group of 75 antiracism protesters gathered this afternoon on the landmark Erasmus bridge in Rotterdam to protest against institutional racism in the Netherlands. The group hung banners from the bridge with the text ‘Black Pete is racism’ and ‘listen to black voices, don’t makes blackfaces’. This refers to a Dutch holiday tradition which is heavily criticised as racist, since it involves several weeks of people dressing up as ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (‘Black Petes’); acrobatic characters who typically wear blackface paint with red lips, golden hoop earrings and black curly wigs, dressed in colourful costumes. These characters in blackface act as servants to a white, saintly figure known as Sinterklaas. Over the last few years, the movement led by black Dutch people has become very vocal, organizing protests against public performances of these Zwarte Piet characters in blackface.
— Mariam El Maslouhi (@mariammaslouhi) 18 november 2017
Each year in November, thousands of people traditionally gather to greet Sinterklaas and the Pieten as they make a first appearance. In most cities this tends to be staged as a big event, including a festive parade though the city, and a public welcome speech by the mayor. The protest in Rotterdam was organized to coincide with such a parade.
As a boat full of blackface characters and the white saint was docking beneath the bridge, a spokesperson for the Stop Racism 2017 collective stated, “Having dozens of people in blackface with black curly wigs as part of this public event is unacceptable. It is hurtful and racist to keep organizing these events regardless of the protest of many black Dutch people. Our action is a wakeup call to the Dutch society and politics. We want to call attention to institutional racism in this country, of which the awful Black Pete tradition is a very visible example.”
We’re still waiting. The police is not stopping the blockade. Why not? https://t.co/0hZERQQXvW
— Anousha Nzume (@anoushanzume) 18 november 2017
Another protest this afternoon in the town Dokkum was forbidden at the last moment by the mayor. The highway to the town had been blocked by proponents of the Black Pete tradition, preventing buses with over a hundred protesters from entering the town. By the time police had removed the blockade, the mayor declared the protesters were late and ‘their safety could not be guaranteed’. One of the protesters in Rotterdam points to this as “yet another example of how black voices are being muffled in this country”. When people protested against this use of blackface in Rotterdam last year, 200 people were detained by police in a move that was criticised by human rights organisation Amnesty as being unlawful. The spokesperson for the collective ‘Stop Racism 2017’ said about this: “Especially the Black protesters suffered police violence during these arrests. We cannot stand by and watch these things happen, so this year we have again organized this peaceful protest. We need to stand up for a more inclusive and just society.”