UK

Blackface Dancers Are 'Proud British Tradition,' Not Racist, Says Labour Candidate Will Straw

22/04/2014 10:12 BST | Updated 22/04/2014 10:59 BST

A Labour candidate has defended rural English dancers who black up their faces - claiming critics are ignorant of history.

Folk dances that involve "blacking-up" are a proud English tradition and should not be regarded as racist, Will Straw – Jack Straw's son – said.

The Rossendale and Darwen candidate was criticised this weekend after posting an image of himself on Twitter with the Britannia Coconut Dancers of Bacup, a 150-year-old troupe of Lancastrian clog dancers who perform every Easter.

Straw's Conservative Party opponent, Jake Berry, also posted a photograph of himself standing with the leader of the Bacup troupe on Twitter.

The group's website reveals: "The dances they perform are actually folk dances and the custom of blackened faces may reflect a pagan or medieval background which was done to disguise the dancers from being recognised by evil spirits afterwards, it may also reflect mining connections."

But critics claim the practice is offensive, because blacking up has often been used by white performers to parody black people and culture.

Straw said people who claim it is offensive need to “mug up on their history” saying the town should be praised for maintaining its traditions.

“As many small towns throughout Britain struggle to maintain their identity against a tide of national retail chains, betting shops and fast food outlets, Bacup’s annual dance provides a window into a previous era," he wrote for the Telegraph.

“But it’s traditions from the past which give communities a sense of common identity for the present and the future. May the Coconutters continue for many years to come.”

But some were left unimpressed by his argument: