Update: The Belgian Embassy is blocking anyone with questions from attending the event. They gave some of us tickets, and now they are asking us to confirm that we are Belgian or linked with Belgium (emphasizing security at the event) and that we “fully understand and agree with the terms and conditions of this children’s party that by tradition showcases Saint Nicolas and his faithful assistant, Pete.”
If you need to have “terms and conditions” for a children’s party, there is likely something wrong.
On December 9, the Belgian Embassy in Ottawa will hold a holiday party, with someone dressed as Pete. Their sooty version of Pete is a representation of Black Pete, a racist caricature of Santa’s helper.
On December 1, the Dutch store in Ottawa will hold its annual party, also with the “modernized” version of Black Pete, with soot streaks on his face.
Please tell the Belgian Embassy and the Dutch Store to cancel sooty Pete, taking their cue from the Ottawa Catholic School Board. OCSB has banned Black Pete from the Dutch Language School Sinterklaas party for a second year, saying the character is unacceptable in any shape or form, including Sooty Pete.
Here is a sample message to send the Belgian Embassy and the Dutch Store:
I’m writing to express serious concern about your inclusion of Pete in the holiday party, whether in full blackface or the soot-faced version.
Black people in Ottawa, and across Canada, face deep-rooted and pervasive racism. Black Pete is discriminatory, hurtful, and perpetuates racial harassment, discrimination and violence against Black people. It is deeply racist and insulting to Black people worldwide.
As César Ndéma-Moussa, president of North-South Development Roots and Culture Canada, explained last year to the Ottawa Citizen: “Soft-pedalling the character as Soot Peter is just a way of covering up the racism behind the tradition.” Last year, 452 people signed a Solidarity Ottawa petition against Black Pete.
I look forward to your confirmation that there will be no Black Pete at your event.
Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet, is the assistant to Sinterklaas, the wise and kind White saint who hands out presents. Black Pete is his bumbling dimwitted servant. Black Pete is usually presented in parades and parties by people in blackface — with black makeup, large red lips, a curly wig and gold hoop earrings. More recently, he is presented with soot streaks, less curly wig, minus the red lips and earrings. Either way, the practice is rooted in slavery and colonialism, in Canada as much as in Europe, and it contributes to anti-Black racism in Canada today.
This myth-buster from the European Network Against Racism, based in Brussels, challenges justifications the Belgian Embassy is using, like “this is a long-held tradition” and “sooty Pete has nothing to do with Black Pete”.
There is a growing movement in the Netherlands, Belgium and abroad against Black Pete practices. Unfortunately, Dutch and Belgian organizations continue to perform blackface pageantry. Help build the movement here to end this racist practice.
For more information: https://irenejansen.ca/2017/11/18/end-black-pete/
In November 2018, the Ottawa Carleton School Board had to clarify that its directive to celebrate without using Black Pete extends to Sooty Pete, which the Dutch Language School tried to introduce this year.