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Is Black Pete racist in Australia?

Mark Fletcher
December 9th, 2013 · 39 Comments

dutch-courierI was surprised to see the cover of Dutch Courier newspaper today. The black characters jarred with the Christmas theme. I discovered online that that this is Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) a character, some say servant, who accompanies St Nicholas.

In Canada recently a politician came in for criticism for being photographed with someone dressed as Black Pete.

Siji Jabbar writing for The Guardian a year ago offered a valuable contribution on this issue and race more generally in The Netherlands.

We put this issue of Dutch Courier on display as it’s not our job to act as censor or to judge taste. As to whether this depiction is racist? I’d say it is but I’d also acknowledge that this is a traditional character like the black dolls we used to call golliwogs. Traditions take time to change.


Category: Ethics · Social responsibility

39 responses so far ↓

  • 1 h // Dec 10, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    EVERYTHING is racist these days !
    PC at its finest. Black Peter has been around for hundreds of years but heaven forbid we upset someone in 2013.
    Hopefully a storm in a teacup but I doubt it.
    Some local schools here are not allowed to be overtly Christian at Christmas, in case they upset the Other Religions. No decorations, kids can only exchange cards on one day, no carols.
    We will not have any culture left if these things are continually banned.


  • 2 Jack // Dec 10, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    Not everything is racist these does h but painting a man’s face black with bright red lips making him dumb down his speech and work as a servant handing our presents is definitely racist.


  • 3 Shaun's // Dec 10, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Do we claim racism when we paint a face white ,put a big red nose on him with wooly hair and over sized boots and have him do stupid things like a clown ….. Come on who cares


  • 4 Jack // Dec 10, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    Thousands of protesters in the Netherlands care Shaun.

    And I’m not sure it’s fair to compare white face to black face considering our history of black enslavement and discrimination across the globe.


  • 5 Shaun's // Dec 10, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    The poor elves are the real victims they work 24 hrs a day making presents and get paid nothing for there services . Talk about slave labour ….


  • 6 Jarryd Moore // Dec 10, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Shaun’s, h,

    Blackface is generally considered racist because it is historically associated with the demeaning of black people.

    There character of Black Pete has only been around since 1850 (he is referred to only as a servant in the original book). There may be some origin of the character in an earlier tradition of a devil that accompanied Saint Nicholas.

    A clown does not have the same historical connection to discrimination against a race of people.

    Schools should not celebrate any religious holiday – they are secular places of learning. There is a reasonably good argument to allow generic decorations and holiday activities – these would not promote one religion over another.


  • 7 Shaun's // Dec 10, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    Yes schools should ! If Santa reads this blog do not visit Jarred’s house .


  • 8 Shaun's // Dec 10, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Mark you need to put a dislike button on here with a thumbs down


  • 9 Jarryd Moore // Dec 10, 2013 at 12:33 PM


    Schools are not there to promote religion. They are funded by a secular government and have absolutely no business whatsoever celebrating religious holidays.


  • 10 jenny // Dec 10, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    Government schools are there to give our children a whole education and they should celebrate customs (religious or not) associated with the cultures of all children who attend that school.
    Intolerance and racism stems from ignorance.
    If parents don’t want their children exposed to different religions and beliefs they can keep their child out of those activities.


  • 11 Andrew // Dec 10, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    Bloody hell or Bah Humbug!
    I would hate to have Christmas at Jarryd’s place.
    What a crotchety old misery guts you seem to be.


  • 12 Jarryd Moore // Dec 10, 2013 at 5:26 PM


    There is a massive difference between educating people about religion and celebrating the customs. Kids can take world religion studies as a subject in high school where they are more prepared to deal with the complexities of such a subject.

    Obviously celebrating the religious customs of every child is impractical. To do so would be to promote those religions and it is not the place of publicly funded schools to do so.

    The idea that “If parents don’t want their children exposed to different religions and beliefs they can keep their child out of those activities” would only result in a number of children being segregated from their peers. That is not a desirable outcome.


  • 13 Jarryd Moore // Dec 10, 2013 at 5:34 PM


    Ad hominem attacks are a logical fallacy.

    I love Christmas. Like a very large number of Australians I just don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday.


  • 14 Allan wickham // Dec 10, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    A Politically Correct Christmas Poem

    Twas the night before Christmas and Santa’s a wreck…
    How to live in a world that’s politically correct?
    His workers no longer would answer to “Elves”,
    “Vertically Challenged” they were calling themselves.
    And labor conditions at the North Pole,
    were alleged by the union, to stifle the soul.

    Four reindeer had vanished without much propriety,
    released to the wilds, by the Humane Society.
    And equal employment had made it quite clear,
    that Santa had better not use just reindeer.
    So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
    were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

    The runners had been removed from his beautiful sleigh,
    because the ruts were deemed dangerous by the EPA,
    And millions of people were calling the Cops,
    when they heard sled noises upon their roof tops.
    Second-hand smoke from his pipe, had his workers quite frightened,
    and his fur trimmed red suit was called “unenlightened”.

    To show you the strangeness of today’s ebbs and flows,
    Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose.
    He went to Geraldo, in front of the Nation,
    demanding millions in over-due workers compensation.

    So…half of the reindeer were gone, and his wife
    who suddenly said she’d had enough of this life,
    joined a self help group, packed and left in a whiz,
    demanding from now on that her title was Ms.

    And as for gifts…why, he’d never had the notion
    that making a choice could cause such commotion.
    Nothing of leather, nothing of fur…
    Which meant nothing for him or nothing for her.
    Nothing to aim, Nothing to shoot,
    Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.
    Nothing for just girls and nothing for just boys.
    Nothing that claimed to be gender specific,
    Nothing that’s warlike or non-pacifistic.

    No candy or sweets…they were bad for the tooth.
    Nothing that seemed to embellish upon the truth.
    And fairy tales…while not yet forbidden,
    were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden,
    for they raised the hackles of those psychological,
    who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

    No baseball, no football…someone might get hurt,
    besides – playing sports exposed kids to dirt.
    Dolls were said to be sexist and should be passe.
    and Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

    So Santa just stood there, disheveled and perplexed,
    he just couldn’t figure out what to do next?
    He tried to be merry he tried to be gay,
    but you must have to admit he was having a very bad day.
    His sack was quite empty, it was flat on the ground,
    nothing fully acceptable was anywhere to be found.

    Something special was needed, a gift that he might,
    give to us all, without angering the left or the right.
    A gift that would satisfy – with no indecision,
    each group of people in every religion.
    Every race, every hue,
    everyone, everywhere…even you!
    So here is that gift, it’s price beyond worth…



  • 15 James // Dec 10, 2013 at 6:28 PM

    I admit Im struggling with this logic. I love Christmas, I just dont celebrate it as a religious holiday.

    What exactly do you love and why are you celebrating.


  • 16 Jarryd Moore // Dec 10, 2013 at 7:02 PM


    I celebrate it as a holiday – a time to relax and spend with friends and family. Good company, great presents and even better food!

    A significant number of Australian’s have reappropriated the holiday as a secular one in which they celebrate whatever they like. Id hazard a guess that most Australian’s don’t overtly celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.


  • 17 allan wickham // Dec 11, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    A few days before Christmas and Santa began his final preparations when ………….

    Four of Santa’s elves got sick, the trainee elves did not produce toys as fast as the regular ones, and Santa began to feel the Pre-Christmas pressure.

    Then Mrs. Claus told Santa her Mother was coming to visit, which stressed Santa even more.
    When he went to harness the reindeer, he found that three of them were about to give birth and two others had jumped the fence and were out, Heaven knows where.

    Then when he began to load the sleigh, one of the floorboards cracked, the toy bag fell to the ground and all the toys were scattered.

    Frustrated, Santa went in the house for a cup of apple cider and a shot of rum.
    When he went to the cupboard, he discovered the elves had drunk all the cider and hidden the liquor.. In his frustration, he accidentally dropped the cider jug, and it broke into hundreds of little glass pieces all over the kitchen floor. He went to get the broom and found the mice had eaten all the straw off the end of the broom.

    Just then the doorbell rang, and an irritated Santa marched to the door, yanked it open, and there stood a little angel with a great big Christmas tree.

    The angel said very cheerfully, ‘Merry Christmas, Santa. Isn’t this a lovely day? I have a beautiful tree for you. Where would you like me to stick it?’

    And so began the tradition of the little angel on top of the Christmas tree.
    Not a lot of people know this.

    Merry Christmas


  • 18 James // Dec 11, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    So no Santa or Christmas tree or decorations for your kids Jarryd, just some presents (for no reason) and a bit of a meal with friends. Im wondering why you dont do that on the third Wednesday in October. We do, we call it a dinner party.

    So after 2000 years of euro christian tradition, some Australians have decided to “reappropriate” a Christian celebration as a secular one. Really!!! What does that even mean.

    Merry “Wednesday Feast with Friends” Jarryd.


  • 19 Andrew // Dec 11, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    I don’t think there would be too many ‘friends’ at Jarryd’s special day of celebration.
    Why has life got so difficult for some people. This is still a Christian country despite the likes of Jarryd denegrating it.
    Happy festivus for the rest of us.


  • 20 Jarryd Moore // Dec 11, 2013 at 12:30 PM


    We still do Santa (which is a reappropriated from a number of different Christian and Norse traditions) and a Christmas tree (which is reappropriated from Pagan tradition).

    Do you know why you celebrate Christmas on December 25? Its because it falls around the solstice and a number of pre-Christian religions used the date for other celebrations. The Christian celebration of Christmas was simply a reappropriation of existing religions.

    That’s what reappropriation is. You take an parts of and existing culture, modify it and adopt it as your own.


  • 21 Andrew // Dec 11, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    bah humbug Mr Grouch


  • 22 Jack // Dec 11, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    Wow attacking Jarryd? Really showing your Christian values and Christmas spirit guys.


  • 23 Jarryd Moore // Dec 11, 2013 at 12:35 PM


    This is NOT a Christian country. We live in a secular democracy, not a theocracy.

    If you don’t believe me take a read of Section 116 of the Constitution.

    “The Commonwealth of Australia shall not make any law establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”


  • 24 jenny // Dec 11, 2013 at 12:48 PM

    Great story Allan, sounds a bit like our distribution business at the moment!
    Our trainee elves are quitting before they start, our other elves have their usual problems, our main sleigh is broken again and poor Santa is doing yet another trip in the heat to the repairers on 3 hours sleep, our reindeer might have to be put down as we can’t afford the 25% gas price increase and no mechanic around here can fix gas problems!
    But on the bright side there are no newspapers on Xmas day so my santa can sleep in!
    More on topic we didn’t receive our 3 copies of this strong comment causing issue.


  • 25 James // Dec 11, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    This is just getting too strange. Jack clearly thinks an exchange of views is an attack on the view he agrees with. No attacks here Jack, just a challenge on some strident views expressed by my fellow bloggers.

    Now Jarryd. Youre reappropriating Santa and Christmas trees from Pagan traditions, but without any Christian linkages – have I got that right. To be fair dinkum and true to the real significance of that Pagan celebration, you realise you should do that in June. So which of the three main streams of Paganism do you subscribe to and which other Pagan festivals do you celebrate.

    Ill have rough guess and say there are chocolate eggs, bunnies and chickens exchanged on the first full moon after the (northern) spring equinox.


  • 26 Jarryd Moore // Dec 11, 2013 at 3:30 PM


    No, James. Most “Christian” traditions are simply reappropriated from other cultures or religions.

    You implied that there was something wrong or lacking in my (and millions of other Australian’s) non-Christian Christmas celebration. I was simply pointing out that the traditions people typically associate with Christmas are not Christian in origin. It would be incredibly hypocritical for someone to criticise others for reappropriaiting a celebration when that is exactly what they themselves are celebrating.

    I never suggested in the slightest that I subscribe to Paganism or any religion – I’m an atheist.


  • 27 andrew // Dec 11, 2013 at 3:39 PM

    You’re also incredible boorish Jarryd.

    Thank you James for some balanced opinion


  • 28 Jarryd Moore // Dec 11, 2013 at 3:48 PM


    Ad hominem attackes do not help your argument.

    Name calling should be beneath those contributing here.


  • 29 James // Dec 11, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    So back to your original point (@6). Could schools have Santa, Christmas trees and decorations, as a non Christian Christmas celebration. Could the end of school year celebration reappropriate Santa and Christmas trees to be the end of school year celebration that everyone could join in, regardless of faith.


  • 30 June // Dec 11, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    I note it is mainly the boys who are having this discussion. Probably because WE GIRLS ARE SO DAMN BUSY WITH THE SHOPPING, PLANNING, COOKING, CLEANING, BABYSITTING, PARENTING AND RUNNING THE BUSINESS.
    I do love Alan W though – always quick with a happy retort. Made my day, Alan


  • 31 Jarryd Moore // Dec 11, 2013 at 4:32 PM


    As I said in that original post – “There is a reasonably good argument to allow generic decorations and holiday activities – these would not promote one religion over another.”

    Id have no problem with schools celebrating with Santa and Christmas trees so long as they did not try to connect them with any particular religion. The crikey article I linked to above talks about this.


  • 32 shauns // Dec 11, 2013 at 4:47 PM

    June , mark has still not installed the dislike button :?


  • 33 shauns // Dec 11, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    Jarryd the way I took everything you have said was that you are against anything to do with Christmas but now that you allow Christmas trees etc I might see what I can do to get you back on santas list .


  • 34 Allan wickham // Dec 11, 2013 at 5:00 PM

    Thanks June, your comment has just made my day…..!
    I thought the discussion needed a light hearted moment…..the world takes itself far too seriously……life is short, pause and enjoy the moment, especially at Christmas time.


  • 35 Jarryd Moore // Dec 11, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    Sorry if I gave that impression. I’d hate to see schools remove the fun of Santa, trees, decorations, cards, craft, music, etc. Id wholeheartedly encourage it – so long as its not religious in nature.


  • 36 jenny // Dec 11, 2013 at 5:51 PM

    I just love a happy ending :)


  • 37 Jarryd Moore // Dec 11, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Don’t we all jenny :-O ;-)


  • 38 Andrew // Dec 11, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    I would love less of Moore for Christmas please Santa


  • 39 Steve // Dec 11, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    Good to see you’ve all got that of your chests. You know what they say about religion DON”T DISCUSS IT. I’m taking my 10 foot pole and are of to finish refilling my card display. Merry Xmas to all whether your planning a trip to midnight mass or a day of debauchery.


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