Protesters Confront 'Black Pete' at Holiday Event

Demonstrations have gone on for a decade against controversial Dutch sidekick to Santa
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 13, 2021 9:15 AM CST
Protesters Confront 'Black Pete' at Holiday Event
The action group Kick Out Zwarte Piet is seen at a Breda protest against "Black Pete," the traditional helper of Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, in the Netherlands on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

About 100 anti-racism protesters chanted "Kick out Black Pete!" on Saturday at an event where children could meet the Dutch version of Santa Claus and his controversial sidekick. The "Black Pete" character, often played by adults wearing blackface makeup, has sparked a decade of demonstrations and counterdemonstrations in the Netherlands by protesters who consider him a racist caricature and supporters who insist he's a harmless children's character, per the AP.

Amid the long-running protests, people playing the character increasingly use different colors of face paint, including daubs of soot. Many towns and cities organizing children's parties and parades to welcome the Sinterklaas character have moved away from Black Pete. At the event in the southern city of Breda, Sinterklaas was accompanied by Gray Petes. Police said they arrested seven people who approached the protesters and refused to move away.

Amid the Black Lives Matter movement last year, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte conceded that racism is indeed an issue in his country. "There are also people living in the Netherlands who in that regard feel that they don't fully fit in, that they can't play a full role in this society," he said. "That is also a Dutch problem. There is racism here, too. There is discrimination here, too." Some parents at Saturday's event were angry that the demonstrators were protesting close to the exit of the celebration, a ticketed event due to coronavirus restrictions.

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"I think it's a scandal that this is being done at the exit where children come out after the Sinterklaas parade. Children are standing there crying; I find it inappropriate," said one man. "We live in a democratic country where we have to work together for a good solution, and this is not a good solution." Meanwhile, one of the founders of the Kick Out Black Pete movement, Jerry Afriyie, welcomed the progress, but said more still has to be done. "What we have achieved is that 10 years later, no one can deny that there is racism in the Netherlands," he said. "I'm optimistic because I've seen this country be fully asleep, waking up bit by bit. So I think that it is a matter of time, that all these people we're seeing now in [blackface] ... make the change." (More Netherlands stories.)

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