For over 300 years, “Black Pete,” has been a celebrated tradition in the Netherlands. In Dutch history, Black Pete, a Moor Santa Claus “rescued”, was his “helper”. Black Pete was responsible for amusing the children and serving candy. You know, like a Court Jester, better yet, a minstrel show. To say Black Pete is a complicated archetype who has many guises and many names all over the world, is an understatement.
This week marks the Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) celebrations in Amsterdam. Every where you look, there will be people and children dressed up as Black Pete. The start of Sinterklaas includes the mass arrival of Black Petes via ships. Oh the irony. A “helper” arrives via a ship.
But not everyone is happy to see thousands of Black Petes and the symbolism many feel it represents.
A recent BBC report takes a look at the people who are anti-Black Pete, and believe the long-time tradition is not only rooted in racism, but needs to die.
The Netherlands is no longer a homogeneous nation.
After World War Two, canal-lined lowlands became a popular destination for economic migrants from Turkey and Morocco. A shared language also made it relatively easy for residents of the former Dutch Caribbean colonies to relocate.
In a country of approximately 17 million, more than 3.5 million are overseas-born Dutch citizens or children of non-Dutch immigrants.
Despite what it says on their passports, many of them are still referred to as allochtonenwhich literally translates as “originating from another country” or “outsiders”.
The UN representatives responsible for upholding and protecting minority rights intervened in the Sinterklaas celebrations after receiving a complaint from an anonymous group, concerned that Black Pete was a “living trace of past slavery and oppression” and that it “fostered an underlying sense of inferiority of African people in Dutch society”. The UN has warned the Dutch government that these factors combined may violate Black and Asian people’s right to participate equally in the country they too call home.
The intervention electrified swathes of the Netherlands with indignation. Front-page newspaper spreads displayed cheerful profiles of ethnically mixed readers, supporting the annual practice of “blacking up”.
Many of the people that are pro-Black Pete, feel that since the costumes are “no harm no foul” and not violating human rights, then the show must go on.
And if you think it’s only the white Dutch people who feel that way, you’re wrong. This black guy looks like he’s having fun while holding a kid in Black Pete face.