Dutch activists lose bid to ban blackface Christmas character

2018-11-15 08:12
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A Dutch court on Wednesday slapped down a bid by an anti-discrimination group to ban the "racist characteristics" of a traditional Christmas-time blackface character, whose appearance sparks a yearly controversy.

The group calling itself the Majority Perspective last week asked judges to make sure the character of Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, the jolly helper of Saint Nicholas, displays "no racist characteristics" during his traditional "arrival" in the country on Saturday.

"The judge did not approve the Majority Perspective foundation's application," the Haarlem District Court said in a statement.

Black Pete's character is usually performed by an adult with a blacked-up face, wearing an afro wig, earrings, gaudy costume and red lips - a costume that has increasingly come under fire for being a racist stereotype.

Critics say the costume is a reminder of the era when the Netherlands exploited slaves, notably in Suriname.

The judge however "is of the opinion that the foundation ambushed the other parties with the court case, including those organising Saint Nicholas' official 'arrival'," the statement said.

This year Saint Nicholas will set foot in the northwestern Dutch city of Zaandam, which together with the NTR public broadcaster and organisers was named as a respondent by the Majority Perspective, claiming to represent a number of Dutch citizens of African descent.

"The foundation did not have proper discussions with the Zaandam council," said the statement, adding the judge also struck down the foundation's call to ban the procession being shown on live television.

Last month the NTR said it would change Pete's appearance with soot on its hands and face "because he came through the chimney".

But the broadcaster changed its tune shortly afterwards, saying that "some Petes go down the chimney a lot, therefore they turn properly black," Dutch news reports said.

Every year in the run-up to Christmas, debate around the existence of Black Pete unleashes deep-seated emotions in the Netherlands.

Black Pete's defenders say he is simply black from coming down the chimney and a children's figure, refusing to admit there might be anything racist about the character.

After a particularly heated debate in 2014 other Petes were introduced for the first time: "Cheese Petes" with yellow faces, "Stroopwafel Petes" with striped, light brown faces resembling the traditional Dutch syrup biscuit of the same name and a white-faced "Clown Pete".

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