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Zwarte Piet: Holland’s Christmastime tradition racist?

Zwarte Piet: Holland’s Christmastime tradition racist? | Geography Education |

In the Netherlands, Santa doesn't have little elves; he has a helper (slave?) named Zwarte Piet, literally Black Pete.  He delights kids with cookies and a goofy persona.  Foreign visitors are startled by his resemblance to Little Black Sambo.

Seth Dixon's insight:

Is this a harmless cultural tradition or is it racist?   Why might some Dutch not see this as offensive?  Why might someone not from there react so strongly to this caricature? What do you think?  (Note: a Dutch friend of mine was quick respond: "Sinterklaas' helpers are black because of the ashes in the chimney."  I'm curious to know whether that was always the case or if it's a way to 'whitewash' an old tradition from a bygone era.  And yes, this is an annual controversy). 

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