Advertisement

Afro-Swedish group objects to Santa's blackface helper

The "Black Pete" character has been a part of the Dutch Santa Claus festival since the 1800s.

By
Ben Hooper
Costumed performers dressed as Black Pete accompany Santa Claus during a Liedschendam, Netherlands, parade Nov. 13, 2010. (UPI/Shutterstock/Robert Paul van Beets)
Costumed performers dressed as "Black Pete" accompany Santa Claus during a Liedschendam, Netherlands, parade Nov. 13, 2010. (UPI/Shutterstock/Robert Paul van Beets)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- The Afro-Swedish National Association is asking the Dutch ambassador to keep Black Pete, a character long portrayed with blackface and widely considered to be racist, away from a Santa celebration in Stockholm.

The group's letter, signed by Chairman Zakaria Zouhir and Secretary-General Kitimbwa Sabuni, calls on the ambassador to make sure the character Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, doesn't make an appearance during the planned Nov. 30 Sinterklaas, or Santa Claus, party.

Advertisement

"It has come to our attention that the Netherlands Embassy in Stockholm will be hosting a Sinterklaas party on 30 November. Sinterklaas will be arriving at Skeppsbron with his slave-servant 'Zwarte Piet' who is dressed like a renaissance minstrel with 'blackface,' painted red lips and an afro wig. From what we have learned the character typically speak Dutch with a stupid accent, and acts childlike and mischievous when performing making him more akin to a child than an adult. This of course is part of European racist generalizations applied to black people that used to be widespread but can no longer be made explicitly.

"You don't have to have a degree in psychology or sociology to work out that the figure of Zwarte Piet ensure the continued internalisation of ideas of superiority of white people, and of inferiority and marginalization of black people. Nor do you need it to understand the associate power of symbols like Zwarte Piet."

The Netherlands has been celebrating the Sinterklaas festival since the 1600s, and Black Pete became a part of the tradition in the 1800s.

Karen Van Stegeren, deputy head of mission at the embassy, said the Sinterklaas party is organized by a group of Dutch volunteers.

Van Stegeren told The Local she is "aware that these kind of discussions have already been going on in the Netherlands over the past two or three years."   She said embassy staff are barred from publicly taking positions on such issues, but said Black Pete is "seen by children as the best part of the celebration, because he brings the presents. He is usually considered to be a really nice person and there are no negative connotations."

Latest Headlines