Black Pete Christmas appearance sparks antiracism protests in Netherlands

‘We are making progress, but we are not there yet,’ activist says

Zoe Tidman
Saturday 13 November 2021 14:24
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<p>Protesters rally against the Black Pete Christmas character</p>

Protesters rally against the Black Pete Christmas character

Anti-racism protesters in the Netherlands have called for the end to a Christmas character of Black Pete, who they consider a racist caricature.

The assistant to the Dutch version of Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, is often played by white people wearing blackface makeup.

The character has been at the heart of protests and counter-protests over the past decade, with people playing Black Pete increasingly using different colour paint face amid outcry. Recent portrayals have seen black smudges just on the cheeks, representing soot from a chimney.

In the southern city of Breda at the weekend, demonstrators descended on an event where Santa Claus was accompanied by Grey Petes.

But even so, protesters said more needed to be done.

One of the founders of the Kick Out Black Pete movement, Jerry Afriyie, welcomed the progress, but said more still has to be done.

“What we have achieved is that 10 years later no one can deny that there is racism in the Netherlands,” Mr Afriyie said.

“Just like every movement, slowly but surely we are making progress, but we are not there yet.”

Chants of “Kick Out Black Pete” were heard at the protest in Breda. Images showed demonstrators with microphones and holding signs as they rallied against the traditional Christmas character.

The foreman of action group Kick Out Zwarte Piet, Jerry Afriyie, addresses the bystanders during protest against Black Pete in Breda

Some parents at Saturday’s event that was targeted by demonstrators were angry that protests took place close to the exit of the celebration, which was a ticketed event due to Covid restrictions.

“Children are standing there crying, I find it inappropriate,” said Frank Zuidhof, who said he was in favour of Sooty Petes.

The Kick Out Black Pete group spoke out agaist Grey Petes last year, after several Dutch cities opted for this portrayal instead.

“Grey Pete is just blackface-light,” one activist, Elvin Rigters, said at the time.

Black Pete’s role was originally as a disciplinarian, who would take bad children away and reward good ones with gifts, but his role nowadays is more similar to a master of ceremonies.

Sinterklaas is celebrated in the Netherlands on 5 December with gifts for children. According to tradition, he arrives from Spain a few weeks before, which is marked by celebrations.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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