Sinterklaas cancelled in New Westminster after concerns about blackface characters

A Dutch holiday celebration in New Westminster has been cancelled in the wake of a complaint about how it portrays people of African descent.

Sinterklaas was to take place at Holland Shopping Centre on Saturday (December 3).

The New Westminster News Leader reported that a man named Roger Jones objected to including a character known as Black Peter, who marches with Sinterklaas in the festival.

People who play this role cover their faces in black makeup, which is reminiscent of how racist American shows portrayed people of African descent in a bygone era.

The Sinterklaas website carries the following message:

Dear fellow members of the Dutch community,

We regret to inform you that the Sinterklaas celebrations for 2011, at the New Westminster Quay as well as at the Holland Shopping Centre have been CANCELLED.

We thank you all for your input in the Zwarte Piet discussion, and we encourage the community to keep up their Sinterklaas tradition.

For those of you who feel this is a great loss, we agree. We too are greatly saddened by the events of the past few weeks.

Sincerely,

The Sinterklaas Event Organizers

The holiday celebrates the birthday of Sint Nicolaas (also known as Sinterklaas), a kind Spanish bishop. It has been traditionally commemorated in the Netherlands on the evening of December 5. Sinterklaas arrives on a steamship accompanied by a valet, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), and other helpers.

According to the Amsterdam Tourism website, the names of naughty children are written in a large book, which Black Peter keeps for Sint Nicolaas. The kids "also know quite well that Black Peter carries a rod with him as well as a huge burlap sack, large enough for naughty children to be taken along to Spain".

Legend has it that Peter is black because he enters homes through chimneys to hand out candy and other treats.

According to the 2006 census, there were 2,335 people of African descent living in the federal riding of Burnaby–New Westminster. There were another 1,390 people of African descent living in the next-door riding of New Westminster–Coquitlam.

Comments (56) Add New Comment
sleepswithangels
This is outrageous. The next thing you know they'll be telling us we can't own slaves. The gall of those bureaucratic bastards. If I was 60 years younger I'd be safe and sound in the womb without a care in the world and political correctness would only be a distant hallucination/nightmare.
Now...where's the serving wench with my leg of Tofurky?
SMBs
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Bwaaa
You know...I'm offended by how kids are brought up thinking Santa Claus in the Western sense is traditional - despite its heavy brand association with Coca Cola. Despite that, nobody will pull Coca-Cola ads featuring Santa Claus upon my request. But one person complains about a traditional representation that doesn't sound racist to me - if it is rooted in the fact that chimney soot blackens his face.

How sad it is these days that our ideas of tradition that our kids will continue to learn upon are driven by a sugar water company.

That guy who complained and had these celebrations shut down should be ashamed that he is keeping young parade watchers from viewing a glimpse of an expanded view of the world. Go give them a coke while you're at it, buddy.
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Daniel
Sinterklaas is celebrated each year in the Netherlands with its full complement of Black Peters. The celebration dates from the 1600s and the exact origin of Black Peter is not clear. However, in its current format, there are no racial themes in the role part that Black Peter plays in the Sinterklaas event. To portray a link between the Black Peter character and with the American minstrels is false and demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the Sinterklaas tradition.

The modern Black Peter has a valuable role in the Sinterklaas event. Each Black Peter typically has a unique contribution (for example: rooftop logistics expert, I am not joking). They are part of a team, and while Sinterklaas is the boss, there is no master-slave relationship or anything similar.
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Goldorak
Triumph of political correctness... pouah!
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R2
Boooo New Westminster you PUSSIES.
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Mark Fornataro
David Sedaris had memories of hearing about this foolish tradition:
http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ1202-DEC_SEDARIS
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Martyn Hilbers
Black Pete my friend.

Black Pete handing out sweets and the right hand man of Saint Nicolas the bishop of Myara (in what is now Turkey).Patron saint of the children and celebrated as such by children for the last millenium at least in one form or another throughout the world.

As child I remember always being in awe by the appearance of these two with their beautiful gold embroidered clothes etc. (and never noticed either two in slave chains). I never made the association between Black Pete, with his thin lips and blue eyes in a pitch black face, and my African decent friends that I used to play and go to school with. In fact, as a childs logic is very simple, I always thought he was black because he went down the chimney to bring me my presents, he was my childhood champion !

Now looking at the discussion isn't it great that two figures the ultimate role models for children with such extreme complexions, are the best of friends relying on each other, working with onanother in harmony to bring us our presents? Isn't this the world's utopia that we are striving for and are trying to teach our children?

The two started out differently and are actually the Christanification of the Germatic god Wodan (Wednessday) who rides through the sky on his six legged white horse with on his shoulders two black ravens/crows. The crows fly to the people below and report to Wodan who is naughty or nice and Wodan punishes the naughty be throwing thunder bolds. This nature believe of old had no racial association nor has its' present form.

Ying and Yang, Saint Nicolas and Black Pete, the world without racism.... too bad that the black part has now been removed from worlds biggest childrens celebration and has become a (l)on(e)ly WHITE Saint Nicolas celebration without BLACK Pete.

Martyn
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Birdy
Can we apply this "one offended person rule" to geopolitical theatre in addition to parades?

I find our government's theatrical parade of violence in the Middle East offensive. Can we cancel that shit too? What's more offensive, institutionalized mass slaughter or a dutch guy in make-up?
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RChristina
Can't believe a stubborn Dutchman gave in to a more then likely an ignorant Caucasian who is paranoid they might offend their neighbors. More then likely this same person is saying happy holiday and not Merry Christmas.
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Foxxe Wilder
Amazing is it not? I am sure that there was not a SINGLE actual person of African descent that even considered this as an affront to them. (and personally I don't believe those numbers either, I've never seen more than 4 or 5 blacks in the GVRD in my LIFE!)

The biggest problem here is, the onus of the prejudism is STILL being displayed and THIS time on a purely traditional and honourable custom LONG KNOWN in Nederlands.

It is time you extremist activists grew the hell up and stopped firing your guns at shadow every time you hear a backfire from a car.
Being liberal means allowing ALL others to be themselves freely, NOT being so restrictive and conservative.
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GHNB
And I thought that Canadians were "all about children". Well I can tell you that a lot of children will be very very sad by this. Sinterklaas, after all, is for the children.
That, Roger Jones, is what you achieved. And probably a lot of "anger" against the African-Canadian community in New Westminster.
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Mike Puttonen
The Sinterklaas organizers have proved their mettle, with grace and sensitivity. I live in New West, and this is just another example of the damn nice people we have out here.

Perhaps the black is from the chimney soot, but then there's the record of imperial immposition that the Dutch share with English, French, Spanish, Belgians, etc.

Either way, in Canada the blackface get-up is associated with racist depictions of African American slaves and former slaves, and fer shur, historically, blackface has no place in a former terminal city for the "underground railroad".

The Sinterklaas organizers did the right thing all in all, showed real community spirit, real Christian spirit - a man asks for your cloak, give him you shirt, eh, the guy who said that was born on Xmas day - so good for them.
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Byron
So are Santa's elves next because they degrade short people? Both the city and this Mr. Jones should maybe get there facts straight as it has nothing to do with people of African descent. I hope the City of New Westminster does not have a Christmas tree in city hall or any Christmas decorations around town because that will offened non-christians.
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Weak.
F__k political correctness! Who cares? Why is everyone so damned sensitive!!!
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james green
All of you who can''t see that the portrayal of black people in such a degrading and racist fashion, are latent or closet racist. Sorry boys and girls, I have been black for 64 years and can spot a racist 100 feet away.
The way that children see other races portrayed forms their attitudes towards other races, cultures and religions. Black Pete, come on you folks, none of you cannot see the harm here.
Walk a mile millions of black peoples shoes and then tell us you support black Pete being anywhere.Those of you who think this has something to do with political correctness need to partake in some intellectual investigation.
You interpretive comprehension skills are missing.
To be clear. Thousands of Dutch people, including my Dutch wife see Pete as a symbol of racist. Period. If you cannot see it , wake up and join the world of thinking and caring people.
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GOT
@ James Green..."I have been black for 64 years and can spot a racist 100 feet away."...it's easy to find something if that's what you're always looking for.
One of the great traditions of Christmas is popular street theatre, aka 'spectacle' - hence pantomime, mummering, etc - much of which involves dressing up, including cross-dressing, and satirizing the existing social structure. A creative solution in the spirit of spectacle for the New West parade would have been to have a black Santa and a white 'Black Peter'. Kids would have got the joke. But so-called adults...now that's a big problem. First you need a sense of humour.
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hg
I suggest we disallow Santa Claus, he is overweight, a poster child for indulgent consumption. Also he dresses inappropriate in heated malls, thus setting a wrong example, he should dress in layers.
hg
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james green

Looking for, are you fucking kidding. Who wants racist acts committed against them. You are so average Canadian it stinks. When a black person spots racism it is said that he has a problem about his colour. Bullshit. Portraying black people the way Pete does and other black face degradations is just plain wrong.
I have a great sense of humour but I do not laugh when anyone is made fun of or bullied or distained in any way. Santa Claus is not representative of a race whoever hg is. And I add, of course an alternative should be fought and I am sure it will be without Pete for Pete's sake.
Merry Christmas to all and to all you racists good night.
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bvf
HI,

i live in the Netherlands and i don't understand all the commotion about our holiday.
The elf’s from sante clause are little people, but that is not offensive to smaller people.
In the Netherlands we don’t have this discussion for the simple reason, we celebrate it together. Children off all over the world living here with us and enjoying this holiday.
Why destroying a festive for children with racist thought of the grownups?
I have never heard a child mistaken a collard man with black peter.
So why are the grownups making all this fuss??
What you are doing is teaching children that there is difference between the colour of people instead of the magical make believe the so enjoy.
Maybe we should let children enjoy their festive and bother then with racism when they are older and more understandable what it means.
How will you explain to your children their wont be Christmas.. not because the have me bad but because smaller people say that Christmas is bad. We are talking about small children who really believe in Sinterklaas and black peter and thinking the have be bad all year\, or that the simply are forgotten… people please treasure the make believe world where small children live and don’t destroy that with grownup stuff.
I really feel sorry for your children that the have to miss this magical holyday!!

Hope you wont destroy Christmas for them…
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Mark Fornataro
to GOT- I'm with James Green on this; there is a big qualitative difference between types of humor: a type based on kindness vs a type based on evil.
You GOT, apparently don't get it. So you might have laughed along with Hitler when he was making jokes about Jewish people. Yes, its a slippery slope, and it comes down to whose ox is being gored.As James Green says " Portraying black people the way Pete does and other black face degradations is just plain wrong."Amen.Have you heard of Do unto others as you would have them do to you. That's a Christian passage so its relevant here since we are talking about what should be the true Christmas spirit.
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