“It isn’t what it looks like, I swear!”
Belgian politician Sven Gatz is under fire for dressing as the traditional Dutch Christmas character Zwarte Piet, also known as Black Peter. The character has come under fire by some in the Lower Countries who’ve noticed its resemblance to stereotypical depictions of black people. It’s hard not to see it—from the dark makeup to the brightly colored lips, it’s a dead-ringer for Little Black Sambo.
Gatz, who is the minister for youth, media and culture in the Flanders region, says he agreed to play the character after being asked by a local priest to appear in a Mass performance. Gatz defended his decision to play the character, who is a traditional helper of Santa Claus.
Research shows that most children in the Lower Countries see Zwarte Piet as a clownish creature, and not as a black person. In recent years, however, opposition to the character has grown, with many asserting Zwarte Piet is modeled after racist Victorian characterizations of black people.
Independent News Europe reports:
Wouter Van Bellingen, the director of Minority Forum, said the move was tasteless. He told De Morgan: “Globally, there is criticism of the figure of Zwarte Piet. If you know that … how can you post some pictures of yourself?”
Mr Gatz defended himself, saying he had “engaged against racism all my political life. And now I’m an ordinary racist because I coloured my face dark? Come on. Love, don’t hate.”
In local tradition, Santa Claus – or Sinterklaas in Dutch – arrives on December 5 in the Netherlands and December 6, Saint Nicholas’s Day, in Belgium, accompanied by a gang of Black Petes, who hand gifts to children.
Opponents say he is a caricature of an African slave carried over from colonial times.
An Amsterdam court agreed with findings by a Dutch discrimination vetting board and a UN advisory panel that Black Pete is offensive.
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