UK 'Blacked up' Morris dancers harassed, accused of racism

Indian Summer

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The video from outside Birmingham's Bullring, filmed before the Alvechurch group fled the scene, sees fuming onlookers scream: "Is this not racist ?"

Eye-witnesses said there was heckling and threats by onlookers during performances on Corporation Street and New Street before the public flashpoint.

It comes after the Birmingham Mail reported how the group from Worcestershire were run out of Brum after being threatened over their face make-up.
More: Watch moment 'blacked up' Morris dancers are accused of being racist (11. January 2017)

(Brum = Birmingham)
 
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In theory if blacking up to perform as a black person is racist, then surely dressing up as a woman for pantomime must also be sexist. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with either and strictly speaking it's a case of excessive political correctness.

However, in practice, people are more sensitive to racism than other -isms, to the point where logic goes out of the window, and people can be so excessively sensitive to the tiniest perceived racial slight, that it is going to make people uncomfortable and awkward, and is best not done. I don't think it's really smart to do it. I wouldn't do it.
 

Amy SF

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If that occurred here in the US, it would be all over the internet causing an uproar, and a LOT of people would be calling it racist, because white people blackening their faces to exaggerate the racist stereotypes of black people is part of the long history of racism in this country.

And how do you know dressing up as a woman for pantomime isn't sexist? Maybe it is. ;)
 

Indian Summer

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white people blackening their faces to exaggerate the racist stereotypes of black people is part of the long history of racism in this country.
Yes, but Morris dancers don't 'black up' to look like black people.

This appears to be an example of uneducated anti-racists mistakenly lashing out at a 400 year old tradition that has nothing to do with racism. It would be a shame if modern society has become so hypersensitive that something as innocent as a Morris dancer tradition is no longer acceptable. It also makes anti-racists look stupid, bullish and/or small-minded.
 

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Yes, but Morris dancers don't 'black up' to look like black people.

This appears to be an example of uneducated anti-racists mistakenly lashing out at a 400 year old tradition that has nothing to do with racism. It would be a shame if modern society has become so hypersensitive that something as innocent as a Morris dancer tradition is no longer acceptable. It also makes anti-racists look stupid, bullish and/or small-minded.

Then why did they black up their faces? I'm not being hostile; I really want to know.
 

PTree15

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If that occurred here in the US, it would be all over the internet causing an uproar, and a LOT of people would be calling it racist, because white people blackening their faces to exaggerate the racist stereotypes of black people is part of the long history of racism in this country.

And how do you know dressing up as a woman for pantomime isn't sexist? Maybe it is. ;)
This.
 

Andy_T

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Yes, but Morris dancers don't 'black up' to look like black people.

IS, as you are living in the UK and aware of such special knowledge, you might add it to your original post to educate, well, basically the rest of the world not living in the UK, who had no idea :D
 

Andy_T

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Reading up on wikipedia, it seems that Morris (likely from "moorish") dancing is a well established cultural art form dating back to racism in the 15th century, re-established with blackened faces in Wales in the 19th century :D.
 
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Moll Flanders

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I don't think I have ever seen Morris dancers with blackened faces.:confused: Living in an urban area for most of my life I haven't seen them perform very often though, but I think I would remember that.:D

Actually, thinking about it, I just remembered that I have seen them dance with stripes of paint on their faces, but it wasn't black paint, it was bright colours. It must be different colours for different groups.
 

Indian Summer

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Reading up on wikipedia, it seems that Morris (likely from "moorish") dancing is a well established cultural art form dating back to racism in the 15th century, re-established with blackened faces in Wales in the 19th century :D.
"... dating back to racism in the 15th century"? Where did you get this idea, if I may ask?!

The supposed 'morris dance' = 'moorish dance' link is highly debatable, whereas the 'disguise' theory is a more likely explanation for the blackening of faces. This was used by poor people to avoid identification when they had to beg for food (which was prohibited) or steal food, which at the time mean poaching on some wealthy person's land.

The way world affairs are developing with CCTV and government / corporate surveilance, we may soon have to resurrect this tradition to protect our identities!
 

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The supposed 'morris dance' = 'moorish dance' link is highly debatable, whereas the 'disguise' theory is a more likely explanation for the blackening of faces. This was used by poor people to avoid identification when they had to beg for food (which was prohibited) or steal food, which at the time mean poaching on some wealthy person's land.

The highlighted part is your opinion.

What there is a scholarly consensus on is that the name o the dancing originates with the term "Moor/Moorish", and that certainly coincides with the idea of blackface.

In any event, it's just as easy these days to paint one's face
blue/green/orange/purple as black, and nothing is lost culturally by doing so.

Which makes it interesting why there's so much outrage at the idea of the blackface being challenged.

ETA: To clarify: I don't think that these Morris dancers had an intention to offend anyone, and they shouldn't have been harassed. It should have simply been pointed out to them that blackface, given its historical connotations, is simply not appropriate. (There has been public recognition of this - at least one festival has banned blackface by Morris dancers performing at that festival.)

However, the pearl clutching by the people reading the news story is a bit over the top. There's a largish segment of the white population who grasps onto any incident like this to make the case that whites are victimized by people of color just as much as the other way around. While patently untrue, the chants of "they do it too" apparently makes them feel better.
 
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Freesia

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I believe that the Moorish dancing idea is probably correct. It is much like the Black Pete parade in the Netherlands.. at some point in their history they admired an entertaining African man who was in the Netherlands so they dressed up like him in the parade..

still this grates a lot on people who are actually of that race... and white people need to listen and ask if it is worth it to upset people like that.
 
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When I woke up today I remembered I have seen Morris dancers with black faces. I must have been trying to remember while I was asleep. I was around 9 years old and I was at a school sports day. Two black men who were parents of the kids at my school were booing and jeering at the Morris dancers. When I asked my father why he said that they thought the dancers were being racist but it was a tradition for them to do that. He said the black paint was a disguise like a mask and that it had to do with the coal dust people used to put on their faces. I don't know if that is right, but that is what he said.

This was in the 1980s so you think today people would be more sensitive, you could put a stripe or smudges of black paint on your face instead.
 
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Whether or not it's wrong or racist could depend on some factors like whether anti equality groups have used it, whether black people perceive it as racist, and what the history is.

I was thinking about how the N-word was not considered racist in the beginning and that evolved over time.

You could argue that the N-word is just a word to describe a black person and is not fundamentally racist, but of course that argument would not work. It might have worked at one time, but it doesn't now.
 

Indian Summer

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It is probable the term morris developed from the French word morisque (meaning a dance, the dance), which became morisch in Flemish, and then the English moryssh, moris and finally morris. Flanders in the fifteenth century was an innovative cultural centre, and strongly influenced European culture in general. The earliest confirmation of a performance of morris dancing in England dates from London on 19 May 1448, when Moryssh daunsers were paid 7s (35p) for their services.
(French is a Romance language, so borrows much from Latin. In Latin 'morisque' seems to mean 'custom' according to Google translate.)
The costumes worn by Molly dancers are very individualistic, but largely based upon working outdoor clothes and hobnailed boots. Dancers may have their faces blackened or otherwise disguised as in the photograph below. Disguising the face in this way is well-known in English social history: men wishing to pursue proscribed activities would black their faces to avoid recognition: such activities could include both smuggling and morris dancing!
Source (both quotes): The Morris Tradition | The Morris Ring

To me there is a clear moral difference between using black face paint as part of a disguise, and using black face paint as part of a costume in an act where the purpose is to make fun of black people.
 
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It was weird as when I was trying to picture a Morris dancer yesterday, I kept getting Ronald McDonald in my head. The dancers I saw when I was a kid had curly wigs on too, so to me at that age they must have looked like clowns. It says in this article that the wigs were supposed to look like Afro hair.

Runnymede Trust / Nothing innocent about blackfacing
 

Mischief

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I still find it interesting that so many white people are up in arms over this. I wonder how many people of color have been called derogatory names during this period of time, all without those same white people getting equally upset.
 

Freesia

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I suppose it is shocking to me, as I have never seen blackface in NZ. Perhaps it was around in the 1950s or earlier but not since then.
 
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Freesia

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Also, blackening their face with coal dust doesnt indicate they were not trying to look like an African person, it indicates that coal dust in those days was useful if they wanted to create a racist blackface pantomime.

You have to remember that back in those days racism was socially acceptable and common, so nobody would have objected to it.

Even African people around at the time would have had to go along with it because they probably had no choice.