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For over 300 years, “Black Pete,” has been a celebrated tradition in the Netherlands. In Dutch  history, Black Pete, a Moor Santa Claus “rescued”, was his “helper”. Black Pete was responsible for amusing the children and serving candy. You know, like a Court Jester, better yet, a minstrel show. To say Black Pete is a complicated archetype who has many guises and many names all over the world, is an understatement.

This week marks the Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) celebrations in Amsterdam. Every where you look, there will be people and children dressed up as Black Pete. The start of Sinterklaas includes the mass arrival of Black Petes via ships. Oh the irony. A “helper” arrives via a ship.

But not everyone is happy to see thousands of Black Petes and the symbolism many feel it represents.

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A recent BBC report takes a look at the people who are anti-Black Pete, and believe the long-time tradition is not only rooted in racism, but needs to die.

From the BBC:

The Netherlands is no longer a homogeneous nation.

After World War Two, canal-lined lowlands became a popular destination for economic migrants from Turkey and Morocco. A shared language also made it relatively easy for residents of the former Dutch Caribbean colonies to relocate.

In a country of approximately 17 million, more than 3.5 million are overseas-born Dutch citizens or children of non-Dutch immigrants.

Despite what it says on their passports, many of them are still referred to as allochtonenwhich literally translates as “originating from another country” or “outsiders”.

The UN representatives responsible for upholding and protecting minority rights intervened in the Sinterklaas celebrations after receiving a complaint from an anonymous group, concerned that Black Pete was a “living trace of past slavery and oppression” and that it “fostered an underlying sense of inferiority of African people in Dutch society”. The UN has warned the Dutch government that these factors combined may violate Black and Asian people’s right to participate equally in the country they too call home.

The intervention electrified swathes of the Netherlands with indignation. Front-page newspaper spreads displayed cheerful profiles of ethnically mixed readers, supporting the annual practice of “blacking up”.

Many of  the people that are pro-Black Pete, feel that since the costumes are “no harm no foul” and not violating human rights, then the show must go on.

And if you think it’s only the white Dutch people who feel that way, you’re wrong. This black guy looks like he’s having fun while holding a kid in Black Pete face.

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  • tony williamson

    I am not mad at black pete. There is a big difference between Laurence Olivier playing Othello and Al Jolson singing ‘mammy’. There is a difference between ‘black face’ and black make up. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or shameful about being black so I don’t get why I should automatically feel insulted when I see someone in black make up. I understand the history of ‘black face’ in the United States, still I don’t think we should export our racial baggage to the rest of the world. I don’t like the idea that every time we see a black person we have to reflexively recall slavery and oppression. I don’t want to forget what our ancestors suffered but it is an insult to them if we don’t not move forward. I don’t believe in giving racist that sort of power.
    Growing up in America I was indoctrinated with the ritual of begging Santa Claus for my Christmas presents. You know the drill they march you to the mall you sit on his lap and tell him what you want and If you were good you’ll get it. So your parents work hard to buy you Christmas presents but it’s really a fat old white dude who decides if you’re worthy. Santa Claus a white man who lives in the NORTH POLE surrounded by his magical elves who are always blonde haired, blue eyed aryan looking types. Jesus is the reason for the season, but let’s get real in America everything is about materialism and we grow up worshiping Santa not Jesus. Santa’s workshop up in the North Pole was a place were all the objects of my desire were manufactured.
    I am an American so I don’t know how black (or white) kids in the Netherlands experience Zwarte Pete. In America we get Santa rammed down our throats and we are sold the idea that all the goodies come from a magical place filled with magical white people. At least in the Netherlands the kids get half the truth that the bounty they enjoy comes from the lands and hands of black and brown people. I don’t know the first thing about black pete, whether he is beloved or a figure of ridicule. Having grown up dreaming of Santa’s workshop in the north pole it’s hard for me to be angry at the idea that somewhere in Europe Santa’s helpers are black and that white (and black) children dream of getting their presents from a black man. If the black people in the Netherlands are insulted by Black Pete then I side with them. I didn’t grow up there so I don’t really know what Black Pete symbolizes over there. I can’t argue for something I don’t know anything about. I just hate the concept that black people and the black experience must alway be reduced to and seen through the lens of white american racist. I don’t like the idea that the image of a black man can ONLY symbolize racial hatred and white supremacy.

  • Mary Burrell

    This is offensive and they are teaching their children to be racist.