staircase2

The Ramblings of My Brain

‘Racist? No, our black-face dance is a proud tradition’ – the curious case of the Bacup Coconutters

4 Comments

I’d just like to point out a few things:

While I am persuadable as to the notion of an English folk tradition of face blacking as disguise (as opposed to minstrelesque blackface: http://black-face.com/), I am, however, minded of several facts which contradict the vociferous claims of those decrying that the Bacup Coconutters’ show could possibly be deemed in any way racist.

1) despite repeated claims that the Coconutters have been doing this for 150 years (as if this somehow completely destroys any possibility that the show could be deemed racist by virtue of how ‘traditional’ it is), their badge says that they celebrated their centenary in 2003, having been originally formed in 1903 (https://twitter.com/marcusine17/status/458521459632406528). This does, of course, mean they’ve now been at it for *111 years…not 150 years…

*(On their website (http://www.coconutters.co.uk/history.htm) they do however say they are ‘descended’ from another troupe called the Tunstead Mill Troupe, ‘who celebrated their half century in 1907′.)

2) you’ll notice, on looking at the Coconutters’ badge (https://twitter.com/marcusine17/status/458521459632406528), that they’ve chosen as their logo, a cartoon image which doesn’t really conjure up ‘authentic’ ‘traditional’, ‘English’. Actually it looks like a racist caricature and wouldn’t be out of place on a piece of literature by a far right racist organisation like the BNP or EDL. It is simply untenable that the Coconutters are unaware of the message this gives out nor the need to rectify this.

3) the name ‘Coconutters’ belies the fact this is some harmless ancient and decidedly not racist ‘traditional English’ pursuit. Firstly because coconuts are not indigenous to the UK (and therefore cannot add weight to the idea of ‘traditional’) and secondly because the word ‘coconut’ has a long history as a term of abuse towards Black people, given that the coconut IS indigenous to tropical and sub-tropical areas around the world.

4) to my eyes, the costume that the Coconutters wear doesn’t look traditionally English at all; instead looking much closer to many northern European national costumes (of course I may be wrong about this and am open to more informed opinion).

5) the Coconutters’ own website (http://www.coconutters.co.uk/history.htm) gives a broad set of possible theories as to the history of their tradition but is understandably vague about its exact origins; ’emphasis must be placed on the fact that everything we’ve said is in no way authoritive and is open to debate’.

6) Many Black people will also be perturbed by the Coconutters’ use of the word ‘exotic’ on their history page to describe themselves (a word which has traditionally been used to describe people and things from the far-flung corners of the historic British Empire…this therefore carries historic racist overtones for many).

7) despite claims on the part of supporters that the Coconutters’ show must be viewed differently from the minstrel tradition of blackface (http://black-face.com/) due to ‘a separate tradition’, as I understand it there WAS an historic overlap between the two traditions as detailed in this generally excellent work by Patricia Bater: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/4181/1/MPhil_upload.pdf

To Sum Up
It’s important to realise that just because someone is not ‘maliciously intending’ to be racist, doesn’t mean that their actions therefore cannot BE racist (ie that it’s possible for people to be racist without meaning to be). It’s equally important to realise that someone does not have to be A racist in order to do something which IS racist.

(There is currently much confusion about this in the arguments of many vocal supporters’ of the Bacup Coconutters’ show who, ironically, appear to be completely unfamiliar with conversations about the nature of racism.)

To sum up, despite this show having been performed throughout the living memory of local inhabitants, it simply cannot be possible that it in 2014 it has escaped their notice as to how racist it could appear to be. On those grounds alone, the Coconutters and Bacup should take it upon themselves to deal with the issue head on and make their case if they genuinely believe it isn’t and modify it if they understand that it is.

‘Tradition’ is no excuse for racism and education is needed to enlighten others of the ‘real history’, should that in fact be the case, as purported by Coconutters supporters. Either way the Coconutters have some work to do.

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Author: staircase2

The fight for equality is always marked by the shining of light onto the darkness of ignorance and fear

4 thoughts on “‘Racist? No, our black-face dance is a proud tradition’ – the curious case of the Bacup Coconutters

  1. I’m actually really offended by the attack you have made on the coconutters, as no one knows for certain where the dance originated from how can you call them racist? Do you find the dance offensive? If its origins are from another country why is it a bad thing that they have been preserved? Why do you see the colour black as being so bad? If coal had been purple then their faces would have been purple also, would that have been offensive to you?
    Also I’m unsure of why you have taken offence to the badge, it is a cartoon image of a coconutter, it has no hidden message it is what it is an harmless cartoon of a coconutter.
    I have watched the coconutters nearly every Easter Saturday of my life and never ever ever have I thought it as racist, and I believe I can speak for the people of rossendale when I say neither have they. Only you and a number of other people are turning an innocent tradition into a race matter. By attacking the coconutter you are attacking the rossendale people and our traditions. I very much doubt this comment will change your perception on the matter, but I just wanted you to know your comments are hurtful.

    • Did you actually read what I said? If you had, you’d have found the answers to your questions inside the blog. Please re read it.

      You are not alone in feeling under attack – there are many people who are failing to understand why what the Coconutters are doing with their show could be perceived as racist. The Telegraph is full of shining examples of people having a really hard time dealing with it.

      I’d be happy to talk further once you’ve read what I’ve written.

  2. It could only be perceived on first light as racist due to the appearance of the blacked up faces, yes i get that, but once its looked into you find out it has nothing to do with race. So what your saying is putting black on your face is stereotypically a racists thing to do, and as not to appear racist it shouldn’t be done, irrelevant of whether it is actually racist.

    By doing that the colour black is being perceived as something bad and a colour we should be wary of using. Its a shame you see black in this way, i hope your not offended by the wording of it as I’m guessing my sir name may cause you offence.

    • If you read what I said, it’s pretty clear I’m not saying that

      I’ve done a fair amount of research so as to be fair and I’ve laid that out in the initial posting as well as the endless conversations with people on the Telegraph comments.

      The main thing that many people are having the biggest problem in grasping is that someone doesn’t have to be * a * racist in order to do or say something which * is * racist.

      Similarly it’s possible for people to * be * racist without realising they’re doing it.

      The fact that you would think I might somehow take offence at your last name tells me you’re not used to having (or are uncomfortable having) a conversation about racism. This is actually quite normal for most White people (I’m assuming you’re White based on what you’ve said) simply because most White people don’t have to experience racism on an every day basis in the way that Black people and other People of Colour do.

      The world would be a far better place if NOONE did, but sadly we’re not at that point as yet.

      As I’ve said repeatedly, if the Coconutters genuinely believe their show is without racism then they should make their case to demonstrate that and educate people as to the ‘real history’ of what they do.

      However, even their website doesn’t do that. Patricia Bater’s work indicates that there was crossover in the UK between the tradition of face blacking (as disguise) and the influx of minstrelesque blackface during the same period of time that the Coconutters were being formed. I would be very surprised if that didn’t have an impact on the Coconutters.

      It’s really very simple – I very much get the impression that the Coconutters are themselves not comfortable with the whole conversation about racism. If they wish to continue doing what they’re doing in England 2014 that’s something they need to address.

      I appreciate the sum of their organisation might entail little more than dancing at Easter and the odd personal appearance around the country but what they’re doing offends a great many people. It’s only right that they stand up to that and make their case properly and fully. So far (as far as I’m aware) there’s been a deafening silence from them on this recent situation.

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