Sunday 18 March 2018

Belgian minister slammed after 'blacking up' for Christmas party

Sven Gatz, the minister for youth, media and culture, dressed up as the character of Black Peter

Sven Gatz Photo: Twitter/@mariammaslouhi
Sven Gatz Photo: Twitter/@mariammaslouhi
Sven Gatz

A Belgian politician faces criticism after ‘blacking-up’ during a traditional Christmas ritual.

Sven Gatz, the minister for youth, media and culture in the government of the Flanders region, attracted criticism after dressing up as the character of Black Peter.

Sven Gatz
Sven Gatz

He published a picture of himself with a black face, thick red lips and a curly black wig, accompanied with the message: “And we sing and we jump and we are so happy, because there are no naughty children.”

Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet, is the traditional helper to Father Christmas in the Low Countries. But in recent years he has become a controversial figure due to growing public distaste for the practice of mimicking black characters.

Mr Gatz said he had been invited by his local priest to play the part following Mass.

Wouter Van Bellingen, the director of Minority Forum, said the move was tasteless. He told De Morgan: “Globally, there is criticism of the figure of Zwarte Piet. If you know that ... how can you post some pictures of yourself?”

Mr Gatz defended himself, saying he had “engaged against racism all my political life. And now I'm an ordinary racist because I coloured my face dark? Come on. Love, don't hate.”

In local tradition, Santa Claus – or Sinterklaas in Dutch – arrives on December 5 in the Netherlands and December 6, Saint Nicholas’s Day, in Belgium, accompanied by a gang of Black Petes, who hand gifts to children.

Opponents say he is a caricature of an African slave carried over from colonial times.

An Amsterdam court agreed with findings by a Dutch discrimination vetting board and a UN advisory panel that Black Pete is offensive.

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