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Anti-Racism Protesters Demand 'Kick Out Black Pete' From Netherlands Christmas TraditionPA Images

Anti-racism activists have renewed their campaign to end the tradition of ‘Black Pete’ in the Netherlands, as the character re-emerges for the Christmas season.

In Dutch folklore, ‘Black Pete’ – or ‘Zwarte Piet’ in Dutch – is the assistant to Santa Claus, but in recent years has increasingly come to be acknowledged as a racist caricature, with calls growing for the tradition to be changed or retired.

Black Pete actors (Alamy)Alamy

Historically, ‘Black Pete’ has been played by white actors in blackface, with the character’s role being to take bad children away and reward good children with presents. However, in light of the allegations of racism, some events have made changes, using different-coloured face paint or replacing it with black smears on each cheek to represent soot from climbing down a chimney.

Yet despite these changes, campaigners from the Kick Out Black Pete movement say that more progress needs to be made.

‘What we have achieved is that 10 years later, no one can deny that there is racism in the Netherlands,’ said co-founder Jerry Afriyie at a protest in the Dutch city of Breda, per The Independent. ‘Just like every movement, slowly but surely we are making progress, but we are not there yet.’

Other activists have criticised the alternatives presented for the character, describing one popular iteration that sees black face paint replaced by grey face paint as ‘blackface-lite’.

Kick Out Zwarte Piet protestor (Alamy)Alamy

Public opinion has been steadily turning against Black Pete over the past decade, with a 2020 survey reported by The Guardian finding that support for the character has fallen from 89% to 55% since 2013.

Last year, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who has dressed as the character in the past, said that his opinion had changed in the wake of international Black Lives Matter protests, commenting that a character that causes people to feel discriminated against ‘is the last thing you want at the Sinterklaas party’.

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