Real rea­son Mor­ris dancers ‘blacked up’

Birmingham Post - - NEWS -

I THINK that the woman who was ‘of­fended’ by the Be­orma Mor­ris dancers’ black make up and called them racists, should re­ally brush up on her sadly in­ad­e­quate Bri­tish so­cial and cul­tural his­tory ( Post, Oc­to­ber 26).

I think that she is con­fus­ing Min­strelism with Mor­ris. Mor­ris danc­ing has un­cer­tain roots but def­i­nitely pre­dates Min­strelism by sev­eral cen­turies, and whilst some of the com­ments about racism and black op­pres­sion can cer­tainly be ap­plied to Min­strelism, none ap­ply to Mor­ris.

Mor­ris danc­ing came about in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and was by and large per­formed by lo­cal agri­cul­tural work­ers, most of whom would be vir­tu­ally ‘owned’ by the landown­ers. That was Bri­tish slav­ery.

Be­cause they de­pended on their lord and mas­ter for their liveli­hood, and knew that they could suf­fer dire con­se­quences from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the dance, they at­tempted to dis­guise them­selves. So, they blacked their faces with the freely avail­able soot or char­coal or dirt.

If by some happy ac­ci­dent soot was red or green or blue, we would not be hav­ing this si­t­u­a­tion now.

To­day, ‘black­ing up’ only hap­pens in Border Mor­ris which orig­i­nated in Shrop­shire and Here­ford­shire – per­haps the landown­ers there were some of the harsh­est. It goes with the wear­ing of much-dec­o­rated black hats and waist­coats made of rag strips, and much beat­ing of sticks.

Visu­ally it is quite a spec­ta­cle and my favourite form of Mor­ris, and I have never found any­thing of­fen­sive about it. Prob­a­bly the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who have wit­nessed it have not been of­fended ei­ther.

One silly woman with an ill-in­formed opin­ion de­cides that she is of­fended and hers is the voice that gets re­ported.

Per­haps the Be­orma Mor­ris should paint

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