Race Relations Commissioner unperturbed by Dutch Christmas parade's 'Black Pete' tradition

Source: 1News

A contentious character in full blackface will remain part of Christmas celebrations for a Christchurch Dutch group.

Black Pete was in the Netherlands Society's picnic earlier this month, despite global calls to cut the tradition which many see as racist.

Images of Saint Nicholas and his assistant Black Pete began circulating earlier this month at a pre-Christmas picnic in Christchurch.

The event was organised by the local Netherlands Society.

“Our chap that plays Saint Nicholas said 'I won’t be Saint Nicholas. if I can’t have a real Black Pete' and we agreed with him,” says Yoka Saris, Vice President of the Christchurch Netherlands Society.

The Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon, is also unperturbed.

“I encourage the Dutch society to celebrate St Nicholas day with Black Pete. If people feel it's offensive, I'm sure the Dutch Community will be listening. and they may do something about it in the future,” he says.

“Probably there’s a responsibly for the Dutch community to explain what St Nicholas day is and Black Pete and the reasons for it,” Mr Foon says.

But the blackface images are seen by others as racist and deeply disturbing.

“I think in 2019 to ask if blackface is ok is extraordinary, because we all know it’s not under any circumstances,” says sociologist, Dr Ella Henry.

But Ms Saris disagrees.

“I really dont see there are so many people upset about it, not here in Christchurch anyway,” she says.

But in recent years there an uprising in the Netherlands against Black Pete.

The history of blackface dates back to the 19th century, with white actors in minstrel shows darkening their skin.

“So the notion that it's ok for anyone with white skin to pretend to be black denies the history of being black and the horrors that have been associated with it over the millennia,” says Dr Henry.

Just three months ago Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to apologise after images showing him partying in blackface surfaced.

The Netherlands Society however, says it's simply tradition, with Ms Saris saying it’s only fairytale and no harm is intended.

But the Christchurch Society says it won't give up Black Pete, even though the United Nations has called for change.