Will The Netherlands Ever See An End To ‘Black Pete’?

‘Black Pete,’ better known as Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands, is a historical holiday tradition that dates back to the 19th century. This tradition is prominent in the Netherlands and celebrates Saint Nicholas’ helper, a black man nicknamed ‘Black Pete.’ This event is often celebrated through the use of costumes and parades where citizens dress up in black face and Afro wigs. With the cancellation of numerous parades in the Netherlands due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event is not taking place this year. According to Aljazeera, many have hope that social change has reached the Netherlands.

After years of protests and the creation of anti-Black Pete organizations, many believe the issue of racism in the Netherlands has been acknowledged. Hollands Prime Minister Mark Rutte has recognized the systemic racism in his country but has not taken a stand against it. He has defended the ‘Black Pete’ tradition and has dressed in blackface according to Aljazeera. He stated that he expects this racist tradition will fade in a few years. Jerry Afriyie who is one of the founders of a Dutch anti-racist organization called ‘Kick Out Black Pete,’ says that although Rutte recognizes systemic racism in the Netherlands, he does nothing to take a stand against it. Afriyie believes that 2020 has been the year of change, where the group has finally been accepted as mainstream. They were previously called a terrorist organization while fighting for change. Aljazeera states that the change in attitude regarding systemic racism has been prompted by the global anti-racist movement after the death of George Floyd in the United States.

There are serious implications as a result of continuing racist traditions such as that of ‘Black Pete.’ People are still dying or experiencing violence and discrimination as a result of the colour of their skin. The Black Lives Matter organization attempts to bring light to this issue. Systemic racism is still prevalent around the world and for the Netherlands to continue a racist tradition they believe to be harmless and fun just highlights the deep-rooted racism that the country still practices.

Many Dutch citizens have been affected throughout their lives because of ‘Black Pete.’ According to Aljazeera, Myrco Benschop, who is a black student working at a shop in Amsterdam, stated that many people still come into the shop asking if they are still selling ‘Black Pete’ items this year. He also went on to say, “I think that every Black person you ask will tell you that they were called ‘Black Pete’ a few times in their childhood.” ‘Black Pete’ has been used as an excuse for years for citizens to openly express their racist stereotypes and beliefs.

During 2020, systemic racism particularly towards black individuals has made global news. Countries are starting to recognize their racist history and have made efforts to combat this. The Netherlands should be next on this list. Racism is still prevalent and openly expressed in Holland and the prime minister needs to take a stand against this. Citizens, human rights and anti-Black Pete organizations must continue to hold the prime minister accountable for continuing this racist tradition. ‘Black Pete’ should be banned – not just because of a pandemic – but because of its horrific history. The lived experiences and discrimination against black individuals should not be made into a parade. People are continuing to suffer because of systemic racism, this is not something that should be celebrated.