AMSTERDAM (AP) — The “Black Pete” tradition in the Netherlands is under fire from opponents who believe the figure is a racist caricature and who asked Amsterdam officials Thursday to revoke the permit for a popular children’s festival because of it.

“Sinterklaas,” the Dutch version of Santa Claus, is portrayed as a tall white man who arrives to great fanfare on Nov. 5, accompanied by dozens of clownish servants called “Zwarte Pieten” — Black Petes. These are typically white people wearing blackface makeup with red lips and curly “Afro” wigs.

Festivities around the country last a month, culminating in a night of poems and gift-giving.

The tradition is an important part of Dutch culture, but in recent years there have been growing complaints that Pete is offensive.

On Thursday, dozens of protesters overflowed a hearing about the permit at Amsterdam City Hall.

One of 21 people who filed formal complaints, Imro Rietveld, described growing up as the only black-skinned child in his class. Every year, he said he was subjected to a month of taunts such as “your whole family is coming over in the boat” and “can you do tricks?”

He said some people are afraid to speak out against Black Pete because they are worried about being ridiculed or even losing their jobs, and he had been warned against coming.

“For the good of all the children,” Rietveld said. “This should actually be changed in the whole country.”

Opponents say the Sinterklaas festival should continue, but Pete’s appearance should be changed.

Mayor Eberhard van der Laan will rule on the Amsterdam permit by the end of the month.

(Photo: AP)

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3 thoughts on “Opponents of Dutch ‘Black Pete’ Speak Out

  1. There is both more to and less to the tradition and the current uproar than meets the eye.
    A figure of threat or chastisement is common to many midwinter traditions in Europe, look up Krampus, for instance.
    Commonly the bogeyman associated with the giftgiving festival is a daemon, troll, devil, or trickster. The black servant, with as backstory the Moors in Spain, is just a dated and probably outdated variation. Especially given that the average child in the Netherlands does not know of the long war against Spain, and, like many American children, probably cannot locate the place on a map.

    The person who started the current fuss (Verene Shepherd) does not appear to be actually employed by the United Nations. She serves in an advisory role, and has her own agenda. A few years ago she was involved in a similar accusatory function.

    That said, many Dutch people of colour are ambivalent about the tradition in its current form. Perhaps rightly so.
    Traditions change. Sometimes change needs prompting.

  2. Malek73 on said:

    Black Pete as you call it stands for good, hands out gifts to the children and children want to dress up like them. The true history is about a man who freed slave children and they desided to stay with him. Black Pete is not his slave. Sinterklaas is not Santa. No dutch person even thinks about slavery when he thinks of Pete. It’s easy to judge another country while you know nothing about them. If white people can not dress up like that then ban movies like white chicks or coming to america. It’s all harmless and I’m sorry if we offend people in anyway. It is not our intention to do so.
    I wonder if americans think about what they did on columbus day or thanks giving.

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