Hundreds march in Netherlands to support 'racist Black Pete'

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Hundreds of people marched in the Netherlands on Saturday to show their support for "Black Pete", the traditional Christmas sidekick of Saint Nicholas, who has been labelled as racist by critics.

"Up to 500 people protested for two-and-a-half hours in Malieveld," a park in the centre of The Hague, police spokesman Cor Spruijt told AFP.

"Some 40 people were dressed as Black Pete," he added.

"Black Pete" accompanies Saint Nicholas during a children's festival on December 5, when the Dutch give gifts to each other.

The character, who arrives on a gift-filled boat from Spain, is typically dressed in a gaudy medieval costume and afro wig, with his face painted black and lips red, prompting charges of racism.

Opponents say the character recalls the time when Dutch colonists exploited slaves, notably in the Caribbean colonies of Suriname and Curacao.

Supporters of "Black Pete" angrily reject such accusations, offended at any suggestion that a character so central to Dutch culture could be racist.

Although the debate surfaces every year, this year the row is particularly bitter after the Jamaican chair of a committee at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Verene Shepherd, bluntly told Dutch television that "the practice must stop".

"The working group cannot understand that why it is that people in the Netherlands cannot see that this is a throwback to slavery and that in the 21st century this practice should stop," she told the Eenvandaag show on Tuesday.

"As a black person, I feel that if I was living in the Netherlands I would object to it," she said.

Shepherd provoked further Dutch fury by suggesting they adopt a US-style "Santa Claus" instead.

Although opinion is divided in the Netherlands, a Facebook petition set up in support of the tradition had hit more than two million "likes" by Saturday.

The annual festival dates back to the sixteenth century, but the first appearance of "Black Pete" occurred in the 1850s.

© 2013 AFP

3 Comments To This Article

  • Joris posted:

    on 29th October 2013, 07:43:43 - Reply

    I disagree. All the time, we insist that other people change their culture. We fight against female genital mutilation. We ask Saudi Arabia why women are not permitted to drive cars. We try to stop discrimination and violence against albino people. We try to control certain forms of ritual animal slaughter. All of these are traditions that should stop. Traditions are only valuable to a point. At some point they might lose their value and should be dropped. Just because we did some practice for the last few (hundred of) years, does not mean it is necessarily good and valuable. It is only valuable if it meets our needs today. It seems quite clear that Zwarte Piet is very insulting to people with dark skin, so we should stop. (If no other reason, it gives the Netherlands a very bad name abroad.) Saying that other people should leave unless they agree is very harsh. Our culture - Dutch culture - becomes richer with new people coming here and forming new combinations of ideas, not by shutting away the world and insisting that we never change anything. It is just a silly little children's character after all. This is not a major cultural practice that is central to Dutch identity. It is not worth fighting over. We should put our energy into fighting real attempts to affect significant aspects of Dutch cultural society, for example the effort of the current government to dismantle the polder model.
  • Len Langan posted:

    on 28th October 2013, 21:30:07 - Reply

    These traditions are a socially valkuable part of who a people are. We celebrate our heritages and should defend them with no question. Do we prevent other cultures following theirs? No. If you decide to live in another Country and therefore another culrural inheritance you must respect their customs and traditions. If you don't like them leave. We do not all have to leave the Country of our birth but for whatever reason we did what is the point of trying to make the land of your adoption the same as the place you couldn't wait to leave.
  • Black Pete is a racist caricature posted:

    on 27th October 2013, 22:42:43 - Reply

    Yesterday there was a protest at the Malieveld in the Hague. People in blackface showed up to support the Black Pete tradition. One woman of colour stood there with the flag of West-Papoea trying to convince the UN to listen to the needs of her people. She is actually endorsing Black Pete and wanted the UN to help her instead of the other cause. But the people turned against her, yelled that she should go back to her own country and tried to assault her and take her flag. While she tried to tell that she was standing there because of the hurt of her people in West-Papoea, she got pushed around and mobbed by racists. The police had to escort her out.

    Racism in the Netherlands. It has always been here and now it is even more clear than ever.