I found this article very interesting in that the Dutch people do not recognize their traditional character of ‘”Zwarte Piet’ (Black Pete) as racist. This character, also associated with ‘Knecht Ruprecht’ is considered to be a ‘servant’ to St. Nicholas in Northern European Traditions, who are ‘helpers’ who (since 1850) have had their faces painted black, wear Afro wigs and have thick red lips.
But the Dutch claim is that they do not represent any race. Protestors were even arrested because they felt it was “inappropriate to protest during the holiday or when children were present” or that since “These are very old traditions,” it is not so bad? Many Dutch even say the characters’ black face is due to soot from coming down the chimney, and should not be confused with the racist American tradition – so why the need for Afro wigs and thick red lips if it is not trying to recreate the ‘black face’ of the old American minstrel shows?
Last year in Vancouver, where there is always a big Sinterklaas celebration organizers cancelled the entire week of festivities when they were asked if they could leave out depicting “black helpers”. The Dutch-Canadian community felt very strongly that there was no compromise so there could be NO celebrations without ‘Zwarte Piet’. (bclocalnews.com for 29 Nov 2011)