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Dutch PM Says He Expects ‘Black Pete’ Christmas Caricature Will Die Out

(Credit: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters)

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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.

Saint Nicholas (L) is followed by his two assistants called "Zwarte Piet" (Black Pete) during a traditional parade in central Brussels December 1, 2012. The Netherlands and Belgium are two countries that pride themselves on progressive laws and open societies, but critics say they are stuck in the dark ages when it comes to depictions of Santa Claus and his helpers. Saint Nicholas, or "Sinterklaas" in Dutch, brings presents to children on December 5 in the Netherlands and on December 6 in Belgium, and is always accompanied by at least one assistant dressed in 17th century costume who has a blackened face. Picture taken December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (BELGIUM - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT RELIGION SOCIETY) - GM1E8C31KJF01

Saint Nicholas (L) is followed by Black Petes during a traditional parade (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

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.

An assistant of Saint Nicholas called "Zwarte Piet" (Black Pete) gestures as they arrive by boat at the harbour of Scheveningen, Netherlands, November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw - RC2BCD9I0ZSK

A typical depiction of Black Pete with black face paint, frizzy hair, and red lipstick (Piroschka van de Wouw/ Reuters)

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.

"Zwarte Piet" (Black Pete), who are a Saint Nicholas' assistants are seen during a traditional parade in Amsterdam, Netherlands, November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier - RC1169DA3850

An alternative depiction of Black Pete meant to depict his face as covered in chimney soot, rather than as black (Eva Plevier/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)

People protest against the arrival of Saint Nicholas and his assistants called "Zwarte Piet" (Black Pete) in The Hague, Netherlands, November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw - RC2DCD9Q27LQ

People protest against the portrayal of Black Pete in The Hague, Netherlands (Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters)

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.