Third update on the campaign against the Dutch government subsidizing blackface on children’s television

Zwarte Piet is racism.
Zwarte Piet is racism.

Doorbraak activist Jennifer van Leijen recently initiated a campaign to stop the Dutch government from subsidizing blackface (Zwarte Piet or Black Pete) on children’s television. Thousand people already signed. Van Leijen regularly writes updates. Here’s the third batch. (You can also still read the first and second ones.)

RTL is a commercial television station that recently decided to change Zwarte Piet, the blackface character, by making him a white person, without wig and with a few soot smears on his face. The response was bizarre: a Dutch politician, Halbe Zijlstra complained that the change was stupid because it had happened too quickly! The absurdity of wanting to phase out racism instead of eradicate it aside, the crux of the matter is that the NTR, the company who make children’s television to be shown in schools is actually state sponsored. Halbe Zijlstra belongs to a governing party: the VVD. This state sponsored racism has to stop. Dutch society in general is racist, people from minorities are not accepted as having the same rights. Dutch politicians are trying to play the “race card” simultaneously getting support for their party, whilst encouraging racism. This quote sums up the status quo very adeptly: “Let me remind you, dear reader, that Zwarte Piet hasn’t been abolished. Instead, his appearance has been changed to match one of the main justifications used by ZP supporters. ‘He’s not black, he’s been down a chimney’ (…) That RTL has made these changes, is causing a national outrage. People aren’t actually upset about the minor changes to ZP, but instead are more angry that minorities in the Netherlands are actually being listened to. Where will it all end?” The short term gain for politicians made by playing the race card is a bad idea: Tom Jan Meeus wrote in an article for the NRC newspaper that supporting blackfacing was political suicide and that anyone doing it would be on the wrong side of history. Thank you petition-signers, changes are ongoing, and it’s important that the Dutch government know that the world is watching…


Last Saturday, Dutch national television broadcast the arrival of the wise old white man Sinterklaas, arriving on the boat with his blackface helpers in a place called Maassluis. There were coaches with protestors travelling towards Maassluis, ready to collect more protesters in Rotterdam. In Rotterdam, the police blockaded the coaches and told the protesters that they were not allowed to travel further and would have to wait in the bus. The protesters were told that the municipality of Rotterdam had made this emergency decision the night before. When the lawyer for the protesters, Michiel Pestman, arrived to speak to the protesters, he was arrested too. The police used violence against the group of protesters that had been waiting in Rotterdam for the coaches. Meanwhile the protesters that had been inside the coaches went out and walked through Rotterdam. The police followed this group of walkers, surrounded them and arrested them too.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental freedom, and it is structurally stifled in this illegitimate way in the Netherlands. It is a good example of state repression. Contrast this with the fact that an extreme right wing neo-Nazi group were allowed to demonstrate in Maassluis on the same day. Newspapers reported, and the police boasted on social media that they, the police, would be undercover in blackface, as part of the parade. In 1998 New York police and fire fighters were fired for appearing in blackface because “The First Amendment does not require a Government employer to sit idly by while its employees insult those they are hired to serve and protect”. In the United States you can be fired for appearing in blackface, but in the Netherlands, it is part of your duties to insult the black population. Please sign this and ask others to do so.

Jennifer van Leijen