Are Black face Morris Dancers acceptable?

I read Molly Roberts’ letter of May 26th and while I was sadly not surprised, I was nonetheless appalled.

Firstly, there are some factual issues. It is entirely wrong to assert that black face in Morris comes from disguise, this is a highly contested point, evidence points in several directions, not least there is the fact that ‘Morris’ is widely believed to derive from ‘Moorish’, so in fact the entire tradition may have racist roots.

As far as I am aware, black face in Morris is only banned by certain festivals (Shrewsbury, for example) and groups, or altered (Hook Eagle). There is no ban in law, so if you wish to see black face, you must simply find others willing to perform and host the event, it remains a matter of taste.

I must say that with regard to the dance you reference in your last paragraph, I have not the faintest clue what you are talking about, and neither did several friends and family.

You also seem to imply that anything with a history or tradition is positive, but I remind you that Britain had at various times a long tradition of hanging, slavery and rotten boroughs.

Now for the most troubling part of all, the overt racism. To use the word aping, when discussing Black people, is simply disgraceful and unarguably racist. ‘To ape’ does technically have a meaning that is not specifically about the animal, that is the derivation. I do not feel the need to explain that this is a racist trope, a quick internet search will do that for you if necessary. The world has moved on too far, the availability of information is too great and that word ‘aping’ is too obscure and unnecessary for you to pretend it was not written with racist intent.

Finally, I myself actually have a lot of sympathy for the argument in favour of keeping the black face, although I think the move to blue is the best solution. As someone who is privileged in a variety of ways, however, I think it is important to make it clear that I wish to end oppression, and accepting that some things that are not a significant issue to me are significant to others, precisely because I enjoy privileges that they do not. For that reason I support the ending of black face in Morris. If nothing else, when somebody else tells you something is immensely hurtful and damaging to them, can you not find it within yourself to be kind, especially when that kindness costs you nothing?

George Gooch, Nailsworth

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