I have heard that Lambeth town hall is buzzing with rumours that a current Liberal Democrat councillor once regularly performed on stage as a black and white minstrel. The Liberal Democrat have not denied the stories. The councillor, who cannot yet be named publicly, is believed to have a theatrical background. The black and white minstrels (pictured) were a troupe of white singers and dancers who covered their faces and hands with black make-up and sang songs in mock black accents. They also acted out scenes depicting black people as lazy and ignorant and in awe of their former white slave-owning ‘masters’. Unsurprisingly, the act was heavily criticised as a racist parody.
Questions have been raised in recent years about Lambeth Liberal Democrats’ commitment to diversity and equality. Despite being in power for four years between 2002 and 2006, they only nominated councillors from their own ranks who were white and male to sit on the council’s ruling Executive Committee. Shortly before the 2006 elections they were slammed by black groups for refusing to register voters missing from the electoral register despite having the worst voter registration rate in inner London. Most of the missing voters were black, and concerns were raised that the Liberal Democrats didn’t want to include them in case they voted against Liberal Democrat candidates in marginal wards.
Residents are asking whether it is appropriate for a councillor in one of the most diverse boroughs in the UK to have blacked up his face to sing songs like ‘Mammy’ in a stage act widely considered offensive to black people.
Lambeth Council recently planned an exhibition featuring pictures of all the black councillors who have been elected onto the council during its history. There was controversy when a white Liberal Democrat councillor insisted on being included. Her request was denied.
Equalities groups in the borough are expected to ask the Liberal Democrat leader to confirm whether one of his current councillors was a black and white minstrel.