Black Pete to Get a Makeover

Fighting charges of racism Amsterdam’s mayor and the organizers of traditional Christmas festivals featuring the popular figure of Black Pete will work to change his physical features. In Dutch tradition Black Pete is a sidekick to St. Nicholas often portrayed by white people in blackface with big lips and afro hair styles. For nearly 200 years the tradition of Black Pete has persisted but charges of racism surfaced last year calling the tradition into question.

Mayor Eberhard van der Laan said that Pete’s appearance will be changed over several years from his current blackface to make him look like he has been merely covered with soot from going down chimneys to deliver presents.

Black Pete has become the subject of protests in the Netherlands. Opponents say he is a caricature of an African slave carried over from colonial times – he is usually portrayed by white people wearing blackface makeup, bold red lipstick and Afro wigs.

But a large majority of the Netherlands’ mostly white population says that Pete is a positive figure and denies any racial insult.

Last month an Amsterdam court agreed with findings by a Dutch discrimination vetting board and a UN advisory panel that Black Pete’s look is offensive.

Pam Evenhuis, spokesman for the Amsterdam committee that organises the arrival of Santa Claus, or Sinterklaas in Dutch, says change is necessary to make sure the children’s festival is fun and not controversial. Details were still being debated.

“The Pete photoshoot for 2014 isn’t ready yet,” he said.

In the Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas arrives on a steamboat laden with gifts, accompanied by numerous Black Petes. More than 250,000 people attend the celebration in Amsterdam alone.

Evenhuis said it’s not possible to change Pete’s appearance drastically in just a year, as his look is engrained in the minds of Dutch adults and children.

Although Amsterdam is influential, other towns, businesses and individuals across the country may not want to change his look, the mayor added.

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