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Shopping site Bol.com bans ‘Zwarte Piet’ products

Credit: Wikipedia

Bol.com will ban the term ‘Zwarte Piet’ from their online shopping service, referring to the black fictional figure that poses a supporting role to the folkloric Sinterklaas children’s story.

The Netherlands and Belgium have a long-standing tradition of celebrating the Winter holiday story of Sinterklaas, who is said to visit children’s homes to bring presents and treats on the evening of 5 (the Netherlands) or 6 (Belgium) December.

Starting from the end of September, the site will actively ban the use of ‘Zwarte Piet’ (which translates as Black Pete) and instead use the shortened term ‘Piet’. Selling partners will be given until then to sell out their Black Pete products, or to take them off the virtual shelves.

“Based on the feedback we recently received, we concluded that ‘Black Pete’ can be experienced as a hurtful term,” the company stated. “Last year, we also decided to remove product images that showed people wearing blackface.”

“We want all of our customers to feel at home with us. That cannot be rhymed with having a product range that incites discrimination or hatred and is therefore experienced as hurtful. Call it progressive insight, that follows current developments in Belgium and the Netherlands.”

Traditional Black Pete costumes will remain on offer, given that they do not include the stereotypical afro wig and golden earrings.

Items that hold the term in their titles, such as books or films, will be allowed to continue using the term. In these cases, however, the products will be accompanied by a warning of controversiality.

Additionally, Bol.com will also be changing the label of some of their pantyhoses from ‘skin colour’ to ‘beige’.

On Twitter, the shop has not held back in responding to dissatisfied customers following the decision.

“Who are you to pretend to be the master of all morals? You guys are nothing more than big money grabbers. And you think that this shameless move will make you even MORE money. You are disgusting,” one Twitter user asked the store.

“Yes, who are we to decide what we want to sell on our own platform?”, bol.com responded.

Over the past years, the depiction of Black Pete and its underlying racial stereotypes has been a topic of much debate and controversy, with opponents arguing his image is archaic and racist and proponents stating that Black Pete is part of Dutch/Flemish history and tradition.

As the story goes, Sinterklaas has a helper – Zwarte Piet. Adults and children dress up as him, donning blackface and black curly wigs, painting large red lips, and often large golden earrings.

Some organisers have now chosen to replace the stereotypical Black Pete with a brightly, non-human coloured version, or use Petes who only wear a few strokes of black paint on their faces, referring to the charcoal in found in old-timely chimneys. Others have sternly held on to the classic image, accusing any change-makers of destroying their heritage.

Amée Zoutberg
The Brussels Times

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