Yes, this blog’s supposed to be the one about writing, not the one for various political rantings (that stuff is usually dealt with by my Other Self) but when you get handed something that looks a bit like an open goal, you shoot at it.
In case you haven’t seen it, there’s a picture of David Cameron and a Border Morris side causing a bit of a commotion at the moment. Most of the commotion is down to the fact that the Border side in question paint their faces black, which is perceived by a lot of people as at least insensitive.
As a Morris dancer who has written a novella about sex and Morris dancing I am naturally
rubbing my hands in glee at the opportunity to cop a bit of extra promo interested in this.
My personal take on the issue of blackface as part of Morris kit is that it’s frankly naff, these days. So many sides have taken the decision to use facepaint in various colours that bear no resemblance to human skin tones, or to paint themselves with patterns and pictures that often look really nice, without the sky falling in and the ghost of Cecil Sharp arising to spit in their beer, that an insistence on full blackface does look a bit… awkward. I’m well aware that many Border sides explain it as a tradition derived from disguising oneself to avoid punishment, and also aware that many of them sincerely believe this, and if they suspected there were proven racist connotations they would not want to persist in blacking up.
Unfortunately, there is quite a lot of evidence to the effect that Morris blackface does have its roots in negative stereotyping of non-white people.
There are well-researched arguments against continuing the use of black face paint here and here and currently, as was probably bound to happen, a lot of people on either side of the debate are behaving like screaming fuckwits. One lot would have you believe that every Morris dancer in the country is a Farage-worshipping Little Englander bigot prone to muttering that if those non-white types don’t respect our English traditions they can fuck off home; the other side are not only wailing about PCGORNMAD but implying that criticizing Morris blackface is only the first step on the path to banning Morris altogether.
There are, broadly, three types of Morris dancing: Cotswold, Northwest and Border – more, if you include Molly dancing, rapper, longsword and fluffy. Of all these, only Border sides go in for painting their faces at all. So, #notallMorrisdancers. To an extent, the current row as it is being played out among actual Morris dancers reminds me of nothing more than the old fetish scene favourite: the rows about whether or not Nazi uniforms are acceptable fetishwear. I’m of the same opinion on both topics, really – do it if you want to but don’t kick up when other people decide that you’re a dick.