The arrival of Sinterklaas in Meppel, Drenthe, led by several Zwarte Piet characters in blackface. Nov. 14, 2015 (photo: marcelarpmeppel / Twitter) The arrival of Sinterklaas in Meppel, Drenthe, led by several Zwarte Piet characters in blackface. Nov. 14, 2015 (photo: marcelarpmeppel / Twitter)
"Sober" blackface protest at Sinterklaas arrival
Sinterklaas officially arrived in the Netherlands on Saturday, accompanied by his controversial helper, Zwarte Piet. Though the assistants are mythologized as having dark smudges caused by soot, the character more closely resembles minstrels in blackface with nappy-haired wigs, large hoop earrings, big red lips and a buffoonish demeanour. The protest at Saturday’s national arrival parade in Meppel, Drenthe, was rather “sober,” according to broadcaster NOS. Most of the Zwarte Piet characters with Sinterklaas were in blackface this year, and only a few had smudges and soot smeared on their face instead. Several dozen people turned out for the organized protest along the parade route. They arrived on four buses and with a police escort after threats of violence were made against them earlier in the week. There were no known fights or arrests, as in previous years, and the demonstration was more toned down due to the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night. “Actually, this whole festival needed to be called off,” said protest leader Jerry Afriyie, who still turned out because of the issue’s importance. “We are here to show that we stand up for all people who feel hurt.” Many organisations representing people of color in the Netherlands believe the portrayal to be racist, and have called for the look of Zwarte Piet to become more neutral. Dutch traditionalists often counter this, saying the character is not racist, and that it is a part of cultural heritage they wish to pass on to children.