Will Straw defends 'black-face' Britannia Coconut Dancers, but anti-racism campaigners call makeup 'unacceptable'

The Britannia Coconut Dancers' costumes imitate north Africans who settled in England and the community's mining traditions.
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Labour Parliamentary candidate Will Straw has defended a photo he shared online which shows him with a pair of Morris dancers with their faces painted black, after their makeup was called racist.

But anti-racism campaigners maintain that so-called "blacking-up" is "out of date" and "unacceptable in modern day Britain," after Twitter users rallied against the photo.

The 32-year-old Labour candidate for the marginal seat of Rossendale and Darwen, and son of former Home Secretary Jack Straw, was pictured with the Britannia Coconut Dancers of Bacup, Lancashire, on 19 April after their annual Easter Saturday Beating the Bounds performance.

During the ritual, which celebrates the arrival of spring, the 150-year-old troupe dances for ten hours from one side of the town to the other, dressed in black face paint, turbans, kilts, clogs, and with coconuts tied to their hands and knees.


While the origin of the costumes are not certain, the group has said that they reflect North African Moorish pirates who settled in England, as well as the area's mining traditions, according to The Telegraph.

The Coconutter's makeup has been criticised for its similarities to that worn in racist Black and White Ministrel shows, in which white performers paint their faces black to parody black culture, according to the newspaper.

Minutes after Mr Straw posted his tweet, users of the social media website had accused the photo of depicting racism.

""re you standing there with some people in Blackface??! WTF?" said one user, Alana Lentin.

 "You do realise that this picture is pretty offensive don't you?" said another called Lisa Maynard-Atem.

"If the tradition comes from emulating 'Moorish' people, then it is to do with race - it is blackface,"Suzanne Williams replied to Mr Straw's tweet.

However, Mr Straw has accused those who are offended of the practice as being ignorant of history.

 "Accusers [should] mug up on their history before making false accusations," he wrote on the Telegraph website.

"The dance, which marks the return of spring, is believed to trace its roots to Moorish pirates who settled in Cornwall and became employed in local mining.

"As more mines and quarries opened in Lancashire in the 18th and 19th centuries, a few Cornishmen are said to have headed to the area, taking with them mining expertise and the costume of red and white kilts, breeches, bonnets and blackened faces," he added.

But anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card has suggested that the makeup being a part of history is irrelevant.

A spokesman from the charity told The Independent: "The use of blackface is an out of date practice which is rarely seen these days demonstrating that public attitudes have long since moved on and that crude caricatures of black people are considered unacceptable in modern day Britain."