Police detain an anti-Black Pete demonstrator in Gouda, Netherlands, on Saturday.
Peter Dejong/AP
Police detain an anti-Black Pete demonstrator in Gouda, Netherlands, on Saturday.

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Dutch "Black Pete" tradition draws fire again with protests and arrests

In the Netherlands, Black Pete accompanies St. Nicholas

Some say the tradition is racist and offensive

CNN —  

The Dutch version of festive St. Nicholas is once again landing on the naughty list for some in the Netherlands, who say his Black Pete sidekick is a racist throwback to the colonial era.

Protesters gathered Sunday at Amsterdam’s festival honoring St. Nicholas – or Sinterklaas as he is known in Dutch – a day after 90 people were arrested in demonstrations surrounding his ceremonial arrival in country at the Dutch city of Gouda.

They carried signs reading, “Black Pete is racism.”

Only one person was arrested in Sunday’s event, according to CNN affiliate RTL and Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

Actors dressed as Black Pete arrive on a boat in Antwerp, Belgium, on Saturday.
Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP
Actors dressed as Black Pete arrive on a boat in Antwerp, Belgium, on Saturday.

In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is accompanied by a dark-skinned figure, often played by whites in black face who wear curly afro-style wigs and red lip coloring.

The character sometimes visits private home and hands out candy to children but also is reputed to take away the naughty ones.

The tradition has grown increasingly contentious in recent years, with the United Nations arguing last year in favor of a national dialogue on the practice.

Experts working under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Humam Rights last year said people of African descent found the character’s depiction “rooted in unacceptable, colonial attitudes that they find racist and offensive.”

The Dutch government replied that it was aware that the practice was offensive to some, and that it had received dozens of complaints a year concerning Black Pete since 2011.

Last week, a high-level Dutch court declined to rule on the controversy.

CNN’s Anna Maja Rappard contributed to this report.