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Amsterdam' Eberhardt van der Laan caught between Black Pete and a hard place

Amsterdam mayor, Eberhardt van der Laan holds up a t-shirt with the famous text "War No More". Under the text you read "Zwarte Piet". Patrick Mathurin
Patrick Mathurin

On Thursday, a substantive proceeding was held in Amsterdam in regards to the issuing of an event license for last years "Sinterklaas" [Saint Nicholas] parade, by Mayor Eberthardt van der Laan. The mayor issues the event license to the Sinterklaas Parade Foundation of Amsterdam, every year. After issuing the event license last year, around twenty petitioners filed complaints with the city, claiming that Black Pete is a racist element within the Dutch Sinterklaas holiday. A judge dismissed there complaints, claiming that they lacked merit. The petitioners weren't satisfied with the judges decision and filed a motion for a substantive proceeding.

Black Pete is portrayed with big red lips, wears big gold loped earrings and has nappy hair. Text in a popular Saint Nicholas song has also raised a number of eyebrows, "Even though I am as black as soot, I mean it good". Dutch documentary maker, Sunny Bergman mentioned during her testimony the pain that she feels when hearing those words. Bergman is one of the petitioners, involved in the ongoing court proceedings.

Sunny Bergman, Perez Jongloy and Barryl Biekman were allowed too restate the reason why they felt they're complaints did have merit. They were represented by legal adviser Frank King. "We wouldn't be here if Black Pete had blond hair and blue eyes," said King during the hearing. King believes that Black Pete is a racist caricature, that acts out negative black stereotypes. King stated that the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights has also released a statement where they say that: "Black Pete is a racist element within the Sinterklaas tradition". The legal adviser for Mayor van de Laan, A.J. Wildschut claimed that the statement from the institute didn't have any merit because it was sent to one individual by email and not announced publicly.

Representatives of the Sinterklaas Parade Foundation of Amsterdam, were also present. Representing the foundation were Jules Vos and Martine Willekens. Vos said that it is the foundations goal to organize an event that can be enjoyed by all Dutch citizens. They realize that there is a lot of controversy surrounding Black Pete and are open for dialog. Wildschut and the foundation believe that progress is being made, but it will take more time to find a resolution that everyone will be happy with.

King stated that Mayor van de Laan violated the Dutch and European Constitutions, when looking at articles that pertain to discrimination and racism. The reason why King feels that these articles were violated is because Black Pete demoralizes people of African descent, creating stigmas within these groups. King pointed out that Mayor van de Laan claims that he has spoken with all of the petitioners involved in the case, but this is far from the truth. Bergman, Jongloy and Biekman all confirmed that they haven't been involved with the so-called secret Black Pete talks that have been taking place. Wildschut stated that Mayor van de Laan did not violate any constitutional articles when issuing the event license. He believes that the mayor followed the rules and that the parade presents no danger when it comes to public safety.

Wildschut believes that the goal of the petitioners is to have Mayor van de Laan give his personal opinion of what he thinks about Black Pete. As a publicly elected official it is impossible for Mayor van de Laan to do this. Earlier this year, during an Anti-discrimination demonstration, Mayor van de Laan held up a anti-Black Pete t-shirt designed by Patrick Mathurin. The text on the t-shirt reads: "War No More Zwarte Piet," which is actually paying homage to the great Bob Marley. "I did not force the shirt into his hands. He was also willing to take a picture holding the t-shirt in front of him. His press secretary was standing right by him. The mayor then promised me that he would wear the t-shirt when the opportunity presented itself," said Mathurin.

The judges explained that they will review the case in its entirety and announce their verdict in 6 weeks, on July 3rd.

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