Dutch holiday custom decried as racist

AMSTERDAM — The ‘‘Black Peter’’ tradition in the Netherlands is under fire from opponents who believe the figure is a racist caricature and who asked Amsterdam officials Thursday to revoke the permit for a popular children’s festival because of it.

‘‘Sinterklaas,’’ the Dutch version of Santa Claus, is portrayed as a tall white man who arrives to great fanfare on Nov. 5, accompanied by dozens of clownish servants called ‘‘Zwarte Pieten’’ — Black Petes. These are often white people in blackface makeup with red lips and curly wigs.

Festivities across the country last one month, ending in a night of poems and gifts.


The tradition is part of Dutch culture, but there have been growing complaints that the tradition is offensive.

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On Thursday, dozens of protesters filled a hearing at Amsterdam City Hall.

One of 21 people who filed formal complaints, Imro Rietveld, described growing up as the only black child in his class. Every year, he said he was subjected to a month of taunts.

He said some people are afraid to speak against Black Pete because they fear even losing their jobs, and he had been warned against coming.