My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Broadstairs Folk Week Racist? Morris Federation & Experts Share My Concerns

It’s a free country and everyone has right to voice their opinion. So when I published my article alleging that the organisers of Broadstairs Folk Week were institutionally racist, I expected and  accepted the strong criticism and abuse which came my way. And I got a lot. Whilst I’m not that keen on abuse, I do not object to, or resent, strongly expressed disagreement. After all I’m not always right and as my kids will tell you I’m often wrong.

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

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! 


  1. These people are not racist politicians are the racist ones like yourself sir

  2. You need to research more thoroughly. There is NO governing body. There are three organisations that sided affiliate themselves to with different approaches however they "govern" nothing. All have made statements in the issue and of course it remains fiercely contested within the morris fraternity and beyond. You should observe also that the research you allude to clearly states personal opinion too

  3. Also, you disregard any "expert" opinions on historical context that you disagree with. You cite the Fed as THE governing body for Morris which is factually incorrect. I would like to challenge you to a public debate with a range of "experts" drawn from all morris organisations, researchers and efdss, plus community members. If you wish to go ahead I'll pm you some contact details and we can set it in motion.

  4. The Fed also state on the site that they do not intend to alter border team's practises. The article was provided as "food for thought"

  5. Is getting your face painted racist as well then? Stop trying to ruin events and the moan when there's nothing going on in Thanet. Nothing about a bit of 'paint' or whatever they use is racist. Grow up and stop nit picking.

  6. I'm still waiting for you to suggest how I can contact you directly to arrange a public discussion. I suggest representatives from efdss, all 3 Morris organisations, sides and community members. I'm happy to arrange for it to be in a "neutral" setting or indeed as part of a festival. I can organise for those that have researched both sides of the debate to be part of this.

    1. my e-mail and phone number are displayed at the top of the page please feel free to contact me

    2. Ah, I don't see them when viewing on Mobile. When I get a chance to log on to PC I will be in touch to set up. Thanks

  7. You are dead right Ian. Anyone who does not see the danger, regardless of the origins, simply does not want to look.