Netherlands: The Dutch Blackface and the Growing Backlash

Traditionally, around Christmastime, Dutch adults and children have donned frilly wigs, red lips, and blackface make-up as an ode to Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, the companion of Saint Nicholas.

 

The problematic Dutch tradition has sparked growing protests and demonstrations from minority groups that deem the custom racist. However, a significant proportion of the Dutch public support the celebration, arguing that the legend of Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklass, and his sidekicks is an innocent children’s pastime and predates any colonial ties and the legacy of slavery.

 

While Dutch politicians have largely tried to dismiss the controversy, the tradition is increasingly drawing a political divide in the country.

 

Last year, a United Nations-convened committee on racial discrimination called on the Dutch government to “promote the elimination of those features of the character of Black Pete which reflect negative stereotypes and are experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery.”

 

So far, Dutch primary schools abolished any representation of Zwarte Piet that could be deemed offensive, including blackface, thick lips and gold earrings.

 

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