Identity crisis as part of a new beginning?

The 2020 ERIF Sinterklaas Brand & Product Study is out NOW!

NEDERLANDS | FRANÇAIS | DEUTSCH

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We publish this report during a period of intense and global socio-political unrest regarding the continuous state sanctioned and worldwide violence towards people of African descent. Major protests erupted across the US in response to numerous recent killings of African Americans. In turn, several demonstrations of solidarity are being held throughout the world at this time of writing; these actions undoubtedly show support for those fighting for justice in the US, and at the same time highlight ongoing white supremacy and racist violence towards black people globally.

Thus, this report is one of our contributions to this ongoing battle, by amplifying the voices of campaigners and illustrating how discrimination towards people of African descent is deeply rooted in anti-black imagery and narratives. These key elements are emphasised through the commercialisation of anti-black racism by certain stores, products and brands – as our study follows and reports.

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Introduction

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 four reports, including the report published this year: 5 Years of Monitoring Blackface in the Market. This year’s report builds upon the innovations of previous years – especially last year – as it includes a broader commentary on the (Dutch and/or European) socio-political context of anti-black racism via contributions from leading campaigners and thinkers on this topic.

Essays and statements by Karlijn Volke, Nurulsyahirah Taha (@syataha), Xavier Donker (OCAN), Mariam El Maslouhi (Dipsaus and KOZP, Den Haag), Levi Ommen (Afro Student Association, Leiden University), Gloria Holwerda-Williams (InterNational Anti-Racism Group) and Quinsy Gario each add very interesting and critical perspectives to the statistical data and analysis of our report. 

Overview of results

Over a period of five years, our data shows that while the percentage of Sinterklaas products featuring no references of the Piet character fluctuates from year to year, on the whole those products hold a dominant role in the market. Meanwhile, products reproducing imagery of real life white people in blackface are decreasing over time.

Year-on-year data showing products per grade (%) 2015-2019. The grades between those shown above (1, 5, 7 and 8) show a general movement towards more problematic versions of the Piet character, culminating in use of racial stereotypes and blackface.

In the full report, we dig deeper into these results to reveal how: 

  • Certain stores, such as Albert Heijn and HEMA, are showing increasing consistency with their investment in a new Sinterklaas narrative that features a “sooty” Piet character (roetveegpiet);
  • Other brands and stores, such as Jumbo and Blokker, demonstrate a more ambivalent approach through the promotion of products illustrating a multitude of characterisations; 
  • Even as we move away from blackface caricaturing of people of African descent in the festival, stores such as PLUS and XENOS continue to uphold this racist narrative to a certain degree.  

Read and Discuss!

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

Also, Dr. Bel Parnell-Berry (ERIF chair) recently joined Chantelle Lewis and Tissot Regis for their podcast Surviving Society to discuss the research in the context of European racism. The episode will be available to stream here in June 2020. 


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