Santa Still Welcome, But 'Black Pete' Zwarte Piet Under Fire in Netherlands

Tuesday, 04 Dec 2012 07:32 PM

By Dale Eisinger

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Yuletide celebrations surrounding Santa Claus in the Netherlands and Belgium are woefully out of date, critics say, because of an age-old tradition where his helpers, often known as "Zwarte Piet" (Black Pete), appear with blackened faces and afro wigs.

During celebrations in these otherwise socially progressive countries, at least one version of the Black Pete character accompanies a visibly Caucasian Santa, a practice that dates back to the 17th century. For most residents of these two nations, the construction is an innocuous fairytale.

But as the world grows ever-more aware of race issues, Black Pete has fallen under greater scrutiny.

"There is more opposition to Zwarte Piet than you might think," Jessica Silversmith, director of the regional Anti-Discrimination Bureau for Amsterdam told Fox News. She added that complaints about Black Pete were only one or two a year, but jumped to more than a hundred last year. She also expects the number to spike again by the end of 2012.

Quinsy Gario, a performance artist from the Dutch Caribbean island Curacao, told Reuters of a specifically upsetting incident surrounding Zwarte Piet.

"It was about six years ago when my mum came home from work and phoned me. On the phone I could hear her trembling. She was upset, livid, and said someone at work had called her Zwarte Piet," he said.

According to Reuters, Gario protested the tradition by standing in the middle of a Sinterklaas procession, wearing a t-shirt that read “Black Pete is racist.”

He was arrested and a video of him being wrestled to the ground made headlines in Dutch media. He also said he was pepper sprayed and that he "spent six and a half hours in a jail cell for freedom of expression," according to Reuters.

In commonwealths outside of the Netherlands and Belgium, efforts to curb the practice have ramped up in recent years. The former Dutch colony Suriname said that Black Pete was not welcome during this year’s celebrations and one Dutch bar in England now opts for blue facepaint.

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