Dutch PM's opinions on blackface have undergone 'major changes' -- but he's not going to ban it

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the government should not impose a ban on the blackface character of Black Pete.

(CNN)The Dutch Prime Minister has said his views on the national tradition of dressing in blackface to portray the character of "Zwarte Piet," or Black Pete, have undergone "major changes" -- but he won't go as far as banning it.

Mark Rutte made the comments in parliament on Thursday, as anti-racism protestors across the Netherlands took to the streets in reaction to the death of George Floyd. The protests were organized in part by a group called "Black Pete is Racism."
The Dutch tradition of "Black Pete" typically sees a white person wearing full blackface, an Afro wig, red lipstick and earrings, and is often part of the Netherlands' St. Nicholas festivities in December.
    Popularized in a 19th-century children's book, the character still features in street carnivals and on Dutch television. But the character has increasingly come under criticism in recent years for perpetuating racist tropes.
    "I myself have also experienced major changes about Black Pete," Rutte said during a late-night parliamentary debate. "I also belonged to that group that said, 'Black Pete is simply black.'"
    People dressed as Black Pete arrive by boat during the traditional St. Nicholas parade on November 16, 2019 in The Hague, Netherlands.
    Rutte said his views had been influenced by speaking with people with "a darker skin color" and young children who told him, "'I feel incredibly discriminated against because Pete is black.'"
    Still, he said, the government should not impose a ban on Black Pete, and he expressed sympathy for those who do not want to let go of "that symbol."