A New Holiday Tradition for the Dutch: Arguing About Blackface

Added: 06-19-2018

In this NY Times article, Robert Mackey summarizes the history of the racist Dutch holiday character 'Black Pete.' He has historically been a servant of Santa Claus and depicted as a stereotypically African person, portrayed by white people in blackface. In 2014, controversy over the character erupted when a court overruled a lesser court saying it is an appropriate traditional celebration of chimney sweeps.

colonialism colonial racism debate Black Pete blackface Dutch holdover Santa's servant Sinterklaas

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
article 15 minutes ROBERT MACKEY 11-14-2014 https://www.nytimes.com/
Type Reading Time
article 15 minutes
Author Date
robert mackey 2018-06-19 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways
  • 'Black Pete' is a racist holiday character celebrated in the Netherlands and dates back to the 1850s. 
  • 'Black Pete' has been accused of being racist propaganda with excessively stereotypical African features. 
  • Debate over the appropriateness of Black Pete continues today with his defendants citing tradition and overlooking Black Pete’s blackface.


This New York Times article by Robert Mackey focuses on the legal and cultural focus placed on the Dutch tradition of ‘Black Pete’ in 2014. The article reviews how 'Black Pete' began as a Christmas time tradition in the 1850’s, when The Netherlands still owned slaves and colonial territory. 'Black Pete' was celebrated as a black servant, presumably from North Africa, of Santa Claus’s during the Dutch holiday called Sinterklaas. 

The racial problems with these depictions are apparent. The character continues to be depicted with racist features, stereotypically large lips and curly hair to portray Africans. White Dutch people frequently dress up in blackface to play the character and act as Santa Claus’s servants. The imagery has been identified by many to be racist. 

Critics of 'Black Pete,' especially the many Dutch people of African descent find the character intolerable and infringing upon the European treaty of human rights. Mackey goes on to identify the many ways 'Black Pete' has a stereotypically racist appearance and is depicted as coming to The Netherlands on a tightly packed (slave) ship. 

The current article focuses on the argument and legal fight over the character in 2014. During that year, the highest administrative court of The Netherlands overturned a lower court's ruling that 'Black Pete' was inappropriate, citing that is was not offensive because the helpers wear blackface simply to mimic soot from chimneys. This argument has been highlighted since as being racist and naive.