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

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GREGORY WARNER, HOST:

You're listening to ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR. I'm Gregory Warner. In our last episode, we brought you stories of people around the world who hoped that George Floyd's killing by Minnesota police might spark change in their own countries in all kinds of ways. But today we're going to tell you about one place, one place where the Black Lives Matter movement might literally alter the season of St. Nick's.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Singing in Dutch).

WARNER: The Dutch character of Sinterklaas is a white bearded guy in red robes who delivers presents each December to good little children. But unlike Santa Claus, Sinterklaas shows up on Dec. 5, wears a pointy hat kind of like the Pope and he doesn't live in the North Pole but in Madrid, Spain. He sails each November by boat to Dutch shores.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOAT HORN HONKING)

WARNER: And Sinterklaas arrives not with a band of elves but with a helper known as Black Pete.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: Zwarte Piet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: Every year, white people in the Netherlands celebrate the season by painting their faces black, putting on afro wigs, painting on big red lips and talking in a fake Afro Caribbean accent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Dutch).

AMMA ASANTE: As a kid, it's fun. And I didn't know much about racism, so I wasn't aware of it, and I enjoyed it.

WARNER: Amma Asante moved to the Netherlands from Ghana when she was 6. And like a lot of Dutch kids, she used to look forward to Black Pete's arrival.

ASANTE: As a kid, I did because, you know, you get presents. You can eat a lot of candy the whole month of November (laughter).

WARNER: In school, she made Black Pete crafts with burlap and black yarn. Her parents even dressed her up as Black Pete for parties. And at the city Sinterklaas parade, she laughed with everyone else when Black Pete was dancing around.

ASANTE: Black Pete really acts dumb and stupid, you know? And Sinterklaas is the old, wise, white, generous, almost sanctified, holy white person seated on his white horse. So there comes a moment that you're like, oh, my God. Something doesn't feel OK. You know, especially when somebody's mad at you and they call you Zwarte Piet - oh, my God. So it's an insult? You mean me? You think I'm Black Pete? You think I'm dumb, I'm stupid?

WARNER: Soon, instead of looking forward to the season, she came to dread it.

ASANTE: I hate the months November and December. It caused so much pain.

WARNER: Amma's parents were both factory workers. She grew up in southeast Amsterdam, a largely immigrant neighborhood with other Ghanaian families as well as families from former Dutch colonies like Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.

ASANTE: I'm a working-class girl (laughter). Yeah, I am. I'm a working-class girl who, you know, has been able to emancipate herself through education.

WARNER: At age 26, Amma got her master's degree in international relations and that same year was elected to the Amsterdam City Council. Later, she became a member of Parliament, making her the only woman of color in Parliament at the time. And along the way, she started educating herself about Black Pete, how the tradition attained prominence in Amsterdam in the 1850s - around when minstrel shows became popular in the U.S. - how the original uniform of Black Pete with colorful, satiny sleeves was the way wealthy Amsterdam families would dress their Black child slaves. When she raised these facts with Dutch people, they'd not only deny that Black Pete was racist. They'd say Black Pete isn't Black.

ASANTE: There's no link between Black Pete and Black people.

WARNER: So why are you in blackface, she'd say.

ASANTE: And it's like, yeah, but he came through the chimney.

WARNER: His face is just dirty because he came down the chimney delivering presents.

ASANTE: OK, so you are white, and when you go through the chimney, your hair changes into afro and you get big, red lips and you start talking with an accent? So yeah. And now I'm a woman, a mother of two girls. And my children are called Black Petes by their - well, I wouldn't call them friends but their schoolmates. And it's painful.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: This is ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR. I'm Gregory Warner. We got interested in this story last winter, when the Sinterklaas committees formed in several Dutch cities said that Black Pete would not appear in their parades. Black Pete was gone, except in response, more than a dozen smaller towns affirmed the opposite. Black Pete would be welcome in their parades and their school plays. That same year, the annual Sinterklaas television program said it would not show Black Pete in its songs and sketches. Rival TV shows were then launched just so Black Pete would have a home.

It seemed that the fight over Black Pete was becoming a wedge issue that reminded us of the wars we have in the U.S. over monuments and military bases. Where one side says, this is racist; it has to go, the other side says, this is part of our cultural history. We're not going to erase it. In fact, we're going to dig our heels even more into preserving it. Here's the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, in 2014.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE: It's not Green Pete or Brown Pete. It is Black Pete, so I cannot change that.

WARNER: He talked about dressing up himself as Black Pete.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUTTE: I can only say that when I'm playing for Black Pete, I'm for days trying to get all the stuff off my face.

WARNER: The Netherlands, like other countries, grapples with its own disagreements and divisions. But unlike the United States and even unlike their European neighbors, the Dutch have their own unique tool for resolving situations where multiple sides do not agree. It's a system known as the polder model or poldermodel.

ASANTE: The poldermodel is really a Dutch thing. It forms a very important part of our political culture and the way that we get around with each other.

WARNER: People discuss their differences. It's very civil, and it can take a very long time.

ASANTE: It's like you talk, you talk, you talk, you talk, you talk until you reach a point of consensus.

WARNER: Amma has used this polder model as a politician. Actually, when we reached her, she had just finished a years-long polder about reforming the Dutch pension system, hearing everyone out, listening to all sides and finally coming to agreement.

ASANTE: It's about negotiating and trying to understand their point of view. And, you know, the focus of the poldermodel is we have to make something out of this together. We are all in this together.

WARNER: Before the poldermodel became part of Dutch politics, it was part of the Dutch landscape. A polder actually is a piece of land below sea level that used to be seafloor. Sixty percent of the Netherlands are polder lands, protected from flooding by a system of dikes and canals. And those dikes, of course, have to be maintained by every generation or the country floods. And that threat is real. A rite of passage for Amma's kids and every Dutch kid is to pass a swim test while wearing their coats and shoes. So one theory about the term polder model is that it applies the same collective approach to the land to Dutch politics.

ASANTE: And it works the best when, you know, we are able to lay aside our most strongest convictions of how things should be done or how the world should look like.

WARNER: It's the idea that in the end, we're all Dutch. We all live here. We should find some common ground. Could this tradition in the Netherlands of compromise and consensus be used to get rid of a different tradition - Black Pete? - when ROUGH TRANSLATION returns.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: This is NPR's ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner.

JERRY AFRIYIE: I'm walking towards the library.

WARNER: Oh, good. Good.

AFRIYIE: I'll be there in 30 seconds.

WARNER: Jerry Afriyie lives in Amsterdam, but during the holiday season, he is constantly on the road talking about Black Pete. Jerry did not expect to become an ambassador of the anti-Black Pete movement. It actually started with a piece of performance art in 2011 when he was 30 years old. He was working as a security guard, writing poetry at night, when he and a fellow poet decided to walk around Amsterdam with T-shirts that said, Black Pete is racism. They figured if they could get Dutch people to see this fact, they might start a conversation about other forms of racism in the Netherlands that Jerry says can be harder to see.

AFRIYIE: I think that is the most visible one. That's why we are fighting it. And also, fighting Zwarte Piet only expose the country to its own racism, but she's been acting like it's not there.

WARNER: They called it an art project in part because they worried about their safety. Jerry says when he wore his T-shirt to a Sinterklaas parade, he was pulled into an alley by three police officers and beaten up. While the Netherlands prides itself on dialogue and civil discourse, taking on Black Pete seemed to cross a line. As frontman for the organization Kick Out Black Pete, he has been pelted with eggs and bananas and beer cans. He's gotten death threats, one recently against his kids. And a month before we reached him last December, a meeting with his fellow activists about Black Pete was disrupted by shouts in the street and the smell of smoke. Through the windows, they watched guys armed with fireworks and baseball bats trying to break into the building where they were gathered.

AFRIYIE: They couldn't get in, so they smashed all the windows. You know, they smashed all the cars that were standing outside, you know? So we are talking about real violence.

WARNER: Jerry's middle names are Luther King, and he has come to expect his nonviolent protests will be met with rage. In fact, over the years, he has continued to go where he is unwelcome, engaging with every kind of Dutch person in a very polder model kind of fashion. He leaves his home in Amsterdam and travels to cities and towns where Black Pete is still publicly celebrated.

AFRIYIE: Oh, yeah, definitely. I thought it was important to be on the countryside for that sake, to make people become aware that as long we are all Dutch, there shouldn't be any place left in the Netherlands where Black people should be discriminated.

WARNER: We wanted to hear what one of those dialogues in the countryside might sound like. How would Jerry convince white Dutch people to take this beloved tradition connected with their cherished moments of childhood and just kick it to the curb? And so last November, as Sinterklaas decorations went up in the shop windows and the sweet smell of ginger nuts filled the air, we sent a Dutch reporter to visit one of these meetings in the city of Alkmaar.

And am I pronouncing it right?

KATINKA BAEHR: Yeah, Alkmaar. Yeah.

WARNER: This is Katinka Baehr.

BAEHR: I'm a journalist based in Amsterdam.

WARNER: She took the train 45 minutes north to Alkmaar, which is politically a different world than liberal Amsterdam.

BAEHR: It's mostly very sleepy and quiet.

WARNER: Though still a place where you can rent a bike from the train station.

BAEHR: You like that, right? Me being on a bike - that's very Dutch, isn't it? (Laughter) Going on reportage by bike - yeah.

WARNER: She bikes past 17th century buildings with clay roofs, past snowcapped green awnings, crosses canals on bridges so low that boaters have to duck their heads. And finally, she arrives at an old school building now used as a community center and locks her bike out front.

BAEHR: And when I came in, first thing I saw was two police officers. And later, I heard that they were there for this event.

WARNER: Just in case...

BAEHR: Just in case things would get out of hand.

WARNER: Things got really violent.

BAEHR: Yeah.

WARNER: The event was organized by a local group against Black Pete billed as a dialogue on ways to have a more inclusive Sinterklaas. And the setup is this idea of poldermodel - the polder model, as Amma Asante explained. You get together and talk out your differences. The front rows of chairs are for people against Black Pete, the back rows occupied by Black Pete's defenders. The room is physically divided.

BAEHR: And it was decorated with Sinterklaas stuff, which was all Zwarte Piet-free.

WARNER: Think presents, paper cups, plates - all Black Pete-free, as if to say the Sinterklaas feast can still be a party without Black Pete.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: One by one, the people in the front row stand up to tell their stories...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: ...About the insults you hear as a Black person.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Dutch).

BAEHR: Go back to your own country and that sort of stuff.

WARNER: A guy from the back row says, he doesn't see the racism in Black Pete. And then a woman from the front responds with a song lyric.

BAEHR: (Speaking Dutch).

Even though I'm Black as soot, I mean well. And she says, you know, that's negative, isn't it?

WARNER: Next, a Black woman in a red dress, who didn't give us permission to use her name or voice, says she's been called Black Pete. So has her mom. So has her son. A guy in the back row jumps up.

BAEHR: He said, so if people call you ape, should we forbid apes in the zoo? Everyone's like, what?

(CROSSTALK)

WARNER: And the meeting is just going back and forth like this. And then Jerry gets up. He's come to Alkmaar to support the local activists.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AFRIYIE: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: And he gives this big smile. He says, thank you for having me. He compliments the local soccer team on winning the championship.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AFRIYIE: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: He says he's from Amsterdam, but...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AFRIYIE: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: I have a thing for the underdog. And then he says, he immigrated from Ghana when he was 6 years old. He talks about his own kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AFRIYIE: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: Jerry says his daughter just quit gymnastics and drops a bit of TV-dad humor. He says, she should pay him back for all the gym classes he paid for.

(LAUGHTER)

WARNER: In case it's not completely obvious what he's doing here, he actually spells it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AFRIYIE: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: These are the basic things that make us able to relate to each other, he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AFRIYIE: (Speaking Dutch).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: And then he starts talking about when he's walking down the street, he'll see little children, 4 and 5 years old, point to him saying, look; Black Pete.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AFRIYIE: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: And then they hide because another job that Black Pete has is taking bad kids in a burlap sack back to Spain to work in Sinterklaas' factory.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: What Jerry is doing here with his whole speech, it is also part of poldermodel, where you lay out your position. And then you wait for the other side to speak. And it becomes a negotiation. As Jerry is talking, there's a young white guy with gelled hair in the back row, the pro-Black Pete row, who seems eager for his turn. His name is Thomas van Elst. He's the founder of an organization called The Netherlands is My Fatherland. It's an anti-immigration group.

The debate over Black Pete is often wrapped up with immigration and the question of who is really Dutch and who gets to weigh in on Dutch tradition. Thomas is reliably quoted in the press about keeping the Netherlands like it used to be. And as he stands up to speak, I mean, you could just picture this moment how it would be in the States. He's going to say something inflammatory. And people are going to argue. And the phones are going to come out to record everything. It's going to all blow up. But...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS VAN ELST: (Speaking Dutch).

BAEHR: He congratulates the organization with organizing this event because, he says - (speaking Dutch) - he doesn't do anything.

WARNER: Thank you, he says, for bringing up this issue. We don't talk about it enough.

BAEHR: So it's really cool that you do this.

WARNER: And, he says, we can agree on a lot.

BAEHR: Yeah. It's the first thing Thomas van Elst said. We can agree that I think it's horrible what people go through. And these racist elements, we should get rid of.

WARNER: So he was acknowledging that these are racist elements, actually?

BAEHR: Yeah, yeah.

WARNER: Both sides agree that Black Pete is racist?

BAEHR: Yeah. But what they say the Black elements are - the earrings, the afro hair and the red mouth.

WARNER: Those are the racist elements that Thomas suggests they banish right away. But you may have noticed there's one element of the Black Pete costume that is missing from his list, and it's a big one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VAN ELST: (Speaking Dutch).

BAEHR: Let's keep the blackface for two more years, and then we'll see.

(CROSSTALK)

BAEHR: And everyone was like, no, no, no. You just want to keep the blackface. He even said at one point, but we're so close.

WARNER: Like, we're so - our positions are so close together.

BAEHR: Exactly. We can get to a compromise.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: If you're not Dutch, this moment might sound promising, a step toward actual consensus. But one of the hallmarks of the polder model is that people can be very proud to show off how willing they are to compromise when, really, their position has hardly changed.

WARNER: Thomas sidesteps the main issue when he negotiates about Black Pete as if he's a figure of the past, a character out of Dutch history, instead of dealing with him is a stereotype of the present that is, every year, aimed at Afro-Dutch and Black Dutch people.

ASANTE: It doesn't work (laughter). It doesn't work.

WARNER: Amma says she's given up on the polder model when it comes to racism.

ASANTE: You talk and talk and talk, and you explain. And, you know, a friend of mine described as, you know, the only way that white people will understand racism is when I stop crying and I put my pain on the table. I have to describe my pain all the time until, you know, my humanity is also accepted.

WARNER: I wonder if the reason - one reason it doesn't work is because it just costs too much. It's too much to ask a small minority to have to constantly explain.

ASANTE: Yeah. It costs so much. You can't imagine how much it cost. I mean, the burden is always on you to prove that something was done to you or something was said to you or was not done or not said came out of racist motives.

WARNER: Jerry is familiar with this complaint. He hears it a lot from his team. In fact, that is the reason it's always him making these trips out to places like Alkmaar.

AFRIYIE: Yeah, definitely is. Most of the time, I'm the one doing the convo because a lot of people from our team, you know, they are fed up. Like, you know, this has been going on for years and before we were even born. So a lot of people are like, you know, tired of explaining to white people what racism is.

WARNER: Do you ever get tired of explaining to white people what racism is?

AFRIYIE: No. And I will explain why. The thing is that there are two Jerrys - the Jerry for the community who basically just do anything that is important to the community and you have Jerry the person.

WARNER: Jerry the person wonders if he'll ever feel at home in the Netherlands. But community Jerry regularly begins sentences with phrases like since we are all Dutch. Jerry the person has been beaten by police, but community Jerry meets with police to talk about reforms. And Jerry the person remembers every time that a teacher or coach or a friend looked into his eyes and with a straight face said to him, but Black Pete came down the chimney. He's not even Black.

AFRIYIE: What the country tells you is try to unsee it basically.

WARNER: Try to unsee it?

AFRIYIE: That's what the country is telling people. You know, like, what you are seeing is not true.

WARNER: Jerry always saw this excuse as a way to silence Black perspective. But community Jerry thought, what if we make the denial of the problem into a solution?

AFRIYIE: And then we were like, OK, who's going to lead? If you're going to continue to say he came through the chimney, then let's make it something that look like it came out of the chimney.

WARNER: What do you mean look like it came out of the chimney?

AFRIYIE: Yeah, you know, like "Mary Poppins," you know? They say it goes through the chimney, you know, so make it look like a chimney cleaner.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS")

DICK VAN DYKE: (As Bert, singing) Chim chiminey, chim chimeney, chim chim cher-ee, a sweep is as lucky as lucky can be.

WARNER: The alternative Pete that Jerry has been talking about for years now at these dialogues is called Chimney Pete. Chimney Pete has no Afro wig, no red lips and no accent. And instead of blackface, he's got a smudge of soot on his face. The defenders of Black Pete hate this chimney idea. You heard Tomas (ph) in the meeting. The one thing he wants to keep is the blackface. That is the tradition. But on the other side, some activists and Afro-Dutch thinkers also hated this compromise. They said that whether it's soot or black paint, you can't cover up the origin of Black Pete. He is modeled on a child slave. The tradition itself is tainted. Jerry's solution, they said, it still didn't work.

In this way, it's kind of like what happened in the U.S. this month when PepsiCo finally agreed to retire the pancake brand Aunt Jemima. They tried to change her image over the years. They got rid of her head wrap. They gave her a lace collar and pearl earrings. But, ultimately, people argued that you can't wipe out the character's origins in an antebellum song nostalgic for slavery. Aunt Jemima had to go. But with Black Pete, Jerry said we should get past this issue, to move the conversation on to bigger problems of racism in the Netherlands. And so he argued that both sides had to give up a little of what they wanted. To solve this, both sides had to polder.

AFRIYIE: Because I felt like, you know, I'm fighting the racism in it, not the tradition. I'm not fighting a tradition. I'm fighting racism.

WARNER: However you feel about Chimney Pete, it has caught on. In the cities where Black Pete has been banned from the parade, Chimney Pete has taken his place. And when the Sinterklaas TV show banned Black Pete from those songs and sketches, there was still a Pete, only now a guy with soot on his face. At the end of the dialogue in the city of Alkmaar, after Tomas offered his compromise, blackface for just two years, Jerry responded that the compromise has already been made. We already have a Polder Pete, he told him. It's Chimney Pete.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AFRIYIE: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: The meeting ended without consensus, but we wanted to call up someone from that meeting who is still defending Black Pete to see if any of this dialoguing had made a difference.

So I think - is everybody on the line?

RENE VAN SLOTEN: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Yeah. (Speaking Dutch).

VAN SLOTEN: Yes, yeah, yeah. (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: Rene van Sloten (ph) teaches horseback riding in a stable near Alkmaar. And when I tried to talk him about Black Pete, honestly, he kept talking about how the Netherlands is changing too fast.

VAN SLOTEN: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: Like you can't smoke anymore. Everything used to be normal, he says. And now it's not. One thing he and Jerry seem to agree on is that changing Black Pete is just the tip of the iceberg. He came to the meeting not so much to defend Black Pete as to express his anger at Jerry and the protest.

VAN SLOTEN: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: He says those protests only make the racism worse and the hatred worse.

VAN SLOTEN: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: I mean, listening to you, you're saying that the debate provokes more racism. But I think the other side would say that the debate exposes the racism.

VAN SLOTEN: (Speaking Dutch).

VAN SLOTEN: That's a really good one (laughter).

WARNER: It was like he'd never heard that idea before. But Rene says that at that meeting in Alkmaar, something did move him - when he heard that woman in the red dress talk about being called Black Pete. He felt compelled to go up to her and apologize, and they talked for a long time.

VAN SLOTEN: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: As Amma Asante would say, when that woman put her pain on the table, then she was heard.

Did it change your mind at all about Black Pete?

VAN SLOTEN: (Speaking Dutch).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: No, not yet. At this point, I don't think we should change the tradition.

WARNER: I reminded Rene that everyone at that meeting had agreed to change the tradition. Thomas said keep just the blackface for two years. Jerry suggested soot on the cheeks. So which compromise had he preferred? Rene answers with this quintessentially Dutch phrase.

VAN SLOTEN: En en.

WARNER: And and, or both and.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Maybe we should do both as a compromise.

WARNER: A compromise of the compromises.

I mean, what would that look like? Like, whoever wanted to have Chimney Pete would have Chimney Pete, and the people who wanted Black Pete would have Black Pete?

VAN SLOTEN: Yes, I think so.

WARNER: You think so.

VAN SLOTEN: Yes.

WARNER: Rene says there should be Black Petes, Chimney Petes. There's even a group fighting for Rainbow Pete. All the Petes are welcome because he believes in compromise.

ASANTE: Is it a solution to have a Black Pete, a Yellow Pete and a Red Pete? No - no Black Pete.

WARNER: Amma Asante says that's not a compromise. That is the status quo, which sums up her whole criticism of the dialogue approach when it comes to race. There is a lot of talking, but at the end of the day, it leads to people saying, you can have your Pete. I can have mine. It doesn't stop her kids or any black kids from being taunted. It doesn't help Dutch people recognize racism. So when Sinterklaas season ended last year, there was still no consensus on Black Pete - not in Alkmaar and not in the country. People were still divided. And then on a street corner in Minnesota...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Black lives...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: Matter.

WARNER: George Floyd was killed by police.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Black lives...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: Matter.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Black lives...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: Matter.

WARNER: Amma watched huge crowds in the Netherlands gather, saying black lives matter and not just in solidarity with the U.S. movement. They were looking at their own country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: No peace.

WARNER: And then she turned on the TV to see the prime minister.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUTTE: (Speaking Dutch).

WARNER: The prime minister says, my own thinking about Black Pete has changed. And he said, over time, societal pressure will force the tradition out. In other words, he wasn't going to ban Black Pete by decree. We'll get there together, he said, as a country.

ASANTE: I fell nearly - I fell from my couch. I was like, should we trust him or - you know, does he want to lure us into something?

WARNER: This is a very conservative prime minister, the same guy who said it would take days to get the paint off his face.

ASANTE: You know, everybody was like, OK. We wait and see. We don't believe him, but OK. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt.

WARNER: And even more shocking to Amma was that the prime minister admitted that there were, quote, "systemic problems" in the Netherlands around racism. Now she is more optimistic than ever that Black Pete might finally be on his way out, and she concedes that if not for all those years of discussing and poldering the issue, Dutch people would probably not have come out to the streets in such numbers.

ASANTE: There's quite a risk that we could have said, oh, that's in the United States. That's not us. And now there's no denial anymore. Now we are like, do you understand the crying and the fighting and the movement of Kick Out Zwarte Piet? Do you understand it now? And they are like, yeah, we understand.

WARNER: This November, the boat carrying Sinterklaas will once again arrive at Dutch shores. But for the first time, at least as of this writing, no municipality has agreed to host him and his entourage of Black Petes - not Amsterdam, not The Hague, not Utrecht and not Alkmaar. Black Pete - for now, anyway - has no Dutch harbor.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Today's show was produced by Autumn Barnes. Our editor is Lu Olkowski - reporting by me and Mitchell Johnson with help from Katinka Baehr and NPR's Joanna Kakissis. The ROUGH TRANSLATION team includes Derek Arthur, Tina Antolini and Jess Jiang. Special thanks to Jill Hudson, Robert Krulwich, Sana Krasikov, Rick Carr, Rachel Doyle (ph), Kelly Prime, Amy Josdavksa (ph), Dan Ephron, Ngo Fen (ph), Putu Bwele (ph) and Jonathan Gruber (ph). The ROUGH TRANSLATION executive team is Neil Carruth, Chris Turpin, Didi Schanche and Anya Grundmann - mastering by Isaac Rodriguez. John Ellis composed music for our show with more music from Blue Dot Sessions - additional scoring by Tina Antolini.

We are saying goodbye this week to our wonderful producer Autumn Barnes. Autumn started as an intern with us last year. We're going to miss her. She's done great work.

Hey, mom. I'm tracking. Can I...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: OK.

WARNER: No, but I need you to leave, actually.

OK. Sorry about that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: No worries.

WARNER: By the way, that fall internship is still accepting applicants, so if you want, go ahead and apply. This story about Black Pete actually started with a listener email. Thank you to that listener, Jamie Fairbeck (ph). And, you know, we love to hear from you - your story ideas, your ROUGH TRANSLATION moments wherever you are in the world. You can drop us your thoughts at roughtranslation@npr.org or on Twitter at @Roughly. I'm Gregory Warner, back in two weeks with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.

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