The Dutch tradition of Black Pete begins its transformation this year with Santa being accompanied by a whole lot of Petes not colored black. There will be yellow Petes, white Petes and Petes with faces streaked with soot.
In Gouda, where Saint Nicholas and dozens of Petes will ‘arrive’ on November 15 with a gift-filled boat from Spain in a national event broadcast live on television, the mayor on Tuesday decided to introduce some new colours. Besides a number of Black Petes, there will also be ‘Cheese Petes’ with yellow faces and ‘Stroopwafel Petes’ with striped, light brown faces resembling the traditional Dutch syrup biscuit of the same name. ‘There is no simple way to find a solution that everyone can identify with,’ said Gouda Mayor Milo Schoenmaker.
Gouda’s Black Petes ‘changed several years ago to dark brown without stereotypical big red lips and earrings,’ the city hall added.
Some in the media are covering this story “after years of debate” in charging the tradition with racist undertones.
Here’s the truth: for nearly 200 years the Dutch have had the holiday tradition of Sinter Klaas and Black Pete, a whimsical character of debatable origin. Pete is usually portrayed by with black faces, big red lips and curly afro hair. It was only last year that the caricature was charged as racist, which was fueled by International commentary from a U.N. observer. The issue went to court and the court declared that, yes, Black Pete is indeed racist.
Amsterdam’s mayor and a council of festival organizers met to discuss a makeover for Black Pete, which led to a counter protest from traditionalists who claim this whole thing is just political correctness run amok.
With the date for the festival fast approaching on November 15th, and the culminating events later planned near St. Nicholas day, you can bet this story will continue to be in the news for weeks to come.