Morris Dancers with painted black faces

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KAZ | 15:12 Thu 01st May 2008 | Society & Culture
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I witnessed a morris dancer being called a racist the other day because he had a painted black face. this is a well known Border morris tradition which goes back to when people used to dance to earn extra money and painted their faces with boot polish/soot in order to be anonymous, painted faces also added to the mystery and mischieviousness of the dancers. Morris dancers are great people, full of fun, and they care so much about carrying on this wonderful English tradition. it is such a shame that some people can be so narrow minded.


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Can we not just ban Morris dancing on general taste grounds?
I'm with Sir Thomas Beecham on this................."I'll try anything once except Morris Dancing and incest".........
Wasn't the 'blackening of faces' a capital offence in 1723? In those days you could be hung for it, so it aint so bad now.
Someone once wrote an item in The Times, I believe, extolling Morris dancing. He pointed out that it was a form of exercise, it involved the use of the imagination, muscular movement, hand-eye co-ordination and various other 'good' things.
Someone else then responded that what he had described to a T was masturbation and that this probably explained why people who got involved in Morris dancing were such a bunch of...there then followed a 7-letter word beginning with 'w' and ending in 'ers'!
I have been attending the Portsmouth Beer Festival for many years. No more, sadly, since a group of these people have now become a fixture at it.

Re the actual question, clearly, it is nonsense to describe someone with a blacked face as a racist.

I don't know about nonsense, Quizmonster - it may have looked very like one of those old black-and-white minstrel performances, which were unthinkingly racist (though not intended offensively) in origin. Presumably the accuser didn't know the tradition KAZ mentions (neither did I), in which case someone should have politely explained it. Did anyone?
That was my point, J...I don't believe one can be "unthinkingly" racist in the circumstances here. Someone else may consider something one has done as racist, but - if you had no such idea when you did it - then you're not racist. The two concepts just don't hang together. It's like being an 'unintentional Nazi'.
I disagree Quizmonster.

A lot of people harbour racial prejudices and stereotypes without realising it. You see it quite a bit on here, actually I see it quite a lot with older members of my family.

Many of them would never dream of voting BNP or thinking of themselves as racist.
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I dunno about being an �unintentional Nazi�. If you go out to a fancy dress party dressed in a Nazi officer uniform complete with swastikas (a la Prince Harry) you can be pretty darn certain that you will offend someone.

I agree in so much as comparatively you wouldn�t necessarily be labelled a Nazi, but would you really need to be told that it might be considered offensive?
You cannot be a racist unless you knowingly and actively believe in the superiority of one race over another and speak/act accordingly. It's really as simple as that in my opinion.
Black-face Morris has, apparently, been a traditional form of that dance-style for centuries. Anyone who applies make-up in order to participate in that may be a racist, but he's probably not. To find out whether he is, one would need perhaps to go to the pub with him after the performance and listen to how he describes other races. What one assuredly cannot do is assume he is racist
on the basis of his cosmetics/dancing!
Personally, I thought the fuss about Prince Harry's fancy dress was utter nonsense. If people cannot see the difference between a beswastikaed storm-trooper grinding his jackboot heel into someone's face and a young man having a bit of fun, then that's their problem, not his. Letters to newspapers used to be signed "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" it should be "Offended of Just-About-Anywhere".

I'll leave it at that. If you disagree, so be it. (I'm not a racist, by the way!)
Having once had a peaceful summers afternoon in the park ruined by these wierdos, my irritation was alleviated when one of them rattle a collection tin in front of my then landlord.
"I'm collecting for the Morris Men" he explained.
"Are you looking for a cure?" enquired my landlord.
I could think of many names to generically call Morris Dancers, though I concede (although I never asserted it) a racist is not one of them.

Even, and let me make this very clear, even if they DO blacken their faces.
I think there's a difference between harbouring racial prejudices and being a racist.

You know I think Michael Jackson's whitening of his face (Let's assume it's deliberate) does display a certain racial prejudice or at least a deep seated racial insecurity.

But then it's probably just one of many he seems to have - talk about money not buying happiness!
I don't imagine the dancer was a racist, Quizmonster, but I don't think it was nonsensical of a passerby, who didn't know the history of the situation, to assume he was. You can make assumptions on the basis of someone's appearance - not themselves, but they way they choose to decorate themselves - even if the assumptions are wrong. If someone is lily-white but dressed all in black you can assume he/she's a goth. You might be incorrect but the assumption is reasonable enough.
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What was originally a question regarding racism has provoked alot of predjudice towards Morris dancers here? Why is that? What did they ever do to anybody? What a shame.....
As Kaz has, effectively, asked a new queation, I think I can return to answer it.
I seem to remember an episode of Blackadder set in about the 15th century in which our hero was making arrangements for his brother's wedding. When someone said they'd arranged for Morris dancers to perform, Blackadder said, "What? In this day and age!" So, clearly he was making the point that they were felt to have outlived their usefulness even 'way back then!
The fact is that they are generally large, middle-aged men prancing around with tinkly bells and fluttery hankies, so what's to enjoy about them?
Perhaps it's wonderful being a Morris dancer...excuse to meet your mates and sink a few pints after dance-practice and so on. The objection is to having to watch them. And it's no good saying, "Just stay away", because they are often more or less forced upon you.
I mentioned Portsmouth Beer Fest in an earlier reply. There, they occupy the centre of the floor - for two lots of 30 minutes - where the beer is being poured and drunk during a 3-hour session. Of course, you can go outside, but then you're not at the Beer Fest any more, are you?

It should be stamped out mercilessly!
Morris dancing is peculiar. Always thought it strange men dancing around with bells on their knees and white hankies flapping around. I wonder what it means?
Apart from having bells on the legs to warn the general public that acts of morris are about to be committed and to clear the area, and prancing around with an aggressively waved hanky to blow each others noses, one thing that does perturb me is that morris dancing generally involves dancing round a pub, and often includes that well known �raising the elbow� sequence.

Morris men are basically binge-drinking, cross-dressing ramblers, and are therefore the quintessence of Englishness, apparently. They even wander the lanes and greens of our peaceful land waving weapons, which some say are phallic symbols (ooer) and then slap each others thighs before a final round of one-legged-arse-kicking. All to the tempo of a deaf and drunken accordionist.

Harmless fun? I think not, they remind me of Papa Lazarou. Hello Dave. You my wife now.
Morris dancers are almost as creepy as clowns.
Great post Octavius.

I particularly liked

"Morris men are basically binge-drinking, cross-dressing ramblers".


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