Last year I accused the organisers of the Broadstairs Folk Week of being institutionally racist. This year I call them out again for providing financial support for, and endorsement of, Morris dancers who “black-up” to perform.
The Folk week organisers have, for many years provided, free event tickets and free camping to Morris dance troupes who participate in festival events which, for dancers who stay the week, is worth about £300.
Whilst I don’t object to this practice, I do object most strongly to some of this financial support being provided to blacked-up Morris dancers and troupes, who engage in behaviour which many people find offensive, degrading and down-right racist.
Whatever folk dancers and musicians might say to justify “blacking-up” there is a growing body of academic research which has clearly established that this practice is largely based upon cruel racist mimicry aimed at degrading and humiliating other human beings. Thankfully we live in a modern, increasingly diverse, country in which more and more people don’t think racial lampooning or mimicry is funny or acceptable anymore.
Over the past 40 years “blacking up” by TV, stage, and cinema performers has all but disappeared with most people regarding it as distasteful and inappropriate. Yet despite pubic disproval blacking-up has survived and is flourishing within the Morris dancing and folk music community including, to its shame, the prestigious Broadstairs Folk Week.
Last year I tried to reason with Festival Director Jo Tuffs and her board of trustees. I wrote to her suggesting that the Broadstairs Folk Week charity publicly dissociate itself from the “blacked-up” Morris dancers, exclude them from performing at all official events, and withdraw all financial support from Morris dance troupes who black-up. This is something which, in the face of growing public concern, the organisers of the Shrewsbury Folk Festival did in 2016.
Sadly, Jo Tuffs never had the courtesy to properly reply to my e-mails on this important issue, or to take up my offer to address her trustees.
This year I am trying a different approach. I will be submitting a formal complaint to the Charity Commission about what I believe to be the institutional racism of Jo Tuffs and her trustee board.
I will also be writing to all of the Broadstairs Folk Festival’s corporate and public sector sponsors such as the Vattenfall, Shepherd Neame, the Arts Council of England, Kent County Council and many more, who together provide more than £70,000 in grants, sponsorships and donations.
I am sure that many of these sponsors and donors will think twice about funding a festival which uses their money to provide financial support for Morris dancers who “black-up” to perform. Being associated with such distasteful activities is likely to be something which will worry the festival funders and which could cause them considerable reputational damage.
Furthermore, public sector funders such as the Arts Council and Kent County Council must, when making decisions such as awarding grants, abide by the Public Sector Equality Duty which requires them to
(a)eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act; (b)advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it; (c)foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.
Once they find out about how Ms Tuffs and her trustees have been using the grants they have approved to provide financial support for Morris dancers who “black-up” to perform, I am sure that the public sector will looking again at whether they continue to fund the festival – and rightly so.
Broadstairs Folk Festival has for the past 2 years been losing money and its cash reserves are, for an event of its size, becoming dangerously depleted. It would be wise of Ms Tuffs and her trustees to bear in mind what the financial impact of continuing to support blacked-up Morris dancers might have upon the future of the festival.
As I did last year, I accuse Festival Director Jo Tuffs and her board of trustee of being institutionally racist. She and her trustees should be ashamed of themselves for supporting and encouraging behaviour which many people find offensive, degrading and down-right racist. This support damages Broadstairs and threatens the future of festival.
But there’s still time to put it right – publicly dissociate the festival from blacked up Morris dancing – exclude blacked-up Morris dancers from all official events – remove all financial and other inducements such as free festivals tickets and camping from blacked-up Morris dancers.
Shrewsbury Folk Festival did it. Why not Broadstairs?