The Guardian reports the minister, Sven Gatz, took to Twitter on Monday to defend his actions with the following tweet:
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.
Gatz’s comments come just a day after he received criticism for tweeting the controversial picture on Sunday. Along with the picture, Gatz, a minister in the Flemish regional government of Geert Bourgeois, posted the following message:
“And we sing and we jump and we are so happy, because there are no naughty children.”
According to The Guardian, the Gatz photo was an attempt to dress up as “Zwarte Piet” – Black Pete – the Low Countries folklore sidekick to Santa Claus. The character is noted for being at the center of protests due to its racist elements.
Local tradition overseas has Santa Claus – or Sinterklaas in Dutch – arriving on Dec. 5 in the Netherlands and Dec. 6 December, Saint Nicholas’s Day, in Belgium. Accompanying Santa are numerous Black Petes who give gifts to children.
Opponents of Black Pete point out the racist overtones, saying that he is a caricature of an African slave carried over from colonial times, adding that white people wearing blackface makeup, bold red lipstick and Afro wigs usually portray him.
Despite Gatz’s attempt at damage control, Minority Forum director Wouter Van Bellingen labeled as tasteless, telling the Flemish newspaper De Morgen, “Globally, there is criticism of the figure of Zwarte Piet. If you know that … how can you post some pictures of yourself?”
The current uproar over Black Pete marks the latest development in efforts to combat the racist image. Last year, Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan, stated that Pete’s appearance would be changed over several years from his black face to make him look like he has been merely covered with soot from going down chimneys to deliver presents, the Guardian noted.
A court in Amsterdam that agreed with findings by a Dutch discrimination vetting board and a UN advisory panel that the look of Black Pete is offensive.