90 Arrested As Protesters Clash With Black Pete Proponents

90 Arrested As Protesters Clash With Black Pete Proponents
Police attack anti-racist protesters in the Netherlands

AFRICANGLOBE – A pre-Christmas children’s gathering in the Netherlands, held to celebrate the arrival of St. Nicholas, was broken up by clashes Saturday after demonstrators objected to a blackface character named Black Pete.

At least 90 people were arrested in the cheesemaking town of Gouda, after scuffles broke out between traditionalists who claim there is no racist intention behind the Black Pete character and protesters who say Black Pete has no place in the modern Netherlands.

Part of the yuletide folklore of the Netherlands and Belgium, Black Pete character is a slave to St. Nicholas, carrying presents and giving out candy to children. Revelers who dress up as the character are almost always White. As well as blackening their faces, they wear frizzy Afro wigs and give themselves red lips.

On Thursday, the Amsterdam District Court ordered the city to re-examine its decision to grant a permit for the arrival of Father Christmas and the group of Black Petes. It said that Black Pete's appearance, in combination with the fact that he is often portrayed as stupid and obedient, means it is “a negative stereotype of black people". The court also cited a publication by the country's national human rights commission this week that found that white Dutch leaders frequently react with “irritation and dismissal” when questions of racism are raised, even though workplace discrimination is well documented in the Netherlands. “I am really happy, and I congratulate the Dutch people that we together can work on a Netherlands that is free of racism,” Barryl Biekman, the head of the Platform Slavery History organization, said in an interview with NOS TV. “If this continues, it would mean that the Dutch state and all of its municipalities, are jointly responsible for maintaining racism in this country," he added. The city has begun discussing possible solutions, including using different colors of face paint for Pete, or smudging his cheeks with soot.
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The introduction of supposedly more diverse versions of the character this year — a yellow “Cheese Pete” (representing Gouda’s most famous product), a light brown “Stroopwafel Pete” (named for a Dutch biscuit) and a white-faced “Clown Pete” — failed to placate demonstrators.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told local media the clashes made him “deeply, deeply sad.” He said, “Everybody can debate one another, we can endlessly discuss the color of Black Pete, but we should not disturb a children’s party in this way.”

However, like many Dutch and Belgian liberals, Wouter Van Bellingen, a Black Flemish politician, believes the character is an anachronism. “As a majority you have to be sensitive and show empathy for things that are hurtful to a minority,” he told reporters.

 

By: Rishi Iyengar

 

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