Dutch News

14 October 2014
Court forces traditional black Pete to change

On November 15, the traditional entry of St Nicholas and his black Pete assistants will take place again throughout the Netherlands. But some of the black Pete’s will not be black anymore, after some citizens lodged complaints against the black Pete figure because his appearance is linked to the Dutch history of slavery and through this discriminating. Since two years the discussion has come to a climax and has led to changes in the appearance of Pete. One thing is for sure, the debate and the changeover of Pete will be continued.

Some say the link to slavery is total nonsense, while others say that it is pretty obvious, and that the Dutch should finally cope with their dark slavery past and should excuse themselves finally. Others say that the authorities should not be involved into changing these kinds of traditions and that it should change itself. There are people that ask the Dutch for a balanced solution of accepting the change of Pete, and they should be proud of that, others state that the discussion around Pete is a sign of good integration.


The inevitable change of assistant Pete has many consequences. Since there are two clear sides, shops hesitate how they should use Pete for promotion. The traditional St Nicholas children’s movies all found their own solutions to cope with the new Pete. In one movie one of the Pete’s face changes colour all the time, in another all the Pete’s are light brown instead of black and in another one most of the slave features like golden earrings and fat red lips disappeared.


The persons that went to court to force a change in the tradition, are quite shocked by the fierceness of the debate. They did not expect such violent and racist reactions after the judge decided that black Pete is hurting for dark skinned Dutch people and that municipalities will have to find a way to change the tradition. Everywhere in the Netherlands there is a lot of resistance against the make-over of Pete. A Facebook page with the name Petetion already got 2 million likes and the companies that rent out St Nicholas’s and Pete’s absolutely do not want to adapt the new Pete.


The initiators of the black Pete discussion hope the discussion will soon become more peaceful. Especially because there is so much violence in the world, it is important for them that the Dutch find a way to cope with it. ‘Being and feeling Dutch should not be depending on the tradition of the white man to grease paint his face black? The most important thing is that both sides will talk. But I am afraid that this will not work. Both sides dug themselves in.’


Opinion polls show that 85 to 92% of the Dutch population does not want to change anything to the appearance of black Pete.  But there seems to be a change, partly forced by the court. In Gouda some of the black Pete’s will not be black but will have the colours of traditional Dutch treacle waffle and of cheese. In Amsterdam the Pete’s will have carbon black smears or will have no grease paint at all.


Also schools struggle with the new situation. Some decided that Pete will stay as black as possible, other wait for that the hyper popular traditional St Nicholas TV news will do, and will adapt to that. One thing is for sure, the debate and the changeover of Pete will continue for quite some time.





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