A Netherlands’ Christmastime parade that for years featured white people wearing blackface makeup is doing away with that tradition after public backlash and, at times, violent protests.
For this year’s televised parade, the Zwarte Pieten – or “Black Petes” – who accompany Saint Nicholas will have “sooty faces” rather than blackface, The Guardian reported, citing the public broadcaster that organizes the annual event.
Critics have argued that the blackface characters, with their gaudy costumes, gold earrings, afro-style wigs and red lipstick are a reference to slavery. But defenders of the tradition have said the characters’ faces are black because of the many chimneys they climb down to deliver presents.
The controversy has at times erupted in violence. In 2017, defenders of the tradition clashed with opponents at a motorway in Eindhoven, where a brawl broke out and arrests were made, according to The Guardian.
Jerry Afriyie, who has been campaigning with the group Kick Out Zwarte Piet for over a decade, called the news “a beautiful historic day.”
“This is a victory for everyone who strives for an inclusive parade that will delight all children,” he said. “We want the tradition to continue for thousands of years – but adapted to the times.”
Though the blackface character remains relatively popular, nationwide polls cited by The Guardian reflect a waning approval. In 2013, 89 percent of the Dutch favored the character. Four years later, support stood at 68 percent.