People speak out against blackface Christmas tradition

Seattle residents are speaking out against a holiday tradition of Blackface.

SEATTLE — Some Seattle residents have decided to speak out against an annual Dutch Christmas celebration involving people in blackface.

Now, the Holland America Club, who hosts the annual Sinterklaas party in Lake Forest Park, will consider whether to continue having the blackface characters at next Sunday’s event.

Members of the Dutch community in Seattle told KIRO 7 that in Northern Europe, Santa Claus has a helper named “Black Pete” or “Zwarte Piet.” He brings the toys in a big bag for the good children and switch to punish the bad children. Zwarte Piet is also the one who goes down the chimney, while St. Nicholas is on the roof on a white horse, according Eta Gratama, the consular assistant for the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

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Gratama, who works for the consulate in Bellevue, said, “It has nothing to do with slavery; it is just a tradition of about 200 years old, that St. Nicholas came with his helpers, and they happened to be black.”

Julie van Arcken, a Seattle resident who recently found out about the practice, said, “I think that’s a fine tradition, but I still don’t see why white people need to be dressed in black face with exaggerated racial features.”

Van Arcken, who is part Dutch, said she would not take her daughter to such a party.

“It’s my understanding he’s supposed to be a slave. So in a country with a history of slavery, it doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.

Van Arcken is among a group of people who started speaking out against having people in blackface and posted videos of previous parties to share on Facebook.

The president of the Holland America Club, Mireille Koenders-Kools, told KIRO 7 the Sinterklaas party has been held in Seattle for about 50 years.

She said there will still be a party next Sunday, Nov. 16, but they have not decided yet whether there will be any “Black Peters.”

Koenders-Kools said that she is aware the same conversation is taking place in the Netherlands. She said they are actively monitoring the discussion, take all viewpoints into account and act accordingly.