The Netherlands' Black Pete Tradition Stirs Racial Ruckus

The Dutch Saint Nick’s blackface helpers ignite a debate over racism
Photograph by Aaron Dyer for Bloomberg Businessweek

There are some things Dutch kids can count on. Rain. Bicycles. And every year, on a cold November day, a gift-bearing Saint Nicholas who arrives, accompanied by African-looking helpers. While the festivities leading up to the Dec. 5 celebration of Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, will surely take place this year, they’re drawing international scrutiny. A panel that advises the United Nations on human rights has questioned whether depictions of the mischievous helpers, collectively called Black Petes and typically portrayed by whites in blackface paint, are racist.

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