'Racist' Christmas character Black Pete sparks clashes in Netherlands

Confrontations break out at parades across country as tradition of white people blacking up sparks backlash

Colin Drury
Saturday 17 November 2018 19:52
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Confrontations have broken out in the Netherlands between supporters and opponents of the divisive Christmas character known as Black Pete.

White people there often daub their faces with dark paint when they dress up to play the character who is a helper of the Dutch version of Santa Claus – but opponents say the traditional practice promotes racist stereotypes.

A nationally televised parade to welcome Sinterklaas – the red-robed version of St Nicholas – into the historic village of Zaandijk, just north of Amsterdam, passed peacefully. But clashes occurred at similar events being held across the country, including in the cities of Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Groningen.

Police in Rotterdam tweeted that they made three arrests as supporters of Black Pete fought with protesters.

Officers In the northern city of Leeuwarden said they “prevented two groups getting into a fight”, while in Groningen police separated two groups to prevent threatened trouble.

Dutch media also reported that football fans accosted a small group of anti-Pete advocates in the city of Eindhoven.

Prime minister Mark Rutte appealed for calm ahead of the parades but was on the fence over whether Black Pete remained a suitable tradition, saying: “I think society agrees on one thing - we grant children the magic of the Sinterklaas party.”

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In the televised parade, a boat carrying dozens of Black Petes sailed into the harbour of Zaandijk. Their faces were painted varying shades, from uniformly dark to smudged with streaks.

Thousands of children, many also wearing Black Pete costumes, lined the streets to greet Sinterklaas and receive sweets.

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