Blackface in Friesland: Protesters target “Sinterklaas’s brother”

Activists protest against Zwarte Piet at Pietendorp in Enkhuizen, Nov 22nd, 2015 (Photo: @StopBlackface1/Twitter)Activists protest against Zwarte Piet at Pietendorp in Enkhuizen, Nov 22nd, 2015 (Photo: @StopBlackface1/Twitter)

Anti-racism activists will protest in the Friesland village of Grou on Saturday during the arrival of Sint Piter and Swarte Pyt, a local version of Zwarte Piet. The protest was arranged by action group Kick Out Swarte Pyt (KOSP), which consists of the same people as Kick Out Zwarte Piet, one of the best known groups in protests against Sinterklaas' blackface helper, according to newspaper AD.

According to legend, Sint Piter is the brother of Sinterklaas. He visits Grou with presents in February, because Sinterklaas forgot the village while making his rounds in December. Another legend says that this is a celebration in the name of Saint Peter - the patron saint of Grou, which is traditionally a fishing village. Unlike Sinterklaas, Sint Piter does not have a whole team of Pieten to help him, only one Swarte Pyt. In Grou Pyt is colored completely black, wears a wig of black curly hair, and has red lips.

According to KOSP, these characteristics are stereotypical and racist and must be removed from the character. "Why are we coming to Grou? We want the subject to be on the agenda throughout the year, not just in November", KOSP spokesperson Dimitri Knobbe said to AD. 

Mayor Ferd Crone of Leeuwarden, which covers Grou, would have preferred if there was no demonstration during the arrival. "It is a small village and the role of the children during the arrival is also large: there is only one Piet. The children would therefore suffer quickly." Over the past days he was in talks with the activists and the committee organizing Sint Piter's arrival to try and come up with an alternative, but to no avail. "The aim was: no demonstration, but a consultation between the two parties over the coming months on the appearance of Swarte Pyt in 2020", the mayor said to AD. 

"It is a complicated discussion", Crone said to Omrop Fryslan. "People who organize the party have no racist intentions. There are characteristics that can lead back to a distant past that I understand people can be sensitive to." He added: "Sint Piter and Swarte Pyt are no longer bogeymen you used to be afraid of, but they are children's friends and it's a children's party. How do we ensure that we change the racism that can stick to it and sometimes also hurt others? That's not up to me, that's up to the village Grou."

Crone is currently looking for a place in the village where KOSP can protest. "They are allowed to demonstrate, but the party also has to continue. We are now discussing how, where and with how many people they can demonstrate", he said to the local broadcaster. He did not say anything about police deployment during the demonstration. "We'll ensure safety and minimize inconvenience."

On Wednesday evening the mayor discussed the protest during a meeting with around 80 Grou residents. "The atmosphere was calm. People mainly had questions about safety", Peter van den Broek of the Sint Piter committee said to Leeuwarder Courant afterwards. 

There were no demonstrations during Sint Piter's arrival in 2018 and 2017. According to Leeuwarder Courant, the demonstration in 2016 did not follow the rules.