The United Nations has warned The Netherlands that its traditional “Black Pete” character in the St Nicholas Day parade may be promoting a “racist stereotype.”
The Dutch celebrate St Nicholas Day, which includes the arrival of Sinterklass, the Dutch Santa Clause, along with his mischievous servant dressed as a pageboy, “Zwarte Piet” — otherwise known as “Black Pete.” Black Pete’s costume consists of a Tudor-style ruff, red lipstick, black make-up and an afro wig.
The United Nation’s high commission for human rights has written to the Dutch government expressing concern over the tradition. They’ve also questioned allegations that the Dutch authorities have not response to groups who have asked for dialogue on the tradition.
The U.N.’s letter to The Netherlands said:
“Some practices, which are part of cultural heritage, may infringe upon human rights. Negative media and other cultural, social or traditional portrayals of persons belonging to minorities may constitute racism and may be degrading to members of those communities, in the present case persons belonging to black populations and people of African descent, and can perpetuate negative stereotypes within society.”
In response to the U.N.’s letter, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said at the weekend that the helpers at the parade could be white, but that it breaks tradition. “Zwarte Piet is black, we can do little to change that,” he said.
Rutte did acknowledge that there are differing opinions on the parade and U.N. officials will discuss the Dutch’s response in November.