An equal rights campaigner has branded a flag designed by a 12-year-old girl as racist because it features a chain that could have been used in the slave trade.
Patrick Vernon says the Black Country flag, which is coloured red, white and black and features a chain motif, is “insensitive” and “offensive”.
The Black Country is the traditional name for an area of England just north of Birmingham. It gets its name from the black soot that emanated from its many factories during the Industrial Revolution and its thirty-foot coal seam.
The offending flag was designed by 12-year-old Gracie Sheppard who won a competition two years ago. It is due to be flown throughout the area for Black Country Day, which takes place today.
The Daily Express quotes Mr Vernon as saying: “Shackles and manacles that were made by chainmakers in the Black Country were used to incarcerate slaves in North America, on plantations and in colonial Africa.”
Then, equating the US Confederate flag with the symbol of the Nazis who murdered over six million people in the Holocaust, Vernon added:
“The chain is not a swastika or a Confederate flag but it is offensive.
“While I am in support of the festival and think it is a great idea, the Black Country has never done anything to acknowledge that slavery was key to its economic rise.
“This is not political correctness, it is the truth. You can’t pick and choose bits of your history, they are interlinked. There needs to be a re-interpretation and leaders cannot pretend it never happened.”
Vernon, who was awarded an OBE in 2012 for “services for the reduction of health inequalities for ethnic minorities,” added:
“It was not just the slaves who were oppressed by chainmaking, there was the women – the white slaves of Cradley Heath – and the working classes who were oppressed by the rich foundry owners.
“The chain is a symbol of their oppression too.”
However, his comments have been slammed by politicians across the political spectrum. Labour MP for Dudley North, Ian Austin, called Vernon’s comments “ridiculous nonsense”, adding: “The Black Country Festival brings everyone from our diverse communities together.”
Conservative MP for Dudley South, Mike Wood, said:
“While we need to be sensitive, we should not be trying to re-write history.
“Chainmaking is part of our identity and industrial heritage. It is a history we should be proud of, not one we should be running away from.”
Local UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge also called the comments “politically correct garbage”.
The flag’s colours are taken from American diplomat Elihu Burritt’s description of the region as “black by day, red by night” – referring to the smoke and fires of heavy industry. The chain is intended to celebrate the many iron workers who lived and worked in the area.