Activist challenges council over Zwarte Piet in Sinterklaas procession

The annual procession of Sinterklaas through Amsterdam may be in doubt after anti-racism campaigners made formal protests about the presence of his black servants or helpers, known as Zwarte Piet.

At least 20 protests have been made to the city council’s event licencing committee which has to decide if the annual procession can go ahead, the Parool reports on Friday. The arrival of Sinterklaas – the precursor of Santa Claus – is due to take place on November 17.

The protest has been coordinated by artist and activist Quinsy Gario, who says the Zwarte Piet character is insulting and discriminatory. Gario was arrested during anti-Zwarte Piet protests in 2011.

The Zwarte Piet character is nearly always a white person wearing blackface make-up with a curly wig.

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Sinterklaas’ black servant was created in 1850 by Jan Schenkman in his book St Nikolaas en zijn knecht. The character has since become an integral part of the Dutch Sinterklaas festivities who owes his black skin to the soot he picked up after climbing down chimneys to deliver presents.

Gario also argues the procession through the city does not meet the city’s official regulations, which say such events must contribute to the innovative and creative image of the city.

The hearing will take place in public in two weeks time, the Parool says.

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