There is a holiday figure in the Netherlands, and his name is “Zwarte Piet” (which translates to “Black Pete”).
Legend has it in the Netherlands and Belgium, Piet is a companion (aka a slave) of St. Nicholas, and his existence is celebrated by an annual festival in early December. The only problem is, Piet is a character in blackface.
Those in observance of the celebration smear their faces in dark paint, throw on an afro wig, and get ready to feast on tasty treats, amid cheers from crowds lining Dutch streets.
While there are a large portion of Dutch people who laud the celebration of Piet, others realize that it’s pretty racist. “There is more opposition to Zwarte Piet than you might think,” explained director of the regional Anti-Discrimination Bureau for Amsterdam, Jessica Silversmith. According to Silversmith her office used to receive only one or two complaints about this clear show of disrespect yearly, but the number ballooned to over 100 last year. “It’s not only Antilleans or Surinamers [the decedents of former Dutch colonies involved in the sl@ve tr@de] who are complaining. It’s all kinds of Dutch people.”
Although defended as a part of Dutch heritage, opposition to plastering on black paint in celebration of “Black Pete” is growing strong. Four men were arrested during last year’s celebration, and wore “Zwarte Piet is Racism” T-shirts.
Politicians, like Amsterdam Councilwoman Andree van Es have spoken out against the figure, asking that the Sinterklass celebration move forward sans the blackface. “It’s time it continues without Zwarte Piet,” van Es told a local newspaper.
Of course in America, the term“ blackface” elicits memories of disparaging characters created to lower the Black esteem. The same notion isn’t as strongly felt in the Netherlands, where the debate over Pete has been raging for a decade.
Click below to see some photos and judge for yourself.
Photos: AP/RNW/Reuters/Tumblr/Guardian UK