Dutch version of St. Nick's helpers at heart of uproar
AMSTERDAM — There are some things Dutch kids can count on. Rain. Bicycles. And every year, on a cold November day, a gift-bearing St. Nicholas will arrive, accompanied by African-looking helpers.
The three weeks of festivities leading up to the Dec. 5 celebration of Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, are drawing international scrutiny. A panel that advises the United Nations on human rights has questioned whether depictions of the mischievous helpers, known as Black Petes and typically portrayed by whites in blackface paint, are racist.
That has fueled a furious backlash among the Dutch: More than 2 million people have liked a Facebook group supporting the Petes. Fewer than 13,000 have joined another group saying they are racist.
Anouk, a popular Dutch singer, has spoken out against traditional portrayals of the Black Petes. In response, she says, she has received hate messages.
Retailers are voting for the Petes by keeping shelves stocked with goods bearing their image. Stores run by Royal Ahold, owner of the Stop & Shop chain in the United States, sell Black Pete costumes and face-painting kits. Giant stuffed Petes will again climb the atrium at De Bijenkorf, Amsterdam's premier department store.
Blackface has long been decried in the United States and elsewhere as racist. Backers of the Petes are quick to point out that the Netherlands doesn't have the same history of slavery as the United States and say there's nothing negative about Black Pete being black. “This is part of our heritage,” says Erik Maarten Muller, a Web designer. “We should be allowed to keep that.”
It's unclear when the Dutch St. Nicholas, by legend a bishop who spends most of the year in Spain, acquired black helpers. Many trace the tale to an 1850 book, “Saint Nicholas and his Servant.”
“The figure Black Pete has been made up by a writer in the 19th century at a time slavery still existed,” said Jimmy Veldwijk, 49, a DJ who came to the Netherlands from Suriname. “This personality is clearly based on a slave. That can no longer be tolerated in the 21st century.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pope’s message received warmly as he arrives in Kenya
- Bus carrying presidential guard targeted by bomber in Tunisia
- Russia’s crackdown in predominantly Muslim region fuels exodus to ISIS
- Moscow deploys ground-to-air missiles in Syria
- Noncombat deadly for military civilians working in Afghanistan
- Brazil power brokers arrested on suspicion of blocking probe
- French lawmakers vote to continue airstrikes against Islamic State
- Sandra sets record as latest hurricane in eastern Pacific
- Turkey shoots down Russian jet it says violated its airspace
- Settlement spat surfaces as Kerry visits Jerusalem
- Putin sends air defense missiles to Syria to deter Turkey