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14:47

*PARTNER CONTENT* Freeing Santa's Slaves: 'Black Piet' tradition divides the Netherlands

Amsterdam
December 22, 2018 at 14:01 GMT +00:00 · Published

'Tis the season to be jolly. But in the Netherlands Santa's little helpers are "jolly" Black slaves. Or at least white people dressing up like them, in blackface.

Zwarte Piet, or Black Piet is a controversial character that appears in malls, cafes and high streets across the Netherlands during the festive period from November to December.

The character accompanies "Sinterklaas" or St. Nicholas and is represented by people donning black make-up, thick bright-red lipstick and curly black wigs.

Although many defend it as an innocent tradition, more and more people are calling it out for being offensive and resembling the racist US minstrel tradition that became obsolete in the early 20th century.

In Rotterdam, the city's largest political party - the right-wing Leefbar Rotterdam is calling for a referendum in defence of Zwarte Piet, fearing the local government will follow Amsterdam's lead and replace the character with "Soot Piet" - a character whose face is covered in soot from coming down the chimney.

Leefbar Rotterdam Councillor Tanya Hoogwerf told redfish: "It has nothing to do with skin tone or race. It has everything to do with the mythical surroundings around Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet."

Over the last year protests against the tradition have been intensifying. This year has been no different and extreme right groups like Pegida Netherlands and the neo-Nazi NVU have become increasingly visible amongst the pro-Zwarte Piet crowd.

To anti-racist activists, the tradition represents a hang-up from the Dutch colonial era and they have been campaigning to abolish the annual ritual.

Councillor for the Green Left Party in Amsterdam, Simion Blom told redfish: "It started as a racist tradition. It's the root of the tradition and that's not surprising because the Netherlands has a big colonial past for 400 years and a past of slavery for 300 years."

But a backlash against activists is taking place, with many in the anti-Zwarte Piet movement becoming victims of violence and harassment by both the police and the far-right.

"We have been labelled the enemy of the society. I do know that people around me - people from Kick Out Zwarte Piet and others - are very worried about some of us." Kick Out Zwarte Piet co-founder Jerry Afriye told redfish.

Christa Soeters, an activist in Utrecht showed redfish the threats she has been receiving: "They came to my house. They took photos of my front door. They put stickers on my mailbox and the like. They harassed my family. Outside I was also attacked and I was recognised. In May they arrested someone, who wanted to organise an attack on Muslims. Two weeks ago I discovered that he also wanted to do all kinds of things to me. He wanted to kidnap me. He wanted to rape me. He wanted to have 20 other men rape me."

Despite the threats, the anti-Zwarte Piet movement is becoming more and more vocal, and Afriye says it's a conversation Dutch society can no longer avoid: "We're going to make sure that our children will not go through this situation. And what we are now seeing is that a new generation of Black people are saying hold on, I'm not going to sit here and you're going to talk about me, I'm going to talk for myself."

To get the full transcript of this video, please contact cd@ruptly.tv

14:47
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mandatory credit: redfish / @redfishstream

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Description

'Tis the season to be jolly. But in the Netherlands Santa's little helpers are "jolly" Black slaves. Or at least white people dressing up like them, in blackface.

Zwarte Piet, or Black Piet is a controversial character that appears in malls, cafes and high streets across the Netherlands during the festive period from November to December.

The character accompanies "Sinterklaas" or St. Nicholas and is represented by people donning black make-up, thick bright-red lipstick and curly black wigs.

Although many defend it as an innocent tradition, more and more people are calling it out for being offensive and resembling the racist US minstrel tradition that became obsolete in the early 20th century.

In Rotterdam, the city's largest political party - the right-wing Leefbar Rotterdam is calling for a referendum in defence of Zwarte Piet, fearing the local government will follow Amsterdam's lead and replace the character with "Soot Piet" - a character whose face is covered in soot from coming down the chimney.

Leefbar Rotterdam Councillor Tanya Hoogwerf told redfish: "It has nothing to do with skin tone or race. It has everything to do with the mythical surroundings around Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet."

Over the last year protests against the tradition have been intensifying. This year has been no different and extreme right groups like Pegida Netherlands and the neo-Nazi NVU have become increasingly visible amongst the pro-Zwarte Piet crowd.

To anti-racist activists, the tradition represents a hang-up from the Dutch colonial era and they have been campaigning to abolish the annual ritual.

Councillor for the Green Left Party in Amsterdam, Simion Blom told redfish: "It started as a racist tradition. It's the root of the tradition and that's not surprising because the Netherlands has a big colonial past for 400 years and a past of slavery for 300 years."

But a backlash against activists is taking place, with many in the anti-Zwarte Piet movement becoming victims of violence and harassment by both the police and the far-right.

"We have been labelled the enemy of the society. I do know that people around me - people from Kick Out Zwarte Piet and others - are very worried about some of us." Kick Out Zwarte Piet co-founder Jerry Afriye told redfish.

Christa Soeters, an activist in Utrecht showed redfish the threats she has been receiving: "They came to my house. They took photos of my front door. They put stickers on my mailbox and the like. They harassed my family. Outside I was also attacked and I was recognised. In May they arrested someone, who wanted to organise an attack on Muslims. Two weeks ago I discovered that he also wanted to do all kinds of things to me. He wanted to kidnap me. He wanted to rape me. He wanted to have 20 other men rape me."

Despite the threats, the anti-Zwarte Piet movement is becoming more and more vocal, and Afriye says it's a conversation Dutch society can no longer avoid: "We're going to make sure that our children will not go through this situation. And what we are now seeing is that a new generation of Black people are saying hold on, I'm not going to sit here and you're going to talk about me, I'm going to talk for myself."

To get the full transcript of this video, please contact cd@ruptly.tv

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