The row over Black Pete is a part of wider ‘Afrophobia’ across Europe, it’s been claimed.
The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) says the controversial character is “rooted in the legacy of slavery”.
ENAR used a debate on Black Pete in Brussels on Tuesday (December 16) to call on EU chiefs to act over “structural racism in European society”.
Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet, is the companion of traditional figure Saint Nicholas in Dutch folklore.
Those playing the controversial figure blacken their faces and put on a curly wig, red lipstick and colourful clothes.
Proponents say Black Pete is a tradition and not linked to racism. A survey in the Netherlands last year revealed 92 percent didn’t think the character was racist.
Supporters of the tradition include the country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, who said: “Black Peter is black. There is not much we can do to change that.”
ENAR said in a statement to euronews: “It is high time the European Union acts to address racism and discrimination against people of African descent in Europe.
“The ‘Black Pete’ debate in the Netherlands is just a reflection of the reality of Afrophobia across Europe.
“EU decision makers must recognise this reality and develop effective strategies to counter the structural racism that prevents the inclusion of so many Black people in European society.”
Swedish MEP Malin Björk said: “All European countries have these issues of Afrophobia to do away with and face up to. Traditions and culture must evolve. And in that process, the most valuable voices are those of people that experience Afrophobia. It is time to listen. To listen and to evolve!”
Scores of people were arrested in the Dutch city Gouda in November after trouble broke out during a re-enactment of the arrival of Nicholas and his Black Petes.
An Amsterdam court ruled the tradition did give rise to a negative stereotyping of black people, but this was later overturned by a higher court.