Zwarte Piet, or "Black Pete," has been controversial in the Netherlands for decades. A surprising number of citizens think the character, Santa's Little-Black-Sambo-lookalike sidekick, is harmless. An Amsterdam court ruled today that he's not.

The Associated Press reports, "the court said ... that Black Pete's appearance, in combination with the fact that he is often portrayed as dumb and servile, makes it 'a negative stereotype of black people.'"

Zwarte Piets were once openly characterized as Santa's slaves. Today, the Dutch refer to them as Santa's sidekicks and "good friends."

Protests against Christmas parades featuring hundreds of Zwarte Piets were especially strong this past December, and now parade organizers will have to reconsider including Zwarte Piets in this year's celebrations. But many Dutch citizens still don't get what the big deal is. According to Jessica Olien, who wrote about the phenomenon for Slate from the Netherlands in 2011,

Otherwise mature and liberal-minded adults may recoil from the topic and offer a rote list of reasons why Zwarte Piet should not offend anybody. "He is not even a black man," many will tell you. "He is just black because he came down the chimney."

Amsterdam parade organizers already have some solutions in mind, which include "using different colors of face paint for Pete, or merely smudging his cheeks with soot."

[Images via AP]