The evolution of “Zwarte Piet”

I think that Allison Blakely would be fascinated by this depiction of Zwarte Piet in Dutch Folklore. She would find it particularly interesting how the image of Zwarte Piet has evolved in Folklore over time.

In this picture, Zwarte Piet is shown in a very positive manner.  He has a near regal presence atop a horse, assisting the Saint-ly figure of “Sinterklaas” (the inspiration for our modern-day Santa Klaus) to deliver candy and presents to children.

In later images, Dutch Folklore has transformed Zwarte Piet into a negative image.  His dark complexion is also highlighted.  De Zwarte Man (The Black Man) now evokes fear in children.  Later, Blakley describes the public ridicule of black men.  For example, in a card game similar to Old Maid, the loser pulls the Zwarte Piet Card and is punished by other players drawing a black stripe on their forehead.

I think that Mariet Westermann would consider the historical significance of this imagery in its respective period of time.  Westermann would conclude that at this time of Dutch National Identity, Zwarte Piet (and blacks in general) are portrayed as submissive yet more positive than later portrayals.


Although this is not in the prompt, I think it is important to bring up an episode of The Office where “Zwarte Piet” made an appearance.  In Season 9, Episode 9: Dwight dresses up as a German equivalent of Santa, “Belsnickel”.  One of the accountants, Oscar, confirms to the rest of the office that Belsnickel is in fact a real thing.  He also mentions, “his partner Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter, a slave boy often portrayed in… blackface.”  The rest of the office shows their disgust while Dwight insists that they do not “stick to every outmoded aspect of our traditions” while he starts to discretely text on his phone.  There is a hard cut to his (white) friend, Nate, dressed (in blackface) as Zwarte Piet receiving the text in the parking lot and immediately going back to his car.  Netflix has recently cut out the ending of that scene on its platform.




One thought on “The evolution of “Zwarte Piet”

  1. Hi Zach, that was a very interesting interpretation of Black Pete using Blakely and Westermann. I found it really great that you included the scenes from the office. I completely forgot about that scene but after googling, I remember it completely. I was personally shocked that was in the office, but the office has been known to do make some offensive decisions. Since you remember this scene, I’m sure you know there was a suicide gag scene in the beginning of another episode that they cut. Anyway, I thought the picture you selected was very interesting and I was wondering what year it was made.


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