Ok so today I’m seriously pissed off by a conversation on someone’s Facebook page about, of all things, Morris Dancing!
His basic premise was that all Border Morris dancers (the one’s with the black faces) are card carrying racists who vote for UKip! This is of course absolute bollocks and he had obviously never met any of the sides that I’ve had the pleasure of dancing with over the years. Border Morris, as far as I’ve witnessed, is probably the only form of Morris that is actually growing. This is probably why it’s frowned upon by the traditionalists (that and the fact that most border sides allow both men and women to dance togther but I shall come back to that point later!).
His first comment concerned the fact that “Black faced Morris is sensibly frowned upon by many local authorities” to which I pointed out that I had never in all the time I’d been Morris Dancing been frowned upon because of a black face. He then came back with 3 examples one of which was local where Motley Morris had been dropped by a school who had invited them to dance at an open day once they found out that they were Border Morris and would have black faces. I found this out from a story in the Daily Mail which had the usual spin that the newspaper puts on this sort of thing! However I would point out that it was NOT the local authorities decision. The second example he gave was a side being prevented from dancing in front of the slavery museum in Liverpool. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain this did happen but again I don’t know if it was a council decision or just some over jealous busybody from the council.
I did find a quote from someone who was there which read:
There were any number of asian and afro caribbean folks among the hundreds watching, photographing and videoing us today in Liverpool and they all seemed so offended many of them had to have their photos taken with us as souvenirs or come and chat about what we were doing there.
His final example concerned a group he refered to as the Bacup Nutters who he had “heard” must dance white-faced when they visit Manchester. I looked into this as well and it turns out that this group is actually a clog group not Border and their full name is the Bacup Coco-Nutters. I have to say that from the video I saw of them on Facebook they are more Black & White Minstrels than Morris Dancers which neatly brings me to his next point!
He brought up the Black and White Minstrels and as far as I could see he was suggesting that there was a direct connection between Border Morris and The Minstrels. Well firstly in my opinion there is a world of difference – The practice of “blacking-up” for minstrel shows included the caricature of an afro-american face (and indeed mannerisms) where as Morris Dancing is purely covering your face in blacking – ie no attempt to ape or parody!
It should also be noted that in it’s heyday the Black & White Minstrel show used to attract TV audiences of in excess of 18 million people – did that mean that the entire country was racist back in the 60’s? Times have changed and we no longer accept the parody of black people in the same way that Benny Hill became persona non grata when it was deemed that his show was sexist. We constantly as a society judge the past on the morals of the present.
The tradition, which my accuser denies, is that the reason Border Morris Dancers black up is that it is a disguise and that during the hard winters of the 17-18th Century out of work labourers and builders sought to anonymously supplement their income by a bit of dancing and begging. Although other theories exist involving the King of Morocco and Moorish Dancers. References of Black Faced Dancers go back as the 16th century in Europe so the denial of a tradition is a weak argument!
It was particularly annoying when he ran two pieces of information together to try and insinuate racism. He claimed that Border Morris had only existed since the 60’s and that the practise of blacking was known as “niggering up”. Whilst it may be true that the Border Morris style has expanded since the 60’s the term he refers to originates from the early 20th century and was a description of an older black-face tradition using the terminology and culture of the times – in fact the word he objects to was not always considered derogatory.
The thing I objected to most was the blanket assertion that all Border Morris dancers were racist because they black their faces. In fact there are sides that use other colours such as one side that uses red and green, another blue and a female side who paint their faces as tigers!
I suspect that the thing he objects to most is the fact that Border Morris has become so popular. I sense that he is a traditionalist and he mentions the Morris Ring a couple of times. Coming back to several points mentioned above I would like to point out that the Morris ring had to change it’s constitution last year to allow women to join – yes that’s right they had been discriminating against women long after it was considered wrong. However although they now allow women to join they are still not allowed to dance because in their words folk dance is a traditionally male activity and that because of its arduous nature, women should not be able to dance with men. However they will now allow women in because we recognise that ladies have as much ability to organise or play music – oh how very 21st century of them!!
So I’m guessing that in his opinion it’s ok to be sexist but not racist!
What a twat!!