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Black Pete will get a makeover for Amsterdam's Sinterklaas to remove racist implications

Dutch Santa's helper will get a new look and a promotion in time for Christmas.

By Gabrielle Levy
Black Pete will get a makeover for Amsterdam's Sinterklaas to remove racist implications
A traditional representation of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) and Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in Dutch folklore. (CC/Jan Arkesteijn)

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- The mayor of Amsterdam says it's time to ditch elements of a traditional Christmas symbol that appears too racist to modern eyes.

Mayor Eberhard van der Laan announced plans to make major changes to "Black Pete," or Zwarte Piet, the blackamoor sidekick to the Dutch Santa Claus portrayed at Sinterklaas Christmastime festivals.

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Pete is usually portrayed by a white person in blackface, wearing a frizzy black wig, red lipstick and hoop earrings. While a vast majority of Dutch people say they don't see Pete as a racist figure, opponents said he was a caricature of slavery in colonial times.

Over four years, van der Laan said, the "negative negroid character" stereotyping of Pete will be phased out in exchange for a more positive representation. He will be "promoted" to a management role, and will be made up to look like he is covered in soot from climbing down chimneys to deliver presents rather than appear in blackface.

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"Piet will become Sint's CEO," van der Laan said. "A lot less submissive and a lot more leader."

In Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas arrives on a steamboat to deliver presents with many Petes as his helpers. As many as 250,000 attend the Amsterdam festival alone.

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"We spoke a lot and we fought hard," van der Laan said of the two-year debate to modernize the character. "My hope is that people will now accept that with these changes Sinterklaas can become a celebration for everybody. Then the Sint will become what he always was: a sweet and beloved tradition that makes everybody happy."

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