• Sweden's news in English

African Swedes slam 'racist' Santa helper

Maddy Savage · 19 Nov 2014, 09:54

Published: 19 Nov 2014 09:54 GMT+01:00

The Dutch Saint Nicholas - known as Sinterklaas - traditionally appears alongside a helper known as Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) at seasonal celebrations in the Netherlands and Belgium, but there has been growing criticism of the practice by equal rights groups from across Europe in recent years.
Now Sweden's Afro-Swedish National Association has written to the Dutch embassy in Stockholm, to complain about a party planned on its premises on November 30th, at which Black Pete is set to appear.
"It is racist having this character, who is a white person who has put paint on their skin and has big red lips and an Afro. There are so many stereotypes here," Zakaria Zouhir who chairs the association told The Local.
"The Dutch embassy would never dream of holding something like this in say New York. They are misjudging Africans living in Sweden if they they think we won't react to this," he added.

Sinterklass and some helpers dressed as Black Pete in The Netherlands. Photo: TT
In his letter to the embassy, Zouhir argues: "From what we have learned the character typically speak Dutch with a stupid accent, and acts childlike and mischievous when performing making him more akin to a child than an adult. This of course is part of European racist generalizations applied to black people that used to be widespread but can no longer be made explicitly".
Karen Van Stegeren, who is Deputy Head of Mission at the Dutch embassy in Stockholm, said the party was being organized by a Dutch group run by volunteers that had been using a room at the embassy for parties for decades.
She confirmed that Zwarte Piet made annual appearances at events there.
Embassy staff are unable to take a position on debates like these, but Van Stegeren said she was "aware that these kind of discussions have already been going on in the Netherlands over the past two or three years".
She added that Zwarte Piet is "seen by children as the best part of the celebration, because he brings the presents. He is usually considered to be a really nice person and there are no negative connotations".
The Sinterklaas festival dates back to the 1600s and Zwarte Piet started appearing alongside the white bearded figure in the 1800s.
Some Dutch argue Black Pete is black because of the soot in the chimneys he climbs down to take gifts to children, while others have noted that his emergence coincided with the Dutch Empire's involvement in slavery at that time. Sweden also practiced slavery in the Caribbean during this period.

Zakaria Zouhir from Sweden's Afro-Swedish National Association. Photo: Private
Story continues below…
On Wednesday, the Dutch embassy told The Local it had no plans to stop the controversial Sinterklass party from going ahead in 2014.
But Sweden's Afro-Swedish National Association said it would continue to put pressure on the embassy as well as the Swedish government to try and halt any events involving Zwarte Piet in Stockholm.
"Sweden has a history of slavery and this event is even taking place near Slussen where the ships carrying slaves used to come in," Zakaria Zouhir told The Local.
"We see this as about solidarity with all our African brothers and sisters," he added.

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Maddy Savage (maddy.savage@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Cash alert! Last chance to deposit your old notes
Head to the bank if you've got any of these. Photo: Micke Larsson/TT

Bank it!

The Local List
Six tips for learning Swedish without even being in Sweden
A Swedish Midsummer party in New York. Photo: Johan Brunkvist/TT

The Local's intern, Jack Schofield, taught himself Swedish from his home in the UK. Here's how he did it.

Ikea threatens to shelve Russia growth plans
Everything Moscow. Photo: Maxim Murmur/AP

Will the Swedish furniture goliath retract its rubles?

Swedish police brace for 'unpredictable' pope
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Madeleine meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Nobody knows quite what to expect when Pope Francis visits secular Sweden this autumn.

Could this Swedish finding help cure alcoholism?
What causes alcohol dependency? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Scientists hope their findings will end the stigmatization of alcoholism.

Man jailed for six years for asylum home arson
The district court in Västmanland. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A court in western Sweden has sentenced a 28-year-old asylum seeker to six years in jail for starting a fire at the asylum centre where he lived.

Volvo on hunt for 400 new engineers in Sweden
Want to help build one of these? Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Want to work in Sweden?

Swedish hearts fail on Mondays and at Christmas
Tell me why I don't like Mondays. Photo: Marcus Lindblad/SvD/TT

July is Sweden's most heart-warming month.

Woman told she's not Swedish enough for a job
A sun bather wears a Swedish flag hat to celebrate National Day. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Sweden's discrimination watchdog is on the case.

Really hungry elk wreak havoc in Swedish forests
Om-nom-nom. Photo: AP Photo/Becky Bohrer

"It's an emergency situation."

Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
How good is Sweden for expat life?
Sponsored Article
Why you should learn to trade (and just how easy it is)
Property of the week: Landskrona, Skåne
People-watching: August 26th-28th
Blog updates

23 August

A Summer in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"For our first year here in Sweden we decided to have all our holidays in Sweden.…" READ »


22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
What are Sherpas doing on Sweden's highest mountain?
Sponsored Article
Malmö to host global skateboard championship
People-watching: August 24th
The Local Voices
'I want to be a businesswoman but I don’t care about money'
Experts: Gothenburg grenade blast is 'part of a cycle of violence'
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Property of the week: Karlsborg
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
Why Sweden could change its criticised detention laws
Watch this dog's reaction when she tries Swedish fermented herring
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
People-watching: August 19th-21st
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
How to find student housing in Sweden
VIDEO: Swede films first Northern Lights of the season
Sponsored Article
The mystique of Asia - in the middle of Stockholm
People-watching: August 17th
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Swedish population nears ten million
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
The Local Voices
This Syrian artist found love in a Swedish library
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Sex pigs halt traffic after laser attack on Pokémon teens. Only in Sweden.
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Property of the week: Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm
Drunk knight detained in Stockholm
Can you solve this Swede's strange Star Wars mystery?
People-watching: August 12th-14th
Swedes cheer first snow of the season
People-watching: August 10th
The Local Voices
Gabriel mastered Swedish and got accepted onto a medicine degree in just 7 months
jobs available