Court rules Christmas figure ‘Black Pete’ is negative stereotype

Amsterdam must rethink celebrations involving controversial sidekick to Santa

A demonstrator wearing a shirt with ‘No more Zwarte Piet’ in front of the court house in Amsterdam. The court decided that Amsterdam has to reconsider the traditional move-in Sinterklaas event. The traditional figure Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) is the companion of Saint Nicolas during a yearly feast celebrated on the evening of December 5th. Photograph: Remko De Wall/EPA

A demonstrator wearing a shirt with ‘No more Zwarte Piet’ in front of the court house in Amsterdam. The court decided that Amsterdam has to reconsider the traditional move-in Sinterklaas event. The traditional figure Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) is the companion of Saint Nicolas during a yearly feast celebrated on the evening of December 5th. Photograph: Remko De Wall/EPA

Thu, Jul 3, 2014, 15:25

An Amsterdam court says the figure known as Black Pete — the sidekick to the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus - is a negative stereotype of black people and the city must rethink its involvement in holiday celebrations involving the figure.

Debate over Zwarte Piet has intensified in the Netherlands in recent years as opponents say the black clown with thick red lips and a frizzy Afro hairstyle is a racist caricature.

Black Petes are typically portrayed by whites in black face paint.

Most Dutch people argue he is a harmless fantasy figure and say no insult is intended.

The ruling ordered the city of Amsterdam to re-examine its decision to grant a permit for an annual winter festival attended by thousands of children. In Dutch tradition, St Nicholas arrives by steamboat with scores of Black Petes handing out presents.

Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan must review the permit granted for the November parade, the district court said in a statement today.

“The granting of this permit, which didn’t take into account anything related to Black Petes, leads to an intrusion of the private lives of the plaintiffs,” the court said.

The case was brought by a group of about 20 individuals and organisations. Last November, a court rejected a demand to prohibit the parade in Amsterdam.

The court was then asked to rule on the legitimacy of the permit itself. A panel that advises the United Nations on human rights questioned last year whether depictions of Black Pete are racist.

“I am really happy, and I congratulate the Dutch people that we together can work on a Netherlands that is free of racism,” Barryl Biekman, who heads the Platform Slavery History organisation, said in an interview with NOS television.

“If this continues, it would mean that the Dutch state and all of its municipalities, are jointly responsible for maintaining racism in this country.”

The mayor has six weeks to review his decision, the court said. The city of Amsterdam will study the ruling first before deciding whether or not to appeal, municipality spokesman Jasper Karman said.

Agencies