A Dutch court declared that "Black Pete" — a traditional Christmas figure in the country usually performed in blackface — is a negative stereotype on Thursday. Although the order from the Amsterdam District Court only requires the city's mayor Eberhard van der Laan to reconsider the permit he granted for an annual parade featuring the character next December, many international observers consider the ruling to be a big step in the right direction.
As for the city's actual residents, that might be a different story. The Associated Press notes that Zwarte Piet is beloved by many Dutch people, who argue that the figure is an important part of Dutch holiday celebrations. As we've explained before, here are Black Pete's defining characteristics:
- He's usually depicted by a white person, performing in blackface. This includes overemphasized red lips and afro wigs reminiscent of the racist American minstrel show tradition.
- Black Pete is Santa's "sidekick," which is arguably a euphemism for his historical depiction as Santa's slave.
- As today's court ruling noted, Black Pete has a history of being portrayed as unintelligent and servile.
Slate also notes in its recent look at the character that the Dutch have a long history of involvement in the slave trade, which makes Black Pete's continued existence even more awkward for the country.
Dutch supporters who would like to continue the tradition have a few alternative suggestions should Amsterdam's Sinterklaas parade be in jeopardy. Those include using rainbow-colored paint instead of black paint for the character's face. In any case, Amsterdam's mayor has six weeks to reconsider his permit after today's ruling. According to Businessweek, the city hasn't decided whether it will appeal or not.