One organization reinforcing the Zwarte Piet image is educational broadcaster NTR, which also airs “Sesame Street” in the Netherlands.
It has developed a popular fake news program for children, devoted to the doings of the wise white Sinterklaas and his many bumbling Petes, all with the traditional blackface look.
The program starts in early November and airs nightly until children open their presents on Dec. 5. (Although the Dutch Sinterklaas is the source of the American Santa Claus, Christmas is a separate holiday in the Netherlands, where the present-opening tradition happens three weeks earlier.)
The show draws more than a million viewers in a country of 16 million, and its spokeswoman, Helen Albada, said she was unaware of any complaints about its depiction of Zwarte Piet.
Several years ago, the broadcaster experimented with a story line in which the Petes were turned different colors after sailing through a magical rainbow.
That drew thousands of complaints, in part because the backlash against immigration was cresting at the time: Fans said changing Pete was sacrificing Dutch cultural heritage to the forces of multiculturalism.
“We didn’t intend that either,” Ms. Albada said. “Kids don’t see Pete as black, it’s the adults that give it a racial meaning.”
In a recent editorial, one columnist for the NRC Handelsblad newspaper questioned whether the country really is as tolerant as it likes to style itself.
He deplored the fact that even as the U.S. has re-elected a black president, not a single member of the Netherlands‘ new Cabinet is of non-Dutch ancestry.
“That’s because we, unlike other countries, have become completely colorblind,” Bas Heijne wrote ironically. “We don’t need a black minister, let alone a black prime minister: We have Zwarte Piet.”