United Nations brands Dutch Christmas character 'Black Pete' a 'vestige of slavery'

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United Nations brands Dutch Christmas character 'Black Pete' a 'vestige of slavery'
Zwartepiet by EnSintClopedie. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.



THE HAGUE (AFP).- The United Nations called a Dutch character who appears in blackface every Christmas a "vestige of slavery" and said Friday that The Netherlands should begin overturning the popular tradition.

But Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the fate of "Black Pete", a sidekick of the Dutch Saint Nicholas, is not up to his government, calling the controversy a "social issue" rather than a matter of state. 

"Zwarte Piete", or Black Pete, appears traditionally dressed in a gaudy medieval costume with a blackened face, red lips and an afro wig to help Saint Nicholas hand out gifts to children. 

The character sparks an annual divide on racism in The Netherlands, with many branding him a racist stereotype dating from the colonial era. 

Black Pete's defenders say he is black from coming down the chimney, and refuse to admit there might be anything racist about the character.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said in a report Friday that the character was "sometimes portrayed in a way that reflects negative stereotypes" and is seen as "a vestige of slavery" by many people.

"Considering that even deeply rooted cultural traditions do not justify discriminatory practices and stereotypes, the committee recommends that the state promotes actively removing these characteristics that reflect negative stereotypes," the report said.

But Rutte said it was not up to his government to ban popular traditions.

"This is a social issue and not a political issue," he said.

After a particularly heated debate in 2014 other Petes were introduced for the first time: "Cheese Petes" with yellow faces, "Stroopwafel Petes" with striped, light brown faces resembling the traditional Dutch syrup biscuit of the same name and a white-faced "Clown Pete".



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