Mel B Gets Praise For Shutting Down Blackface In Resurfaced Spice Girls Clip

A clip from a 1997 Spice Girls appearance on the Dutch TV show “Laat de Leeuw” has made its way onto TikTok, and many people are praising group member Mel B for the way she firmly shut down a racist situation.

In the clip, which also received notice in 2017, host and comedian Paul de Leeuw introduces the girl group to several white performers dressed as “Zwarte Piet” or “Black Pete,” a controversial Dutch Christmas character.

Black Pete is traditionally portrayed by people wearing big red lips, frizzy wigs and blackface, per Reuters.

“I don’t like them,” Mel B, who is Black and whose full name is Melanie Brown, shouts in the clip ― even before the people dressed as Black Pete are paraded on stage.

“Nooo!” bandmate Geri Halliwell can be heard yelling as the performers come frolicking out.

As five people decked out in blackface, minstrel garb, red lipstick and gold hoop earrings surround the singers, Mel B implies that this scene is pretty terrifying even for Scary Spice.

“I think they shouldn’t paint their face. You should get proper Black people to do it, you shouldn’t paint their faces. I don’t think that’s very good,” she says.

“No, no, no, but that’s tradition. That’s culture, that’s tradition,” de Leeuw argues ― before joking that one of the Black Petes is actually Winnie Mandela, the South African politician and second wife of South African President Nelson Mandela. South Africa was once part of the Dutch colonial empire.

“I think they should change it. I think you should change it,” Mel B says firmly. “You shouldn’t have their faces painted. This is the ’90s.”

“No, but it’s culture,” de Leeuw says, to which Mel B replies: “Update your culture. You should get proper ones — proper Black people.”

Victoria Beckham, Emma Bunton, Melanie Brown, Geri Halliwell and Melanie Chisholm of the Spice Girls at the 14th Annual MTV Video Music Awards in 1997.

Vinnie Zuffante via Getty Images

TikTok users lauded Mel B and her bandmates for condemning the tradition.

“They were so real for this, even by ’90s standards,” one commenter said.

“Culture is such a feeble excuse,” another TikToker wrote.

Some in the Netherlands agree with the argument that tradition is a poor excuse for blatant racism.

Dutch writer Joost de Vries wrote a piece for The Guardian in 2018 titled “Black Pete: the scandal we Dutch can’t stay silent about any more.” De Vries wrote that the character Black Pete acts as Santa’s “muscle man, his enforcer.”

“In the olden days, if children had behaved badly during the year, Pete would give them ‘the switch,’” de Vries wrote. “Or worse, he would stuff them in a sack and take them away.”

Antiracism activists in the Netherlands have also protested depictions of Black Pete in public holiday appearances. Despite an active “Kick Out Black Pete” movement in the Netherlands, Reuters reported in 2019 that an opinion poll showed 59% of Dutch people wanted to keep Black Pete in blackface.

Some major Dutch cities, like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, have nevertheless tweaked Black Pete, depicting him with just black smudges on his face to represent soot from going up and down chimneys.

And in 2014, de Leeuw, the host who introduced the Spice Girls to Black Pete in 1997, reportedly said that the Dutch should get rid of the character, explaining that he’d had a change of heart after watching the film “12 Years a Slave.”

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