Black Pete through the Eyes of Dutch Children

PLoS One. 2016 Jun 20;11(6):e0157511. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157511. eCollection 2016.


The traditional figure of Black Pete seen during the December festivities around Sinterklaas (the Dutch Santa Claus) in the Netherlands has sparked fierce debates about his racial stereotypical characteristics and his potentially negative effects on children's opinions about black people. The Black Pete phenomenon has even been discussed by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, resulting in a report urging the Netherlands to eliminate this form of racial stereotyping. The adult debate about Black Pete is clearly important, but Sinterklaas is essentially a children's holiday. Surprisingly, there have never been any systematic studies to examine children's views on Black Pete. The current study is the first to do so. In a sample of 201 children aged 5-7 years, we collected free descriptions of Black Pete, asked children to group him in relation to other figures, and to assign characteristics to him and comparison figures. The results showed that (1) Children are clearly aware of Black Pete's skin color and subordinate status; (2) Children associate Black Pete more with clowns than with black people; (3) Children evaluate Black Pete very positively, but the positive characteristics do not generalize to their evaluation of black people. The findings illustrate the deep-rooted childhood origins of many Dutch people's affection for Black Pete and their lack of awareness of his relation to racial stereotypes. This explains the resistance to changing the Black Pete figure and the slowness of the change process on this front.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Continental Population Groups / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Racism / ethics
  • Racism / psychology*
  • Social Discrimination / ethics
  • Social Discrimination / psychology*
  • Stereotyped Behavior / physiology*

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.