The chief protagonist of a Belgian parade, "the Savage," put on a show for hundreds of cheering and applauding spectators with his black costume and black body paint in the town of Ath on Sunday, in a move that was heavily criticized by anti-racism groups.
Every August, in a small town west of Brussels, a folk festival endorsed by UNESCO as a cultural heritage called Ducasse d'Ath takes place. The parade featured "the Savage," as it does every year; a character with chains clinging around his wrists and ankles, yelling incomprehensible noises to scare and entertain children, leaving black paint marks on their faces.
Mouhad Reghif, a spokesman for anti-racism group Brussels Panthers expressed his discontent concerning the character. "This character has all the degrading attributes that black people are given in the racist imagery of our societies," he said.
This month, the Brussels Panthers sponsored a petition signed by many advocacy groups and individuals, claiming the blackface character mocked and insulted black people, and requesting its recognition withdraw from UNESCO. It was reported on Saturday by Belgian Daily Le Soir that UNESCO was taking the matter in a serious manner, although it seemed unclear whether the agency would revoke the heritage designation from the festival or not. A wider debate in Belgium about the country's colonial past and how it deals with racism was highlighted by the controversy. Similar accusations of racism surface every December as ‘'Black Pete'' characters in blackface assist Santa Claus deliver presents to children in Belgium and also in the Netherlands.
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