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The Boston Globe

World

Dutch fictional figure ‘Black Pete’ seen as blight on nation

AMSTERDAM — Foreigners visiting the Netherlands in winter are often surprised to see that the Dutch version of St. Nicholas’s helpers have their faces painted black, wear Afro wigs, and have thick red lips — in short, a racist caricature of a black person.

The overwhelming majority of Dutch are fiercely devoted to the holiday tradition of ‘‘Zwarte Piet’’ — whose name means ‘‘Black Pete’’ — and insist he’s a harmless fictional figure who doesn’t represent any race. But a growing number are questioning whether ‘‘Zwarte Piet’’ should be given a makeover or banished from the holiday scene, seeing him as a blight on the nation’s image as a bulwark of tolerance.

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