On 3 Nov 2017 at 12:11pm Matt H wrote:
"Borough Bonfire Society takes ‘meaningful cultural advice’ from South African dancer who said costumes made Zulu people look barbaric"
Revellers in an East Sussex town who for decades have worn African-style costumes in one of Britain’s biggest bonfire celebrations have agreed to stop painting their faces black, ending a practice dating back to at least the second world war.
The move came after the Lewes Borough Bonfire Society faced pressure from a dance troupe originating from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, which was booked to join the society on the march on Saturday night but threatened a boycott after seeing how the members dressed.
A local Bonfire Against Racism campaign from a group of black, white and dual-heritage residents had also urged the society to stop blacking up. But many people in the bonfire societies, whose members number in the thousands, have insisted that the practice of blackening their faces is a tradition and a show of respect to Zulu warriors.
This week, one unofficial Facebook page for the Lewes bonfire carried the slogan “Keep calm and black up for bonfire”.
After negotiation with the dance troupe, the bonfire society has also agreed to change its costumes, removing skulls, nose rings and dead monkeys. The troupe’s leader, Thanda Gumede, complained these were a “gross misrepresentation and unacceptable stereotype of Zulu and black people at large”.
Gumede, 32, from Durban in South Africa, runs the west Yorkshire-based song and dance troupe Zulu Tradition. The group was booked months ago to join the procession, which is attended by tens of thousands of people, but Gumede had not realised exactly how members of the Borough Bonfire Society dressed. On Monday, he told the Guardian that from an image he had seen the costumes were not offensive, but after further research he changed his mind.
On Wednesday, Gumede gave the society an ultimatum, stating: “The costume can be worn without black paint. But if you prefer to paint yourselves, may I insist on using a different colour that is drastically different from black? Perhaps ‘green up’ or other bright colours? This is the main issue. If you can apply these important changes for me, then Zulu Tradition would be happy to embrace your event. I would personally be there on Saturday.”
He also told the society: “The skulls and horns make us look barbaric – the Zulu costume can be worn without them. I appreciate that the horns may be tricky, so if that can’t be changed, especially at this late hour, then we are willing to compromise.”
Mick Symes, a committee member of the Borough Bonfire Society, replied: “Our committee has accepted in full your guidance and will be instructing our members to try and achieve as much as is possible in the time available.”
Gumede said: “I am really excited by this, and it is good to know I can play a part in changing things that have been in place since world war two.”
Guardian Today: the headlines, the analysis, the debate - sent direct to you
He said he had been upset by stories he had heard of racism in Lewes, adding that he hoped people would realise racist expression was not confined merely to this element of the town’s bonfire tradition.
Symes told the Guardian: “We became the target of a vicious campaign which had no basis in reality. What we do was never intended to be racist. There is a saying in Sussex, ‘We won’t be druv’, and there is no way in the world any external pressure group would ever make a bonfire society move one inch. We are more than happy to take this advice from Thanda. We are very, very happy to say we are making minor but significant alterations based on very meaningful cultural advice from Thanda.”
Around 70 members of the Borough Bonfire Society are due to march in the costumes. “I am not going to give a guarantee there will be no ‘blackface’ around,” Symes said. “But the guarantee I can give is we are bending over backwards to comply with this advice.”
The Bonfire Against Racism petition, which says the “public display of caricatured, negative stereotypes of black Africans within our community is racist”, has been signed by more than 1,600 people.
Its organisers said they wanted the practice of blackening faces to stop, arguing: “It will always be racially offensive for white people to black up. It is entwined in the social conditioning that was necessary for the slave trade to happen.”
Supporters of the practice have insisted it is “traditional” and not racist, and that it seeks to remember the history of the Zulu people. Before the society’s decision, some warned of a backlash against the criticism, with more revellers blackening their faces than before.
Check it out here »
On 3 Nov 2017 at 12:12pm Matt H wrote:
(apologies to all those offended by a Guardian link)
On 3 Nov 2017 at 12:28pm Justice wrote:
Best news I've read all year. Well done Mick & Borough for finally listening.
On 3 Nov 2017 at 12:58pm Bad behaviour. wrote:
The author and promoter of the shamefully antagonistic "Keep Calm and Black up for Bonfire" signs has a lot to answer for. Mick Symes lied to various Lewes bodies when approached about blacking up and attempted to get the Zulus to attend bonfire using false pretences (supplying them with a non-representative photo). He has embarrassed Borough, shamed Lewes and bought bonfire into disrepute.
On 3 Nov 2017 at 1:03pm Uptown Monk wrote:
This is a great result - doing the right thing to respect people whilst also defending the right of bonfire to determine its own destiny. Whatever mistakes were made along the way on both sides, congratulations to Borough in eventually rising above. Tomorrow night will be so much better for it.
On 3 Nov 2017 at 1:44pm only me wrote:
The ‘black up for bonfire’ was not anything to do with any society. It was set up by Newell Fisher.
Unfortunately it has all got out of hand. No one had ever said that colouring your face (usually with a burnt cork) as a smuggler is racist. It was only the face paint on the Zulu’s. I believe that Borough has made a good call. The Zulu costume is spectacular & will be no less so without face paint.
All us smugglers can continue to disguise ourselves and we can all have a fantastic night!
On 3 Nov 2017 at 1:47pm Ernie wrote:
On 3 Nov 2017 at 2:57pm Justice wrote:
I hope all the racist comments that have appeared on the Forum over the last few weeks will now disappear with the black paint.
On 3 Nov 2017 at 3:08pm Nim wrote:
“We’ve been Druv!” As you were.
On 3 Nov 2017 at 3:26pm Aggravated lewesian!! wrote:
Typical result in this day and age!! Talk about pc gone mad! surely a patronising end to those who are being spoken for by the liberal do gooders with nothing better to do than speak up for the minority!! furthermore, how can somebody later choose to be offended by a costume when at first glance they were not? fishy to me! i blame the dfl's as i tend to do!!
On 3 Nov 2017 at 4:11pm only me wrote:
I apologise to Newell Fisher for saying he was responsible. I was wrongly informed.
On 3 Nov 2017 at 4:19pm busby wrote:
It seems the Zulus were not offended by the black faces but aspects of the dress, skulls, etc.
The Vikings [some of them] have horns on their helmets which Vikings never did. Who cares? it's for fun and entertainment.
Some people it seems are looking for any reason to take offense.
On 3 Nov 2017 at 4:36pm read the article wrote:
I quote the leader of the Zulu dance troupe...
"The costume can be worn without black paint. But if you prefer to paint yourselves, may I insist on using a different colour that is drastically different from black? Perhaps ‘green up’ or other bright colours? This is the main issue."
On 3 Nov 2017 at 5:09pm Nevermind wrote:
A victory for common sense! For those still saying this is PC gone mad and still wanting to draw false equivalencies with other costumes, go and read up on history and see if you can gain some perspective and possibly muster up a bit of empathy for your brothers and sisters who may not look like you. Thanks for listening to reason Borough!
On 3 Nov 2017 at 5:46pm Aggravated lewesian!! wrote:
@read the article.. what if by colouring my face in a colour other than black i aggravate another minority? martians maybe!! theres always someone getting offended by something, what a world we live in! @busby speaking a lot of sense.. as a man with native american heritage should i choose to be offended by the costumes of commercial? or just get on with my everyday life like these poxy liberals should be doing instead of choosing to fight other peoples battles!!
On 3 Nov 2017 at 8:49pm read wrote:
@aggravated i.e troll
Are you seriously defending your views by equating blacking up to offending martians?
Biggest lololol ever.
On 3 Nov 2017 at 10:08pm @read (agg lewes) wrote:
Ignoring the important part of that message then. idiot.
On 3 Nov 2017 at 10:23pm Aggravated lewesian!! wrote:
@read would you care to elaborate on my point regarding native americans or is that okay because there is no mimicing of ethinicity?
On 4 Nov 2017 at 10:54am Smee wrote:
So the racists masking themselves as the moral side have won then and stopped people from changing the colour of their faces because they are of the wrong race through an accident of ancestry / birth
They see someone with a face that's not their natural skin colour and they are the ones that have an issue with this change (hence a lot of the objections over this and posts on this site) even though by the simple act of a change in skin colour fails to meet any part of the dictionary definition of racist or racism, and the only thing that even comes close to that definition is those saying you can't change your face to black if you are white (or for any other colour change by anyone to a different skin colour from their natural colour)
On 4 Nov 2017 at 11:08am Uptown Monk wrote:
The equivalent with the Native Americans would be if they all painted their faces red to mimic stereotypes around race. Which they don't.
On 4 Nov 2017 at 11:17am Kevin wrote:
@uptown monk I don't believe this to be true. As aggravated lewesian pointed out people can take offence by anything these days, if he/she chooses to be offended who are you to question this? Is this not a very similar situation to the blackface scenario?
On 4 Nov 2017 at 12:34pm Smee wrote:
People taking offence doesn't make them right to be doing so.
They could be displaying their own prejudices and unconscious views (racist, homophobic, etc) and not aware that they are in the wrong for their view
Some have an issue with someone changing the colour of their face to that of another race, nothing else is needed for them to be offended, and they are demonstrating their own hidden unconscious racist view that it is wrong for a white person to have a black face or vice versa (@disgusted of Tunbridge W is an example of this on this site)
They should rightly be challenged and the others shouldn't adapt to their incorrect views (like the bonfire society has here) because they fail to understand properly what the terms racist and racism actually mean (and their view that a simple change in face colour doesn't meet the definition of these in any way, shape or form)
On 4 Nov 2017 at 5:00pm @uptown monk wrote:
Who would be mocking by painting their faces red?
On 5 Nov 2017 at 5:32pm Mick Symes wrote:
Bad behaviour, naughty boy, got your facts wrong didnt you, but then you probably read the wrong news papers & move in the wrong circles in the town. Hope you had a great night however, Our Zulu guests did as did the all the members of the Borough as did all our guests, as did all the bonfire societies as did all the visiting public, well possibly not the chap who on school hill called me Jeremy Corbin, but I think the poor guy was a bit delusional Im sure it was mistaken identity, fact and fiction being so mixed up lately.