” Last Saturday in Gouda, Holland, the police arrested as many as 90 people, the majority of whom were protesting against “Black Pete”, part of a traditional pre-Christmas children’s street party.
We don’t normally associate a Santa Claus celebration with police arrests, so this requires a little explanation.
Black Pete (Zwarte Piet in Dutch) is a blackface character in Dutch and Belgian folklore. He is the clownish helper of St Nicholas (Sinterklaas) in delivering presents to children.
In the Netherlands, the Sinterklaas festival lasts for weeks culminating on Saint Nicholas Day, 5 December, and starting with the arrival of St Nicholas in a Dutch city by boat with hundreds of jolly Black Petes, amusing kids and giving them treats.
It’s great fun and a merry occasion for the Dutch, and considered by both children and adults as the highlight of the year.
This year it was the medieval city of Gouda that kicked off the festivities on 15 November, with the event broadcast live on Dutch national television.
Thousands of parents and children gathered in the city’s market square.
Traditionally the crowds — men, women and kids — as well as the actors portraying the Black Petes coming off the ships, are white people with their faces painted black, frizzy hair, golden earrings, large red lips and gaudy medieval costumes.
It’s this that has been for some time the subject of acrimonious attacks from self-styled “anti-racism” activists. They claim that Zwarte Piet is a racist stereotype, a throwback to the colonial era in a now diverse, multicultural Holland, a country that must be tolerant of everything except, it seems, its past, culture, traditions, and identity.
Leftist politicians have called for Black Pete to be abolished.
The criticisms have polarized the Netherlands. The overwhelming majority of the nation wants Black Pete to carry on as usual, as revealed by a poll showing that more than 90% of the Dutch reject the idea that Zwarte Piet is racist and would not change his appearance.
Over 2 million people — in a country whose total population is less than 17 million — signed a Facebook petition last year, calling for Black Pete’s appearance to remain the same.
While the Facebook page “The Dutch ‘Black Pete’ tradition is racism” has a risible number of 198 “Likes”, the Facebook page “Pietitie” in Pete’s support has 2,012,438 “Likes”. It says: “Don’t let the Netherlands’ most beautiful tradition disappear.”
The latter FB page is Holland’s most popular ever.
The Dutch say Black Pete is harmless fun, an integral part of their culture that is now under fire from outsiders. As Dutchman Marco put it: “This is how I celebrate, how my grandmother and grandfather and parents celebrated, and I don’t think it’s racist.”
Holland’s anti-immigration, anti-Islam Freedom Party, led by one of the most popular politicians in Europe, Geert Wilders, has proposed legislation that would enshrine Zwarte Piet’s black colour in law. They want to protect Pete and with him Dutch culture, threatened to be “damaged from on high”.
Belgium has a similar tradition and faces similar problems.
Self-described human rights activist Maria Hengeveld, who writes for the Africa is a Country website, claimed: “In general, attacks on Zwarte Piet are widely interpreted as attacks on (white) Dutchness and threats to (white) children’s right to jovially celebrate their ‘cultural heritage’”. She went on to point out that politicians, lawmakers and big businesses “are sensitive to public feeling” on the issue. For example, Albert Heijn, Holland’s largest supermarket chain, went back on its promise to ban Black Pete from its stores after an enormous public uproar.
Even the country’s Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who may sense a danger in displeasing his electorate, has backed Black Pete.
Attempted meddling from the UN was revoked:
The [Facebook] page, attracting over a million likes in just one day, followed a letter from the UN’s human rights body announcing an investigation and warning the Dutch that the [Black Pete] character is a “racist stereotype”. “