Monday, November 24, 2014

Dutch defy blackface hysteria

Does Black Pete represent the darkness of midwinter or does he represent Africans?

 The Netherlands is known as the liberal bastion of Europe - with relaxed attitudes to drugs and sex - but when it comes to Christmas, things are a little different.

According to tradition, around mid-November St Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, is supposed to arrive in the country from Spain where he spreads Christmas cheer, with most towns holding parades.

However, Sinterklaas also has a helper - Zwarte Pieten, or 'Black Pete' - who has attracted criticism in recent years over allegations the character is racist.

As part of the tradition hundreds of Dutch paint their faces black, rouge their lips, and don fuzzy wigs, before marching through town centres with Sinterklaas, who is usually played by a white man.

While the tradition has been observed in the Netherlands for hundreds of years, recently it has been a flashpoint for tensions with the black community.

At one march in Gouda ninety people were arrested after fights broke out between anti-Pete protesters and those taking part in celebrations.

Supporters of the 'Black Pete' tradition argue that the character has nothing to do with race like American comics such as Al Jolson, and instead represents the black of winter.

Recent polls across the Netherlands show strong support for the character, with between 85 and 90 per cent saying they want him to stay.

The country's Prime Minister Mark Rutte also weighed into the debate, coming out in support of the tradition, saying: 'We should not disturb a children's party in this way.'

Despite the controversy, Sinterklaas parades have continued throughout the Netherlands, including in the city of Voorschoten near The Hague.

Dutch Christmas celebrations begin around mid-November, when Sinterklaas is supposed to arrive in the country from Spain, and continues until December 5 when presents are handed out on pakjesavond - literally meaning 'packages evening'.

Between those dates Sinterklaas supposedly travels around the country, along with Black Pete, taking part in parades and spreading Christmas cheer.

The tradition is taken very seriously by the Dutch, with news channels running a nightly report for children updating them on Sinterklaas's activities that day.



Anonymous said...

If the black people in Holland object to Black Pete they can always choose to live somewhere else. After all the weren't invited into the country on most cases thanks to EU legislation.

Bird of Paradise said...

Annon 7:51 i total'y agree if they don't like this idea of these Black Pete fellow then they should just return to where they came from no ones asking them to stay in fact many are wishing they would leave