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The old 'christmas blackface' festival continues in Belgium despite protests

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Zwarte Piet or in English Black Pete, is the companion of Saint Nicholas in the folklore of the Low Countries. The character first appeared in an 1850 book by Amsterdam school teacher Jan Schenkman, and is commonly depicted as a blackamoor. Traditionally, Zwarte Piet is said to be black because he is a Moor from Spain. Those portraying Zwarte Piet typically put on blackface make-up and colourful Renaissance attire, in addition to curly wigs, red lipstick, and earrings. In recent years, the character has become the subject of controversy, especially in the Netherlands. He was storied as 'santas' helper, in essence the black slave of 'santa'.

So is Black Pete racist? Pretty clearly yes. I spent part of my childhood living in Belgium, growing up with this tradition — and I’ve heard a lot of excuses that try to justify continuing the tradition. Some people say Black Pete doesn’t have black skin; instead, he’s just covered in soot from delivering presents through the chimney. Others say he’s St. Nicholas’s friend, and has never been a slave caricature. But historically, none of the defenses really hold up.


The Author publishes OPED columns at various global media houses, and is renowned for numerous books

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