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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Phil Black-faced Morris dancers (286* d) RE: Black-faced Morris dancers 14 Oct 14

I've changed my mind about this one. I used to agree with Spleen - to the extent that neo-Border blacking-up draws on historical roots, some of those roots probably do lie in late-C19 minstrelsy rather than more ancient practices of camouflage and guising (I can't look at the Coconutters without thinking of Wilson, Keppel and Betty). Where it doesn't draw on historical roots, on the other hand, there's no reason to use black rather than purple or green.

Then I saw Black Pig.

I don't know if anyone's ever accused Black Pig of being racist on the grounds of blacking-up, but frankly I doubt it. They do black up; they also wear top hats, frock coats, scarves, feathers, badges, veils, goggles - you name it - and perform stick dances with such ferocity that they can finish with one fewer stick than they started with. When we saw them at Bakewell, my (Russian folk-dancing) daughter was so enchanted with them that I seriously looked into whether they had a satellite side near us. (Alas, they don't.)

Now, admittedly this is an argument from lack of evidence - I don't know for certain that Black Pig don't get accused of racism, and I'm open to correction if anyone knows differently. But let's assume I'm right about this, and

a) a Morris side that looks like a steampunk version of Hawkwind (but with black faces) doesn't get accused of racism, but
b) a Morris side that looks like a Morris side (but with black faces) does...

I'm wondering, in other words, if the reason the accusation of racism comes so easily is that the guys Cameron posed with look a bit... old-school. A bit old-timey. A bit fol-de-rol-de-riddle-ol-day. A bit finger-in-ear... The accusation only works so well because it draws on suspicion of people who want to preserve old traditions - and I think that's a suspicion we should be fighting, not accommodating ourselves to. The accusation of racism, in this case, is just a different spin on the bad name that tradition already has.

(Not that I'm immune myself. I ask myself, would I ever black up, and the answer's immediate - "Good God, no! It might be perfectly innocent but it's such a mixed message - why take the risk?" Then I ask myself, would I black up if I had a chance to perform with Black Pig, and the answer is "What, now? Hang on while I have a shave...)

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