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.
Good to talk to Neville Earnshaw of world famous Brittania Coconutters in the New Inn. Great Bacup tradition. pic.twitter.com/8eRxFl8BpM— Will Straw (@wdjstraw) April 19, 2014
Just checked back on twitter & seen torrent of ignorant tweets on Britannia Coconut dancers. Nothing racist about it http://t.co/VgcTLzY412— Will Straw (@wdjstraw) April 19, 2014
Straw's Conservative Party opponent, Jake Berry, also posted a photograph of himself standing with the leader of the Bacup troupe on Twitter.
— Jake Berry (@JakeBerryMP) April 19, 2014
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.
@DerbyKat Well said. I'm astonished by the ignorance.— Will Straw (@wdjstraw) April 20, 2014
“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:
Jack Straw's son @wdjstraw parachuted into Rossendale, praises a racist custom as a "great tradition" to ingratiate himself with the locals.— Voluntary Anarchist (@VoluntaryAnarch) April 19, 2014
Tradition isn't an argument but an appeal to the senses. And in this case ignores caracicatures of blackfolk that predated trans-A slavery.— Salome Wagaine (@salomewagaine) April 21, 2014