bag and the switch are found in the book. Found in the tradition but not in the book are these things: more than one Black Pete, his role to look for naughty children, speak with a hollow/strange voice en be a bogeyman, his chain, the often white attire for Saint Nicholas, all this is very different from this one booklet. Furthermore it is quite something to link something like paintings of pages that have no known connection to the Sinterklaascelebrations in other sources to the tradition when all the while there is ample evidence in other sources for a lineage that doesn't include pages whatsoever and that fully explains the current figure. Also a few times in history there is evidence that people oppose the idea of an ethnicity of the figure which is totally understandable looking at the actual history. If we look at the evidence presented by followers of the "paintings of pages connection" we see that they base their position on very debatable things like a wall decoration and sometimes clothes. Sources from the Sinterklaastradition itself point in a totally different direction however and until very recently were kept out of the presented information on the history or standpoint on Black Pete. It is evident that this information should be fully brought out in the open and studied. It is inexcusable to leave it out of this debate. A debate cannot be held unless all information is accurately presented to all parties. Especially people opposing Black Pete are guilty of not wanting all information available or have remained very vague about it's implication on this debate.
Most people who oppose Black Pete simply ask to take away to what they perceive as the blackface resemblance. It should however be emphasized that is a perception and not what is actually there! This is also the reason that they cannot demand certain changes as they are doing now, using all kinds of statements that are far from the facts and the truth. Changes, if made, cannot be prescribed and forced upon people, as some groups seem to want. Everyone who is affected by these changes, should be able to give his or her opinion on this. On this website recognition of the Dutch and European history is brought to the attention as is the symbolism of the celebration. It is a good thing when everyones history is taken into account and valued, especially when looking for a new way of portraying Black Pete. Also if you ask for understanding you should also be able to give it to people that disagree with you. This aspect of things is usually ignored by people protesting Black Pete and this leads ot unnecessary polarization and confrontation. Knowing the actual history of the figure is key to how you think and therefore feel about it.
One of the professors of the Meertensinstituur does support the AntiPete protesters because of the fact that even bringing up concerns seems to cause racism to come to the surface real quick and also because the Netherlands does have these black pages in history and people are still waiting to have this acknowledged by the State. The fact however that the figure's history hasn't been presented correctly and the fact that protesters do play a role in the way they adress this issue and the language they use to do so, has very much to do with it. The stereotypical way in which white people are presented and spoken to are very much part of the problem as well as the fact that their claims are up for debate, whether they like that or not. Being falsely accused tends to make people mad and this is exactly what's happening here. It is too easy to attribute this exclusively to racism. This article "Activisten bevorderen juist racisme." by Hans Siebers professor at Tilburg University explains some of this. Also protesters against Black Pete adress all in favour of the figure as one agressive group, pointing at people who may have crossed the line in confrontation with antipete protesters. There is a very large group that have not said anything or lifted a finger written off and kept silent in the media. The media itself has not done a good job in presenting both sides in an informative way with substantiated claims.
Here the following can be added: In the studies and arguments a lot of times paintings are used of royalty or nobles with a slavepage at their side. Also merchants can be portrayed like this. Sinterklaas is neiter nobility (or royalty) or bourgeoisie (middle class). He is clergy, a member of the cloth! He is a bishop, a clergyman not noted for having slaves to highten their status. The parallels that are drawn, go limp where this is concerned. The role of the church in slavery hasn't always been a good one. Still it woudn't be right to draw any parallels here. The role of the clergy in the sexual abuse of children is not to be linked to Sinterklaas because he is a bisshop and a friend of children and kids sit in his lap all the time. This abuse will certainly have taken place during the evolution of the Sinterklaascelebrations. With a certain background it is easy to then see this then reflected in the Sinterklaascelebrations. It is good to be aware that this attribution is not correct. It can always be a case for a discussion about the Sinterklaasfeest, but not for demanding a change right now, in this and this direction. As this is the position of some organisations that are Anti Pete this poses a real problem.
If individual or small groups of individuals find the celebration incompatible with their beliefs a solution should be found. The reason that people make the associations they make is terrible. Most people will not deny that. People on both sides must however be aware of this difference in interpretation and determine if what they see is really part of the celebration or a later attribution. For slavery this link cannot be made. The Dutch and European history in the development of this celebration is so important and should not be shoved to the side because certain associations how logical they may seem are not factual, looking at this history and development. Also people have trouble with the word "knecht". They suppose this is a synonym for slave. This is not true. The current title would be employer nothing more, nothing less. A lot of people have ancestors that were called "knecht" in their jobs. Also in the sources it is a term used for the devil. What people are objecting to in the Sinterklaascelebration rides on the notion that the black and white are actually referring to skincolour when in fact this use of black and white is symbolic. On this website we are of the opinion that a persons own skincolour is not a factor in whether or not a person can play Sinterklaas or Zwarte Piet. Both roles can be played by anyone who wishes to play them. Casting people for these roles should mean more attention to this fact, as to see more diversity!
This picture is not included in the studies that link the Sinterklaascelebration to slavery and Black Pete riding on a horse positioned above the Saint is a contradiction to this link. (Schenkman, 1850 Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht.) It is only until after 1907 that Black Pete isn't shown riding a horse anymore. In the maskerades on the street we do see him on his horse through the years until now though.
Including more of the history of slavery from various sources including from descendants of slaves in schools is something that is supported. This site doesn't support the claim that the existence of Black Pete can be explained from slavery history and therefore is the symbol of racism and everything connected with that in the Netherlands.