First Ever Zwarte Piet Parade Held In Albany
Published December 20th, 2015
Participants dressed as Zwarte Piet parade down State Street (left). A tiny Dutch child celebrates (right).
ALBANY— Albany's rich Dutch heritage was on full display Saturday as a group of brightly-dressed middle-aged white men wearing fake red lips, thick Afros, feathered hats and black face took to city streets in celebration of the controversial holiday tradition, Zwarte Piet.
Though no incidents were reported, tensions were high as the parade moved down State Street, turned left onto North Pearl and briefly headed in the direction of Arbor Hill.
“We had to intervene at the corner of North Pearl and Columbia Street,” said Police Chief Joseph Flogging. “I guess they were planning to take Clinton Avenue up the hill to Henry Johnson Boulevard and then over to Washington Park. But we didn't think that was the most logical route for their, um, celebration.”
According to lore, Zwarte Piet — or Black Pete — was a companion of St. Nicholas's who helped deliver presents to children on Christmas Day. Though the Dutch describe it as a joyous celebration of a much-beloved cultural figure, many believe it to be racially insensitive and exploitative, arguing that Pete's free will was clearly compromised.
“Zwarte Piet first appeared in a book called Saint Nicholas and his Servant,” noted local historian Keith Flum. “In that light, it's not at all difficult to imagine Pete grappling with a rocking horse on a treacherous rooftop in Amsterdam while Santa Claus demanded he 'get a move on.' So yeah, it's totally racist."
Bystanders watching the surreal procession as it wound its way through downtown agreed.
“If it looks racist and it smells racist, then guess what? It's racist,” said June Herve-Villachaize of Menands.
“Am I dreaming?” asked Amile Cushy, a city woman who was seen pinching herself near City Hall. “Are those white people? What the hell is going on here?”
Parade participants, however, maintain the tradition is nothing but a respectful observance and not part of some insidious plan to pass racial stereotypes on from generation to generation.
“There's nothing racist about celebrating Zwarte Piet,” said parade organizer Wouter Hoofdorp. “If he was a dirty Mongol, or a greasy Lithuanian, then maybe these people would have a point. But he's not. He's Black Pete and we love him.”