A court in Amsterdam has ruled that the Santa Claus sidekick "Black Pete" is racist and needs to be reworked if it is to remain a part of the city's official celebration.
Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet, is a component of the Sinterklaas folklore; in the Dutch tradition, Santa arrives by boat in November, with several other boats carrying a small army of Black Petes. Most are white people wearing blackface, red lipstick and curly Afro-esque wigs, along with Renaissance attire. The Black Petes hand out cookies or candy to children.
In the Netherlands and a number of other countries, the Festival of St. Nicholas, on December 5, is the primary gift-giving holiday, and the St. Nicholas/Santa Claus tradition has not been merged with Christmas.
An oft-cited poll found that 92% of the Dutch people consider Black Pete to be a harmless tradition, but in recent years those who feel it's a racist character have grabbed headlines with anti-Pete protests.
The Amsterdam District Court found that Black Pete is "a negative stereotype of black people," and ordered the city's mayor to reconsider the granting of a permit for the part of the festival that includes the Black Petes. One possible solution that has been offered is to make the Petes a variety of colors.
There are a number of parallels between the debate over Black Pete and the situation with the Washington Redkins team name and mascot. For Americans, the sight of dozens of white people clowning around in blackface seems patently racist, yet the majority of Dutch people fail to see it that way. Black Pete first emerged in children's literature in 1850; slavery in the Dutch colonies was not abolished until 1863 -- Pete, like the term "Redskin," is a relic from an era of great injustice and brutality. Just think -- you could not add a bunch of buffoonish black-skinned henchmen to the Santa Claus tradition today, just as you could not hang an unwanted nickname upon an entire race of people today, without being called out as racist. Yet in the name of tradition, these symbols persist.
Supporters of both Pete and the Redskins name argue that there is no racist intent behind them -- but that's clearly not a good enough excuse. They're both obviously and inherently racist; whether their supporters feel they are being racist when they use these symbols is beside the point. Yet in both cases, a large white majority is seeking to explain to people of color why they shouldn't be offended.
Dan Snyder, are you reading this?
Here's a video about Black Pete by VJ Movement: