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VICE News

The Netherlands Has Decided Traditional Black Face Is Racist

An Amsterdam court ruled that the Dutch companion of Saint Nicholas, known as Black Pete, negatively stereotypes black people.

by Kayla Ruble
Jul 3 2014, 10:45pm

Image via Flickr

The traditional Dutch friend and parade companion of Saint Nicholas, known as Black Pete, was hit with a blow on Thursday after an Amsterdam court ruled the black face character was, in fact, racist.

In the ruling, the court determined that Black Pete or Zwarte Piet in Dutch is "a negative stereotype of black people," according to the Associated Press.

Debate over the holiday character has been ongoing for years as the character dressed in jester-like clothing plays a prominent role in annual winter parades in the Netherlands. The supporters in the country say the fantasy character is not meant to offend.

Image via Flickr

Most of the Dutch population is reportedly onboard with the figure, who is based around a story from 1845 titled "Saint Nicholas and the Servant." Santa Claus arrives from Spain with a black servant named Peter in tow. Because of the book's popularity, the servant — who, of course, is now known as Black Pete — was given a spot in the annual festivities.

During the winter parade that takes place every year on December 5, Santa arrives on a white horse to pass out cookies while accompanied by a horde of Black Petes.

Groups of Black Petes can be seen riding on steamboats, walking the streets, and, of course, posing for photos. Thousands of children attend the event.

A group of Black Petes on a boat during the parade. Image via wikipedia.

A report out last week found that despite accusations of discrimination in the work place in the European country, Dutch officials get irritated when people call the character racist. The Netherlands is 80 percent white.

The court decision comes after the 2013 festival received a significant amount of flack, and even protests.

A proposal has been made to slather Pete's face with a color other than black face, but the discussion on alternatives is just getting underway with plenty of time until this year's event.

Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB

Image via Flickr