The Devil is in the Details: ERIF captures Sinterklaas’ ongoing identity crisis in our new brand and product report


The European Race and Imagery Foundation’s (ERIF) annual Brand & Product report charts the evolution and relevance of the (Zwarte) Piet character, alongside the development of discussions on race, racism and inclusion, specific to the Netherlands.

The project began in 2015, when ERIF launched the study in order to advise concerned parents which products they could purchase for the Sinterklaas season without the distress of encountering blackface imagery. It was also ERIF’s intention at the time to monitor certain brands and companies that were promising to remove blackface imagery from their packaging and advertising campaigns. Our study has developed over time to explore how each store and brand featured navigates the changing attitudes and discussions on Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, through how they display, package and market their various products. This offers a proxy on general attitudes of culture, tradition, power and race relations in the Netherlands.

Since the first edition, published in January 2016, ERIF has released a further three reports, including the report published this year. This year’s report innovates as it includes a broader commentary on the (Dutch and/or European) socio-political context of anti-black racism and interviews with leading campaigners and thinkers on this topic. Interviews with Xavier Donker (OCAN), Richard Kofi, Simone Zeefuik, Gloria Holwerda (InterNational Anti-Racism Group) and Marny Garcia (Afro Student Association, Leiden University)  add very interesting perspectives to  the statistical data and analysis of our report.

Overview of results

Store vs. grade comparison (%) 2018. Grade 1 = no visible references to the Piet character on a Sinterklaas product or advertisement. Grade 7 = usage of imagery featuring a real person in blackface and other stereotypical depictions of a black person as the Zwarte Piet character on a Sinterklaas product or advertisement. Grades between 1 and 7 show a general movement towards more problematic versions of the Piet character, culminating in use of racial stereotype and blackface.
  • Number of products and ads without any Piet reference, or with only a vague reference, is steady – about 51% in both 2017 and 2018.
  • Slightly less imagery featuring real black people and/or white people in blackface as the Piet character, down by 1% between 2017 and 2018.
  • More imagery of depictions of Piet character as a chimney sweep with soot marks on face and clothes instead of blackface.
  • More use of cartoons of a blackface Piet in 2018 (after a decline in 2017).
  • Two big supermarket chains have gone through major brand makeovers since 2017, especially in their depictions of Zwarte Piet, one of the stores being stronger and more commercially viable in its marketing than the other.

Read and Discuss!

Learn more about our analysis, the specific stores, read the interviews and see the in store fieldwork results, only via the full report available here for download.

Also, I will present some of the results from the report alongside my own research into racist imagery and narratives targeted at children at the forthcoming Racism in Dutch Schools public discussion event organised by the InterNational Anti Racism Group (INARG) and hosted by the Pakhuis de Zwijger. The event will take place in Amsterdam on the 19th March 2019 as part of the International week Against Racism.

Find more information via the venue’s website here.

Happy Reading! ❤

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