'Black Pete' tradition emboldens racism, says Liverpool star Georginio Wijnaldum

Liverpool and Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum tells Darren Lewis that he doesn't "stand behind" the use of Black Pete - a highly controversial Dutch Christmas character - in his home country.

Posted: Dec 20, 2019 7:50 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2019 7:50 AM

The Dutch Christmas character 'Black Pete' -- full blackface, a curly afro wig, red lipstick and large gold earrings -- is one that Liverpool star Georginio Wijnaldum knows well.

The controversial caricature has been a historical part of Holland's Saint Nicholas festivities -- celebrated on December 5 -- but has recently attracted protests across the country with critics arguing it's a throwback to colonial times.

As a child growing up in Holland, Wijnaldum initially associated the character with getting presents but the tradition soon took on a more sinister meaning.

"When you get older, and people are calling you 'Black Pete' and you were like, hey, wait, why are you calling me 'Black Pete?' What's the point of calling me 'Black Pete?'" he told CNN Sport. "Then you will understand. But when I was young, I didn't understand because we get presents and it was nice."

Wijnaldum spoke to CNN after a soccer match in Holland's second division was temporarily halted after Excelsior winger Ahmad Mendes Moreira was subjected to alleged racist chanting by the home fans, including songs about 'Black Pete.'

READ: Racist and homophobic incidents tarnish 'best league in the world'

'I don't stand behind that culture'

'Black Pete' or 'Zwarte Piet,' as it's known in Holland, was popularized in a 19th century children's book and has been seen on both television and in streets carnivals around the country ever since.

The character is the helper of Sinterklaas, the figure based on St. Nicholas who served as inspiration for Santa Claus.

However, Dutch international Wijnaldum says the tradition only serves to embolden racism in the country.

"They always say it is a party for the children. The children only think about the presents they get," he added.

"They don't really think about Black Pete. If it's a rainbow Pete or another Pete, if they get the presents, they will be happy because that's how children are."

Despite its critics, many in Holland continue to defend the character and want to maintain the tradition, saying the blackface only represents the soot from the chimneys 'Black Pete' climbs down to deliver presents.

But Wijnaldum says the character's supporters do not understand the affect it has on the country's black population and urged more people to take the protests seriously.

"They don't feel what we feel as a black person. They don't get abused like that. I don't stand behind that culture," he said.

Recent protests have instigated efforts to make the character less controversial and this year's parade in Amsterdam opted for 'Chimney Pete' -- with actors wearing soot marks on their cheeks instead.

A poll of 76,000 people by Dutch current affairs program EenVandaag showed 71% were still in favor of maintaining the traditional appearance of 'Black Pete.' That's down from 89% in 2013.

However, according to EenVandaag, while the number of people supporting 'Black Pete" had been steadily reducing over the years, it had recently started to stagnate.

CNN contacted the anti-'Black Pete' campaign group -- 'The Zwarte Piet is Racisme' -- but has yet to receive a response.

READ: Italian newspaper accuses critics of 'lynching' after headline race row

Fighting racism

As well as enjoying a successful season with Liverpool on the pitch, Wijnaldum has also been using his elevated platform to fight racism in the game.

After a spate of racist incidents in European football, including the one Holland, the 29-year-old celebrated a goal for the national team in November by pointing to his skin in protest to racism.

READ: Italian soccer anti-racism monkey artwork provokes 'outrage'

He also said he was prepared to walk off the pitch during any game if he heard racist abuse from the stands.

"I think everyone should do it [walk off]. I think that's the way you support another person, because why should you go on? If you play on, it will never stop," he told CNN Sport.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 49063

Reported Deaths: 2732
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11760689
Lake5276246
Elkhart340255
Allen2835133
St. Joseph200169
Cass16429
Hamilton1608101
Hendricks1425100
Johnson1296118
Porter76738
Tippecanoe7359
Clark66844
Madison66764
Bartholomew59145
Vanderburgh5876
LaPorte58326
Howard58058
Kosciusko5624
Marshall5016
Noble48528
LaGrange4779
Jackson4733
Boone45443
Delaware45252
Hancock45236
Shelby43125
Floyd38444
Morgan32731
Monroe30928
Montgomery29720
Grant29626
Clinton2902
Dubois2886
Henry28216
White26610
Decatur25432
Lawrence24825
Dearborn23823
Vigo2388
Warrick22729
Harrison21622
Greene19032
Miami1862
Jennings17712
Putnam1708
DeKalb1634
Scott1628
Daviess14817
Wayne1436
Orange13623
Perry1359
Steuben1302
Franklin1268
Ripley1247
Jasper1232
Wabash1142
Carroll1102
Fayette1037
Newton9910
Gibson982
Whitley975
Starke943
Randolph804
Huntington782
Jefferson762
Wells751
Fulton721
Jay680
Washington671
Pulaski661
Knox640
Clay604
Rush583
Owen501
Adams491
Benton480
Posey450
Sullivan451
Spencer441
Brown421
Blackford392
Crawford320
Fountain322
Tipton311
Switzerland280
Parke240
Martin220
Ohio180
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 60181

Reported Deaths: 2991
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10879439
Cuyahoga8277383
Hamilton6287206
Lucas2836303
Marion273639
Summit2241207
Pickaway220541
Montgomery220131
Mahoning1861239
Butler167447
Columbiana130960
Stark1156113
Lorain106468
Trumbull99774
Warren89525
Clark7809
Delaware61715
Fairfield60517
Tuscarawas58510
Belmont55522
Medina54332
Lake52920
Licking52012
Miami47531
Portage46159
Wood45251
Ashtabula43744
Clermont4317
Geauga41443
Wayne36552
Richland3515
Allen32841
Mercer2909
Greene2879
Darke25326
Erie25022
Holmes2453
Huron2282
Madison2029
Ottawa16024
Washington14020
Sandusky13814
Crawford1365
Putnam13215
Ross1323
Coshocton1302
Hardin12312
Morrow1181
Auglaize1074
Jefferson922
Union921
Monroe8917
Muskingum891
Hancock831
Preble801
Athens791
Hocking798
Guernsey763
Lawrence740
Williams722
Shelby704
Clinton680
Logan651
Fulton630
Ashland621
Carroll603
Wyandot605
Brown591
Scioto540
Defiance533
Knox531
Fayette480
Highland461
Champaign441
Van Wert420
Perry371
Seneca352
Henry320
Jackson260
Paulding260
Adams241
Pike240
Vinton222
Gallia201
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 75°
Angola
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 73°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
74° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 74°
Decatur
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 72°
Van Wert
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 72°
AM Storms, Slightly Cooler Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events