Actually, if you read about the history behind this, they really aren't being racist much...just a tiny bit. It's fascinating.
Wait, weren't the Dutch behind Apartheid? Yeah, there's definitely some racism here, just not as much as in Shirley Temple films or Bob Clampett's portfolio.
Growing up with these rituals i can confirm they are pretty innocent. As i recall they are supposed to be the helpers of Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa), so truly they are slaves. Also Sinterklaas arrives by boat, so it is pretty much a slave ship.
The "Pieten" are not really depicted in a bad light (or as being stupid), but if you've been naughty they might put you in a bag and take you bad to spain.
The Netherlands has a relatively large black community mainly due to it's colony days, but everyone seems to take this custom very lightly with very little protest.
Still, after the mid 80s i remember they changed the rhetoric; The Pieten were no longer black because they were black slaves from Africa, no, they now were black because of going through the soot in the chimney. This is why in most modern TV depictions you will see the black paint being applied imperfectly, to make it "non-blackface".
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