Public broadcaster NTR announced Tuesday that this year the national entry of Sinterklaas will not include Zwarte Piet in full blackface makeup. Working in agreement with the municipality of Apeldoorn, NTR said instead of full blackface, this November the face of Sinterklaas’s helper will be streaked with soot stains.
The Sinterklaasjournaal – a popular children’s program which follows the journey of Sinterklaas beginning November 11 – also plans to eliminate full blackface makeup in favor of soot stains.
NTR introduced the soot-wiped style in 2014 and has since gradually lowered the number of traditional blackfaced Zwarte Piets. Last year – despite a similar announcement by the broadcaster that it would eliminate traditional blackface makeup – the live broadcast of the procession featured a mix Zwarte Piets with both soot-stained faces as well as full blackface.
The evolution of the Zwarte Piet character has also included the decline of racially stereotyped features in recent years including puffy red lips, thick black curly hair, and large gold earrings.
According to NOS, anti-racism activists like Jerry Afriyie (of the group Kick Out Zwarte Piet) call the banishment of blackface makeup “historic”, saying “This is the day that many black people in this country have waited for.”
While the elimination of blackface during the national entry is a long-awaited victory for anti-Zwarte Piet activists, many municipalities organize their own Sinterklaas entries and will likely still include the traditional blackface makeup. Afriyie told NOS that Kick Out Zwarte Piet will continue to demonstrate, saying as long as there are still black-faced helpers, “my action group will continue to try to make our voice heard.”
I&O research from November 2018 reports that 44% of people questioned support soot-faced or other variations of Zwarte Piet. This is an increase from 2016 when I&O found the number of people in support of alternative Zwarte Piet makeup at just 32%.