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.

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But anti-racism campaigners maintain that so-called "blacking-up" is "out of date" and "unacceptable in modern day Britain," after Twitter users rallied against the photo.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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea