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Belgium's Foreign Minister Thought It Was A Good Idea To Wear Blackface

It was for charity! But still a white guy in blackface.

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This is a tweet from the foreign minister of Belgium, Didier Reynders, posted to his account last Saturday. He's the one in the glasses. He's also clearly in blackface.

les noirauds en ballade @VilleBruxelles

Reynders was taking part in a rally with a charity group called the Noirauds, or "the Blacks," "for their annual gathering, when they dress up in tail coats and top hats with their faces painted black and take to the streets in Brussels’ old town."

Folklore, générosité et ..colonialisme. Les notables de #Bruxelles se griment en Africains. #Noirauds @France2tv 7h12

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Quick history lesson: In 1885, King Leopold II convinced the world to let him have the Congo as his own personal colony. After years of brutality, the Belgian government officially took control of it from him in 1908.

The time of Belgian rule was marked with savagery against the Congolese that was unparalleled at the time. Should a Congolese worker not harvest enough rubber tree sap, the penalty was losing a hand or worse. The number of Congolese who died during this period is estimated to be in the millions.

The Noirauds, founded in 1876, pre-date that period in Belgian history but are still a reflection of the norms of the time.

Yves Herman / Reuters

The man on the left is King Phillipe of Belgium with a member of the Noirauds back in 2013

Both Belgium and the Netherlands also still celebrate the Christmas season with a character called "Black Pete," who in recent years has been called racist in nature.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert / AP

Actors dressed as Black Petes arrive on a boat in Antwerp, Belgium

Reynders in a blog post over the weekend said: "The motto of the swarthy is 'Fun and Charity.' Both components have been fully met again this year and it is with joy and good humor that I have attended."

The world was slow to pick up on just what had happened, but Reynder's positive spin on the event hasn't stopped him from being a target of criticism at home among his political oppositon and abroad.

! @astroehlein: Belgium's Foreign Minister @dreynders - in blackface. Shocking & embarrassing. http://t.co/tsoDpLbo94

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at hayes.brown@buzzfeed.com.

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