Dutch PM now thinks differently about blackface Zwarte Piet

Prime Minster Mark Rutte has started to think differently about the appearance of blackface Sinterklaas character Zwarte Piet, he said in a parliamentary debate on Thursday about protests against racist police brutality. "I also belonged to the group that said: Zwarte Piet is simply black," he said, but added that he now thinks differently.

For years, Rutte was an outspoken opponent of changing the appearance of this blackface character. But he changed his mind after conversations with people who made their objections clear to him, he said. "When I met people who said: 'I feel incredibly discriminated against, because the Piet is black', I thought: that is the last thing you want at the Sinterklaas party."

Rutte still doesn't think that the government should be involved in adjusting Zwarte Piet's appearance. According to him, the tradition is already changing. "In a few years, those Pieten will no longer be black, I expect. It is a folk culture that changes over time under the pressure of the social debate."

On Wednesday, Rutte acknowledged that "systematic racism" is also a problem in the Netherlands. People do not always get equal opportunities because of their ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. But on Thursday Rutte said that the term 'institutional racism' was "sociological jargon".

Institutional racism refers to structures within institutions with power that judge and treat groups of people differently. This includes things like discrimination on the labor market and housing market, and ethnic profiling by the police and other authorities- all problems studies previously showed were present in the Netherlands. 

At the urging of DENK parliamentarian Tunahan Kuzu and GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver, the Dutch Prime Minister eventually acknowledged that institutional racism occurs in the Netherlands, but that he does not want to use the term. According to him, that would upset too large a proportion of the population. Rutte said that this group would get defensive, because they may feel that they are being called a racist when they are not.