Arrests were made on both sides this weekend as protesters challenged the racial insensitivity of a traditional Dutch Christmas festival featuring the character “Black Pete”, invariably played by a white person in blackface.
The demonstrators, numbering sixty and who protested alongside children attending the festival, were arrested for dissenting in unauthorized areas. Thirty additional people were arrested for disturbing the peace, such was their response to the protesters.
The Netherland’s Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, expressed dismay at the event because, according to him, it breached the allowable boundaries of a civilized debate. He encouraged civic debate around the issue but criticized those who interrupted the children’s experience of the traditional festival. “Everyone can talk about Black Pete’s colour but you can’t disturb a children’s party like that,” he said.
Defenders of the celebration say Black Pete is merely St. Nicholas’ helper who was turned black by the soot of a chimney. Others clearly see the legacy of Dutch colonialism in Black Pete and dispute portrayals of racist stereotypes in the modern, multicultural world.
In her Big Think interview, Andra Gillespie, political scientist at Emory University, explains the kinds of racism that exist in America and what we mean when we talk about a “post-racial” society:
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