But on the question of blacked-up Morris dancers I do not believe I am wrong. In my opinion, the Border Morris tradition of blacking-up to perform is offensive, racist, and unacceptable in a modern, diverse and inclusive society. And for organisations like the Broadstairs Folk Week to officially encourage and financially support blacked-up Morris dancers to visit and perform at the festival is nothing less than shameful institutional racism. That’s why I believe the Festival Director, Jo Tuffs should resign!
And it’s not just me who believes there is important race
related issue here. So do some Morris dancers, some of whom have contacted me after the publication on my first article. There a has also been some very serious academic research carried out this issue. I would advise anyone who subscribes to the “disguise” , “chimney sweep”, or “coal miner” explanations of why Border Morris dancers black-up to read Chloe Metcalfe’s article “To black up or not to black up” which was published in the Morris Federation Newsletter of Winter 2013.
Metcalfe, a Morris dancer herself, spent a year researching a dissertation on Morris dancer costumes for her degree. In that time she reviewed countless historic documents, folk history books, academic articles, and a PhD thesis on the subject of blacking-up in folk traditions. Her conclusion is “that there is a strong link between the introduction of face blacking in Morris dancing and the arrival of minstrelsy from America in the 1830s”. In short the blacking-up tradition in Morris dancing resulted from dancers copying the touring American minstrel shows, who were extremely popular in this country during the Victorian period and, who themselves, were blacking-up to parody Afro-Americans.
So the historic evidence speaks for itself – the blacking-up of Morris dancers to perform has strong racist links and the organisers of Broadstairs Folk Week should not in any way been seen to be encouraging, or lending support to, a tradition linked to such offensive and unacceptable practices.
Last but not least the governing body of Morris dancing, the Morris Federation, has become much more sensitive to the issue of blacking-up by dancers. So much so that it has issued comprehensive guidance to its members. Here’s the link http://www.morrisfed.org.uk/resources/advice-guidance/guidelines-to-teams-using-face-paint-as-a-disguise/
The Federation warns that many people find blacking-up by Morris dancers very offensive. The Federation also warns that blacking-up may also be a criminal offense under the Equality Act 2010 and blacked-up performers run the risk of being prosecuted. It advises its members that the further “they move away from full black makeup, the further they move away from the suggestion that what they are doing when adopting a disguise is related to race”. The Federation “asks teams that use black face paint to recognise the impact that their disguise may have on their audience, and to consider: using a different form of disguise; changing the colour of their face paint” and points out that “there are alternatives to blacking up that can be just as effective”.
This advice is not new and, I imagine, is fairly well known within the Morris dance and folk music community. As an influential and respected voice within that community surely Broadstairs Folk Week Director, Jo Tuffs, and her organising committee should have publicised the Federation’s advice on its website and it’s Facebook page and warned that it would not support any Morris troupes who failed to follow Federation advice. But they didn’t? Why not? Because the Broadstairs Folk Week has buried its head in the sand and its failure to act on this issue demonstrates that's it is institutionally racist and brings shame to Broadstairs, Thanet and Kent!