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'Black Pete' Christmas Parade Sparks Protests In The Netherlands Over Use Of Blackface

'Black Pete' Christmas Parade Sparks Protests In The Netherlands Over Use Of Blackface

The traditional character, often represented by white people in blackface, has long divided the nation

Jake Massey

Jake Massey

Thousands protested in the Netherlands on Sunday as controversial festive parades were held in cities and towns across the country.

Every year, the nation celebrates the beginning of three weeks of festivities and the arrival of Sinterklaas, or Santa Claus, with people dressing up as the elderly bearded character.

However, it is the depiction of his helper Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, which divides the nation.

The companion of Saint Nicholas first appeared in Dutch folklore in the mid-19th century and people represent the character at Christmas festivals by donning blackface.

Year on year, the hostility between paraders and protesters has grown and there was a strong police presence in major cities across the country. Dutch media reported that around 40 people were arrested last year, the majority of whom were Black Pete supporters.

In Eindhoven and Rotterdam, counter-protests were particularly unsavoury, with reports of racist attacks in the streets.

Jerry Afriyie - who first co-founded the 'Zwarte Piet is Racisme' campaign with Quinsy Gario in 2011 - said the racist treatment of protesters came as no surprise to him.

Black Pete divides the Netherlands on a yearly basis.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, he said: "There were bananas thrown at us. There were eggs thrown at us. We were called all types of racists slurs. We were threatened by these people, very aggressively.

"They even did the Hitler sign, and in some places white power signs. It was like a weekend of Dutch racism in full display, and people saw it.

"A lot of people were shocked, but you know who was not shocked? Black people are not shocked. We have been saying it."

Mr Afriyie, who moved to the country from Ghana when he was 10, said he only realised how racist the tradition was as he grew older.

Around 40 people were arrested, with protesters reporting racist abuse from paraders.

He said: "I was a child and not politically aware, but I realised we played this dress up with this character who is dumb, who is silly, who doesn't know much, who needs someone to lead the way, who keeps messing up, who is looking very ugly, and then realising that I am the butt of the joke, I was 12 years old when I realised it.

"So, I was like hold on, this thing that I thought was fun seems to be that I am the star of this play without knowing it, and definitely not the role I want to have. On the bus, people would throw those candies they make for Sinterklaas season, they would throw it at you making monkey sounds."

The tradition has been widely condemned on social media, with Kim Kardashian among those to criticise the celebration.

In a tweet, she said: "This Dutch 'tradition' called: 'black pete' is disturbing!"

The tradition has been heavily criticised on social media.

However, a recent poll showed that 59 percent of people in the Netherlands want to keep Black Pete in blackface, according to the National Post. That said, this figure represents a significant decline in favour, with 89 percent of people favouring the blackface in a 2013 poll.

One of the most common justifications among Black Pete supporters is that the character's face is only black because of the soot he accumulates from climbing up and down chimneys.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Christmas, World News