Seeing Blackface in Public Is Worse Than I Expected

Blackface endures because White people have a fascination with our bodies

Morgan Jerkins
ZORA

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Celebrators of Zwarte Piet are dressed up in blackface.
Some attendees come to the parade dressed as Zwarte Piet in support of the current tradition during the celebration of the arrival of Sinterklaas on November 16, 2019 in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. Photo: Nacho Calonge/Getty Images

I was visiting my cousin and her partner in the Netherlands at the start of the holiday season when she told me about the Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) celebrations. Her explanation happened through a circuitous route. She gifted me with a welcome basket, and one of the items was a large, chocolate candy in the shape of my first initial, while she talked to me about Dutch traditions. Until this time, I didn’t know the history of Zwarte Piet. All I knew was that still in the 21st century, Dutch people dressed in blackface during Christmas and called it tradition, though the custom is becoming a controversial subject. My cousin, who had read many of my articles on race and gender in America, wanted to know if I was interested in going to one of the celebrations in the center of town with her partner’s family. She was interested in getting my thoughts on the experience in real time. I wasn’t going to let my biracial cousin go by herself, so I agreed. I devoured that entire chocolate in one sitting.

The legend of Sinterklaas is different from our American version of Santa Claus. Instead of Santa Claus arriving at homes from the North Pole with his 12 reindeer, Sinterklaas arrives via boat with his Black servants, one of…

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Morgan Jerkins
ZORA
Writer for

Morgan Jerkins is the Senior Editor at ZORA and a New York Times bestselling author. Her debut novel, “Caul Baby,” will be published by Harper in April 2021.