Civil rights icon Reverend Jesse Jackson wrote a personal letter to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, calling for him to cancel the country’s controversial Black Pete tradition.
Every year on December 5, people across the Netherlands take to the streets with their faces painted, wearing afro wigs to commemorate Black Pete’s arrival.
In the Netherlands, Black Pete is the blackface servant of St Nicholas who helps deliver presents to children he entertains and frightens simultaneously.
2020 was a year where the Black Lives Matter movement took center stage as the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked worldwide demonstrations — with people demanding justice for people of color and
Jackson is in disbelief that the festival continued despite the uprising and called for Rutte to end the decades-long minstrel show.
“Your Excellency,” he wrote, “as the whole world mourns the brutal murder of George Floyd, followed by the worldwide mass protest demonstrations calling for actions to combat racism, I do not think that it was appropriate for you to explain that you understand better the sufferings of Black people … and that you do not consider Black Pete as racist.”
A representative national poll from November shows that opposition to replacing Black Pete with Soot Pete decreased from 66 percent to 43 percent. The poll also revealed that just 19 percent of people believed the festival would last another decade.
It is not only Jackson who has taken issue with the tradition.
Amazon and Facebook have banned depictions of Black Pete on their sites. Libraries across the Netherlands have also removed books featuring the offensive fictional character.
Rutte, who has defended Black Pete and has even participated in blackface, remains unwilling to commit to ending the ritual: “I expect in a few years there will be no more Black Petes,” he said, adding that there are “systemic problems” with racism in Holland.
But his acknowledgment of the region’s ongoing racial tensions means little without action.