Most Dutch primary schools don't discuss the skin color of Zwarte Piet: study

The teachers at four out of five primary schools in the Netherlands do not talk about the color of Zwarte Piet and do not ask themselves whether appearance of the controversial character may be hurtful to some children, according a study by DUO Onderwijsonderzoek & Advies, ANP reports.

The independent research agency surveyed four hundred primary school directors. Only 18 percent of primary schools said they've had a discussion about "the kind of Piet" to use in their Sinterklaas celebrations. This discussion usually involved three considerations: whether the color of Piet should be adjusted, whether the current Piet is hurtful to some and whether the school team would prefer Zwarte Piet in his traditional blackface appearance.

The researchers found that 96 percent of schools celebrate Sinterklaas. In the three large cities and surrounding suburbs, 84 percent of the primary schools use so-called Chimney Pieten - characters with soot marks on their face instead of blackface makeup. In the rest of the Netherlands, 89 percent of primary schools stick to blackface Zwarte Piet. 

The debate on whether blackface Zwarte Piet is a racist stereotype, or a tradition worth protecting erupted with great intensity in the Netherlands again these past weeks. Pro-Piet activists blocked a highway to prevent anti-Piet activists from reaching their arranged demonstration at Sinterklaas' national arrival in Dokkum. The demonstration finally happened this weekend, with the police escorting the protesters to Dokkum. 

People dressed as Zwarte Piet stormed a school in Utrecht and the house of politician Sylvana Simons, according to The Amsterdam city council meeting last week was suspended for a time while three men dressed as blackface Zwarte Piet was removed from the public gallery. The Sinterklaas home in Dordrecht was vandalized. And presenter Humberto Tan revealed that he's been under extra security for a year and a half because of threats he received after statements he made about Zwarte Piet on television.