Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a parliamentary debate about anti-racism protests Thursday that he expects the “Black Pete” caricature to die out due to growing opposition in the Netherlands.
In the Dutch Christmas tradition, St. Nicholas brings gifts to kids with the help of Black Pete, a clownish assistant depicted with a black face, frizzy wig, and red lipstick. In recent years, the act of wearing black face paint to depict Black Pete has been criticized as racist, Reuters reported.
Rutte appears to have changed his mind on the issue. He reportedly said in 2013, “Black Pete is just black and I can’t do much about that.”
A majority of white Dutch people have held that Black Pete is a magical fantasy character without a race, Reuters reported, but that majority appears to be shrinking in the face of growing criticism.
A 2018 report from Dutch firm I&O Research indicated that around half of Dutch people would accept changes to Black Pete’s appearance. Only 1% of respondents supported abolishing the character altogether.
As public opinion of Black Pete has changed, several revisions have been made to the Christmas tradition. Alternative portrayals of Black Pete depict him with his face covered in soot from chimneys. In some instances the word “black” has been dropped from the name, according to Reuters.
Anti-racism protests broke out in the Netherlands this week in response to the death of George Floyd, whose death while in Minneapolis police custody has sparked mass demonstrations in cities across the United States and the world.
Rutte stated Wednesday during a public appearance that discrimination is a “systematic problem” in the Netherlands. (RELATED: Citizens Worldwide Gather To Protest Death Of George Floyd)
Rutte added that since his comments in 2013, he had met many people in the Netherlands, particularly minority children, who said they “feel terribly discriminated against because Pete is black.” He reportedly said he felt a children’s tradition should not be discriminatory.
“I expect in a few years there will be no more Black Petes,” Rutte concluded.