Dutch police officers arrested over 100 protesters Saturday in Maassluis, a town near Rotterdam, during a confrontation between foes and supporters of Black Pete. For years, concerned and offended opponents have condemned the character and criticized his continued use and popularity in Dutch culture.
As part of Dutch Christmas tradition, Black Pete is the helper of St. Nicholas and has been stylized as he currently is — as a racist caricature — since around the 1850s. Traditionally, Black Pete has dark black skin, bright cherry-red lips and an Afro. The character is always portrayed by a white actor in blackface with an afro or curly wig.
Old folklore on the subject of Black Pete says that he is a Moor, a term that refers specifically to the Muslim inhabitants of North Africa and the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, whose origins are from Spain. Black Pete’s role is to help St. Nicholas as he decides which children have been naughty and which have been nice and well-behaved enough to receive presents on Christmas morning. His current appearance comes from an 1850s children’s book and reflects dated and obviously racist stereotypes about Black people.
“We arrested about 100 people who were demonstrating in Rotterdam, where the protests were banned for the day,” local police spokeswoman Lillian van Duijvenbode told French news agency AFP.
— robert bas (@robertpbas) November 12, 2016
The arrests came after thousands of people went to Maassluis to attend a celebration that marked the beginning of the Christmas season. There was a heavy police presence to protect Black Pete, as well as a ban on protests, which did not deter people from protesting and counter-protesting.
— Glenda (@vijzelman) November 12, 2016
“We asked them to stop their demonstration at three different places in town, but they refused,” van Duijvenbode said.
Dm.com reports that about 20 extreme right-wing people came to counter-protest those who oppose racism and Black Pete. One of them, activist John Morren, told the Associated Press, “We are demonstrating for the preservation of a children’s party” and to protect the old, racist Dutch tradition.
The Prime Minister of The Netherlands, Mark Rutte, has asked that both sides of this battle remain peaceful about their views because it is Christmas season.