Labour probe after councillor jokes he has ‘worst tan for Black man’ at Black History Month event

A Labour councillor is being investigated by the party after he joked he had “the worst tan possible for a Black man” at a Black History Month event.

The remarks by Darren Rodwell, the leader of Barking and Dagenham council, at an event three years ago, prompted a complaint that the outburst was “offensive” or at best “ignorant”.

Dressed in an African headpiece and footwear, the councillor, who is white, opened the event by saying “you might have noticed that I’ve got the worst tan possible for a Black man”.

He went on to say he has “passion and the rhythm of the African and Caribbean” - pronouncing African as ‘Afrikaan’, which is thought to be a tone-deaf imitation of Black people’s speech pattern, and then claimed he used to do “swing dance” and “jiggling about”.

A complaint submitted to the Labour party on October 7, seen by The Independent, reads: “It is like watching a racist comedy show in the mid-1970s such as the ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’.”

“Whether Councillor Rodwell is doing this to cause offence, or is simply ignorant of this fact, is unknown but the impact is the same and in his position he has no excuse.

“It is welcome for a council leader to open Black History Month however, his behaviour and language in this video are akin to someone wearing ‘blackface’. It appears that Councillor Rodwell may have taken the cultural items of dress from a Black man to whom they belong, and who briefly appears on stage at the beginning.”

The complainant said that school children in the audience were exposed to Mr Rodwell’s behaviour, which is described as a “further aggravating factor” and represents “the normalisation of racism”.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: "The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken."

Mr Rodwell, who is also Labour’s frontrunner to be Barking’s next MP, has also come under fire for repeating the “false” claim that “Barking and Dagenham stopped slavery” across various promotional videos and events.

“He ignores 400 years of slavery across the Caribbean, the Americas and beyond to make deeply offensive statements that slavery was somehow abolished by people in Barking,” another complaint seen by The Independent reads.

“It is completely wrong for him to use the enslavement and deaths of millions of enslaved Africans to promote his own political ambitions in this most dishonest of ways. The suffering of black people has been turned into a soundbite to promote the council leadership.

“It is very distressing to see a white council leader erasing the history of black people in a crass attempt to promote his being a candidate for MP. The fact this racist claim is made repeatedly, with no reference to past or present Black communities in Barking compounds the pain and hurt this causes. This has been raised before with Barking Council but no action has been taken.”

Mr Rodwell did not reply to The Independent’s requests for comment.