Back in black

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Photo by Ines Mette

By James Field

A meeting this week at Groningen Town Hall is looking to avoid protest at the annual arrival of one of the Netherlands most notorious characters, ‘Black Pete’.

Black Pete or ‘Zwarte Piet’, traditionally accompanies St Nicolas during christmas celebrations in Holland, however the controversy around the character persists as he is usually portrayed by someone dressed up in ‘black face’ and wearing a curly wig.

They have a white man coloured with black paint, we feel that its racist, whereas the dutch people argue its tradition, its not racist.” Says Gideon Osei Bonsu, the chairman of the ASC (African students Community) at RUG University.

With this annual celebration comes humiliation and increased tensions for the black community in Holland, which last year culminated in protest across the country, notably in Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

The organiser have a meeting this week on this issue, the discussion is not yet finished” said Luuk Mees, Senior big events account manager at Groningen City Hall, speaking to The Spoke.

“We’ll do everything to not have a problem, we don’t want demonstrations at a party for children. I think we’ll find a solution that makes everyone happy.” said Mr Mees.

One solution, potentially being discussed in this weeks meeting, could be painting the characters face different colours, “last year more wore black but some had different colours.” said Mees.

Currently there are no protests planned in Groningen, but it is uncertain if the demonstrations that occurred in other major Dutch cities will return when Zwarte Pete shows his face again.

Mr Osei Bonsu remains sceptical of a definitive solution, suggesting many white residents, particularly those joining the celebrations, still do not take seriously or understand the insensitivity, “they do not feel how we feel, the history, they lack an ability, or a willingness, to put themselves in our shoes”.

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