A Dutch court has ruled that the traditional Christmas character of Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet is racist and that Dutch cities planning holiday celebrations should avoid involving him.
In the Dutch tradition, Santa arrives by boat in November, with several other boats carrying a small army of Black Petes. Most are white people wearing blackface, red lipstick and curly Afro-esque wigs, along with Renaissance attire. The Black Petes hand out cookies or candy to children. Overwhelming public polls show the controversy is considered overblown.
The issue came to the forefront during the Christmas season of 2013 when a UN observer protested the tradition.
The Black Pete character is normally portrayed by a white person wearing blackface makeup with bright red lipstick and a frizzy afro, who accompanies St. Nicholas or “Sinterklaas” at festivals or events. He is often also portrayed as dumb and subservient, supporting the court’s opinion that Black Pete is a negative stereotype.
However, for much of the Dutch population, 80 percent of whom are white, as reported by the Associated Press, this reaction seems overzealous, as the character is not meant to be insulting.
The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte seems to support this perspective, saying that, “Black Pete is black. There’s not much I can do to change that.”