The activists who were prevented from protesting against Zwarte Piet in Dokkum last year are calling on others who oppose the character to come to the courthouse in Leeuwarden on Thursday.
Translation by Traci White
The trial of the 34 Frisians who blocked the A7 motorway begins on Monday and will continue until Thursday. The Leeuwarder Courant and Omrop Fryslân will both be providing daily coverage (in Dutch and Frisian) of the legal proceedings.
While a number of people who are in favour of the traditional depiction of Zwarte Piet were on hand in Leeuwarden as the trial kicked off on Monday, a Facebook event hosted by two activist groups – Zwarte Piet is Racisme and Stop Blackface – is calling for allies to come to Leeuwarden to show their support for Jerry Afriyie and Mitchell Esajas, two leading members of Kick Out Zwarte Piet.
Afriyie and Esajas have the right to make comments as the aggrieved party in the case and are scheduled to deliver their remarks on Thursday. As of Monday morning, 30 people had indicated they were planning to go and 178 people were interested.
Lack of awareness
In an interview with Afriyie and Esajas in the Leeuwarder Courant over the weekend, the Kick Out Zwarte Piet members said that they understand that some people perceive their protests as simply whinging, “but that’s just because of a lack of awareness on their part.” Afriyie said, “[Zwarte Piet supporters] are unaware of the colonial history of the Netherlands and the fact that a large number of black people in this country wound up here through human rights violations.”
The case has elicited a strong response across the province of Friesland: one of the main pro-Piet activists from last year, Jenny Douwes, shared a number of photos on Twitter of banners hung up in Friesland voicing support for the 34 people on trial. One banner read “Leaver dea as slaef” (“I’d rather die than be a slave”), which was a battle cry against Willem IV of Holland by the Frisians during the Battle of Warns in 1345.
Opponents of the traditional depiction of Zwarte Piet in blackface with exaggerated red lips, kinky hair and 16th century-style clothing point out that these features amount to a racist caricature. According to the national Discrimination Hotline network, reports of discrimination from people of colour in the Netherlands peak every year in the lead up to Sinterklaas’s arrival.
There have been objections to Zwarte Piet’s depiction for decades, but protests and counter protests in recent years have led to arrests and a widening gap between people who want to keep the character as is and those who identify it as racist.
During the nationally televised Sinterklaas arrival parade this December, Zwarte Piet’s face will still be black, ostensibly due to chimney soot, but the lips, hair and accessories will no longer be in keeping with tradition.
Photo source: Screen shot from KOZP event page