So Long, Black Pete: Reforming a Dutch Blackface Tradition With Poldermodel : Rough Translation Resolving conflict through consensus is a very Dutch tradition. But how do you compromise when it comes to racism? This week on Rough Translation, the controversial Dutch character Black Pete, and how Black Lives Matter may have helped change the holiday season in the Netherlands forever.
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So Long, Black Pete

So Long, Black Pete

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A protestor at a rally against the Dutch holiday character, Black Pete, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images hide caption

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Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A protestor at a rally against the Dutch holiday character, Black Pete, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Every December, many people in the Netherlands paint their faces black, wear afro wigs, and put on fake Caribbean accents to portray a fictional character named Zwarte Piet or Black Pete. He's an assistant to Sinterklaas, the Dutch take on St. Nicholas. Many Dutch people insist the character is not racist — they say, it's just Dutch tradition.

On this episode of Rough Translation, we follow an Afro-Dutch activist who combats this practice with another very Dutch tradition. The Dutch poldermodel is a consensus-building approach where you discuss your differences until you come to a compromise. It's credited with achieving landmark progressive reforms like making same-sex marriage legal in the Netherlands, the first country in the world to do so.

The polder model has worked in the past, but can it be the key to finally ending the Black Pete tradition? Or does consensus-building fall apart when it comes to discussing race?

Additional Context:

  • The polder model is not just used in Dutch politics. As writer Dan Kois discovered, it is an important part of parenting in the Netherlands, too. 
  • The Netherlands' neighbor, Belgium, is also reckoning with its own long history with colonialism, blackface traditions and racism.