Nov 11, 2016

    The Netherlands Is Arguing About Whether It Should Use Black Face At Christmas

    The traditional Dutch festival involves a group of "helpers" who tend to wear blackface and afro wigs, along with hooped earrings and bright red lips.

    Every year on 5 December the Netherlands celebrates Sinterklaas dag, which is St Nicholas's Day.

    Afp / AFP / Getty Images

    The story goes that St Nicholas and his helpers come to the Netherlands and hand out presents during the night to all the good children. The helpers climb down a chimney and deliver the gifts.

    Children are told to leave a carrot in a shoe to give to the horses that the helpers are riding.

    This is one of the popular songs.

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    A few weeks before 5 December, St Nicholas and his helpers arrive on a steamboat.

    Remko De Waal / AFP / Getty Images

    The helpers are known as "Zwarte Piet", which means "Black Pete".

    Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images

    The popular reason that's given for their blackness is that it's from chimney soot. But another version of the story says the helpers are based on black slaves.

    During the buildup to Sinterklaas, there's a countdown on national TV called The Club of Sinterklaas.

    There has been a huge ongoing debate in the Netherlands about whether or not wearing blackface in order to be Black Pete is racist.

    Vincent Jannink / AFP / Getty Images

    Dutch right-wing PVV State members Ton van Kesteren, Matthijs Jansen, and Dennis Ram once dressed as Black Pete and as a form of protest in favour of the tradition.

    People say that Black Pete is based on stereotypes of black people from the 19th century.

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    As a result, there have been protests across the country.

    Evert Elzinga / AFP / Getty Images

    Yesterday, the first official video journal from St Nicholas was released and it featured a white Pete – but also a black Pete.

    This Facebook page, with over 140,000 likes, is campaigning to keep Black Pete.

    facebook.com

    The caption says: "Nationwide protest: 'Black Pete is not welcome in the Netherlands because it would be racist. It is a children's celebration and has nothing to do with racism.' Agree with this by sharing widely."

    A lot of Dutch people don't see the link between Black Pete and racism.

    Roetveegpieten? Weten 3-jarige kinderen wat roet is? Wordt al gauw ‘viespieten’. Ook niet goed.

    "Soot sweep Pete? Which 3-year-old knows what soot is? It becomes "dirty Pete'. Also not good."

    However, it appears the tide is turning: One of the biggest broadcasters in the Netherlands has decided against using blackface.

    RTL stopt met Zwarte Piet, voortaan alleen pieten met roetvegen https://t.co/XE6gpYjFYt

    The Dutch ruling party were unhappy with that.

    Het is het kinderfeest van Sinterklaas én Zwarte Piet! #ZwartePiet

    In this video Halbe Zijlstra, a politician, calls the scrapping of Black Pete by the Dutch broadcaster RTL a "dumb decision", as Zwarte Piet is part of a childrens' festival.

    The city of Amsterdam's administration has also changed the face of Pete into "schoorsteenpiet", or "chimney Pete".

    'Geen Zwarte Piet meer in Amsterdam' https://t.co/yemhe65Mpd Wanneer volgt Rotterdam, de stad van vernieuwing & gericht op de toekomst?

    Ikran is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Ikran Dahir at ikran.dahir@buzzfeed.com.

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