Eversheds Sutherland has initiated a review of its offices' local customs after staff in Belgium took pictures of themselves posing with a man in blackface.
The firm's Brussels team published photographs on LinkedIn last week of a Christmas buffet attended by two guests dressed as Saint Nick and his problematic sidekick, ‘Black Pete’.
The egg and sausage roll buffet looks almost as offensive.
"Today we received a visit from none other than the Saint at Eversheds Sutherland Brussels!" read the accompanying message. "Thank you Santa Claus for thinking of us :-)" The duo were not employees of the firm and were provided by an external service (such a thing exists in Belgium).
After being contacted by RollOnFriday, Eversheds Sutherland made the Brussels office delete its post.
"Thank you for bringing this to our attention as we were not aware of this event", the firm said in a statement. "The LinkedIn post has now been removed".
Black Pete, or 'Zwarte Pierte', is a children’s character popular in the Lowlands. He was invented in the 1850s by an Amsterdam teacher who thought Santa required a companion. The character is traditionally portrayed by a white person in blackface, usually with exaggerated red lips, hoop earrings and a curly black wig.
A survey in the Netherlands in 2018 indicated that most respondents did not regard Black Pete as racist, and that children generally viewed him as a clownish figure rather than as a black person. Black respondents were less convinced.
As was the UN. Its Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the Netherlands in 2015 to “actively promote the elimination” of Black Pete. That suggestion was dismissed by the government of the time. One Dutch minister said things were changing anyway, and that at his children’s school “the Petes last year were orange”.
There were no such concessions at Eversheds Sutherland in Brussels in 2019. And the photo received nothing but praise from individuals engaging with the post, suggesting that plenty of other people do not perceive Black Pete as a racist hangover either. Associates at the regional offices of Allen & Overy, Baker McKenzie and Jones Day all gave it a thumbs up on LinkedIn.
Eversheds Sutherland said it would now check other offices weren't committing un-diverse howlers.
"Our intention is for all our festive season celebrations to respect the cultural diversity of our firm", it said, "and we will now review the position with all our international offices to ensure that any elements of local tradition and custom are appropriate."