AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, CMC – A court has dealt a severe blow to a move towards the abolition of the “Zwarte Piet”, the blackface tradition in the Netherlands, after it ruled Thursday that the celebration does not lead to negative stereotyping of people of dark skin colour.
Some opponents of the tradition had filed a court motion against the decision of the Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan last year to allow black faced people in the Sinterklaas procession held in November last year.
But the court ruled that the procession was not discriminatory even as it acknowledged that the mayor did not take all interests, including those of the opponents, into consideration.
The ruling coincides with the visit of the chair of the United Nations working group on human rights experts, Professor Verene Shepherd.
Shepherd, a lecturer at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), had last year called for the abolition of the “Zwarte Piet”, the blackface tradition in the Netherlands.
Shepherd’s team had been appointed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) to carry out research into the Zwarte Piet tradition, after people of African descent in the Netherlands complained that the country was persistently ignoring their calls for the tradition to undergo a change.
Many Blacks consider the black faced, nappy headed and thick lipped helper of gift giver Sinterklaas an affront to their African heritage.
THE UNHCR team has since called on the Dutch government to take the lead in the ongoing debate about a tradition many Black people in the country find offensive.
Last year more than 20 complaints had been filed with the authorities to block the November 17 parade
The issue did not find favour with the Amsterdam’s City Council and a subsequent application for a rule nisi was thrown out of court.
But the opponents returned to court last month, acknowledging that even if the matter was thrown out, arguing that the discussion is more than the nostalgic sentiments surrounding the Sinterklaas tradition. This tradition headlines a bearded saint who arrives every year on a white steed to give gifts to children; black faced Zwarte Piet,who has thick red lips and nappy hair, and wears huge loop earrings, is his whacky helper. Opponents feel that this is stereotypical for people of African descent and label the entire tradition racist.
The court has given the mayor six weeks to test the license for the parade to the European Convention and the outcome will likely have an influence on whether Zwarte Piet is included in this year’s parade.