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Black British MP cries racism over flag of industrial coal revolution

A black British Labour MP cried racism over a flag designed by a young schoolgirl to commemorate Black Country Day.

Published: July 17, 2017, 11:05 am

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    Eleanor Smith

    Newly-elected Wolverhampton South West MP Eleanor Smith said the black, red and white flag with chains on it had “racist connotations”, but Smith is clearly not educated about the flag being a symbol of the Black Country’s industrial past.

    Smith called the flag “a big mistake” because it failed to represent the Black Country’s multi-cultural communities. Her comments coincide with Black Country Day celebrations, during which the flag is flown across the region.

    The Black Country is a region of the West Midlands in England, west of Birmingham. In the Industrial Revolution, it became one of the most industrialised parts of Britain with coal mines, coking, iron foundries, glass factories, brickworks and steel mills producing a high level of air pollution.

    In 1832, after visiting the region, the then-Princess Victoria wrote in her diary: “The men, women, children, country, and houses are all black.” There were no African slaves employed however: All the workers were white and English.

    The MP, who is from Birmingham, even refused to have her picture taken with the flag over what she described as its “racist connotations” the expressandstar.com reported.

    Smith complained: “I have serious concerns about the racist connotations of the flag, particularly the fact that chains are being used to represent the Black Country.

    “The white on black imagery used together with the chains…when you break it down I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t worry me as a black person. People have to understand that it can be seen as offensive.

    “Why can’t we have a flag that represents all of us united as a collective rainbow of people? In my constituency there are 130 different languages spoken. Let’s get a flag that actually says we are proud of where we come from.”

    The flag was designed by Stourbridge schoolgirl Gracie Sheppard, who is twelve years old. It was inspired by Elihu Burritt, who described the region as “black by day and red by night” and features chains and a symbol representing the Red House Glass Cone in Wordsley.

    Politicians from opposing political parties, agreed that Smith was being ridiculous. Two Labour MPs, UKIP’s Bill Etheridge, Conservative MP Mike Wood and the organiser of the Black Country festival all agreed that the flag design carried no such message. Wood called her “nuts”.

    “Chainmaking played a big part in building our economy. For her to say that representing it on a flag that was designed by a child [is racism] is absolutely nuts.”

    Black Country Festival committee chairman Steve Edwards said: “It’s the second highest selling flag in the UK and that shows how people want to celebrate the Black Country.”

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