Amsterdam mayor: Zwarte Piet overhauled by 2018

As he outlined his reasons for appealing last month’s verdict in the Zwarte Piet trial, Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan said the embattled blackface tradition will undergo drastic change over the next four years.

The mayor said while the Sinterklaas tradition will remain untouched, the negative "negroid stereotype" of Zwarte Piet will disappear. The line that has been followed since last year will be continued; Piet will no longer have nappy hair, hoop earrings and thick red lips, but it’s not just his outer characteristics that will change.

“The dumb, subservient character of Piet has to go. Piet will become Sint’s CEO. A lot less submissive and a lot more leader,” said Van der Laan.

The changes are the result of meetings the Amsterdam Sinterklaas Committee held with people who for the past two years have mounted objections against the tradition. They felt Zwarte Piet presented a negative stereotype about people of African origin. “We spoke a lot and we fought hard,” Van der Laan said, adding that a lot of colonial history was taken into consideration by both sides. “Of course the chimney will stay. That is not a problem; there is nothing colonial about going through the chimney.”

It was was not clear whether changes the Amsterdam mayor foresees will be adopted nationally, but the fact that Social Affairs Minister Lodewijk Asscher took part in the meetings does bode well for that possibility.

Mayor Van der Laan said that as far as he is concerned the discussion about Zwarte Piet is over. He said however that realistically he knows that it could get drawn out further. “My hope is that people will now accept that with these changes Sinterklaas can become a celebration for everybody. Then the Sint will become what he always was: a sweet and beloved tradition that makes everybody happy.”

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