Although Sinterklaas’ helper Black Pete is going increasingly sooty, most small towns and cities still favour the traditional blackface Pete, the NRC has found.
The paper said some 46 local Sinterklaas parades will feature Petes with a sooty face this year compared to around 20 in preceding years. The NTR, which broadcasts the Sinterklaas news bulletin and national parade every year, has decided to use sooty-faced Petes only as pressure mounts to ditch what many consider to be a racist stereotype.
The compromise, a sooty face to denote Pete has gone down the chimney to deliver the presents, has been adopted by around a third of local councils who said they would follow the broadcaster’s lead.
This still leaves the greater part of the parades with blackface Petes, the paper said. Of the ten biggest cities only Breda is hanging on to blackface Petes only.
For some the transition has to be a gradual one, the paper found. Tilburg is phasing out blackface Petes, with 25 of the 150 Petes still participating in the parade this year in black face.
‘It will give them time to get used it. Sinterklaas is for all Tilburgers, including those who think Pete is a racist caricature,’ head of the Sinterklaas committee Fernand Palmen told the paper. ‘And besides, the Petes who resign will come back once they see how happy the children are.’
Palmen is referring to the Petes who refuse to accept the new trend. In Hilversum, for instance, 15 refusenik Petes left the job, leaving Hilversum understaffed with 60 sooty-faced Petes. ‘The sooty face is meant as a bridge between tradition and change,’ mayor Pieter Broertjes told the paper.
Many supporters of the traditional Pete feel politicians should not meddle with tradition, NRC found. In Middelburg, Assen and Veenendaal whose local councils were pressing for the change, Petes resigned en masse while in Deventer some hundred traditional Petes took to the streets over the decision by the mayor to adopt the new-style Pete.
It is small towns rather than big – and often multicultural – cities which cling to the traditional Pete, the paper found and the overall majority of towns still favour blackface.
In Joure, in Friesland, there is ‘no problem at all,’ Sinterklaas parade organiser René Ytema said. ‘I sometimes ask if anyone minds but everyone including the foreigners are taking part. Besides, the Petes would be recognised if they had a sooty face and they don’t want to be.’
Bergen in Noord-Holland, too, refuses to go along with the NTR guideline. ‘The only way we will use sooty-faced Petes is if the Council of State orders us to,’ Sinterklaas organiser Richard Proost told the paper.
The conclusion, according to the NRC, is that despite the support of the NTR for a new kind of Pete, the issue is far from solved. New protests erupted last week in the Hague and demonstrations by anti-blackface Pete organisation Kick out Zwarte Piet (KOZP) are also expected to go ahead in the weeks leading up to December 5.
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