We had a whale of a time at the first (hopefully annual) Dance for Diversity in London. It was organised at very short notice, presumably on the back of the mishap with David Cameron being criticised for being photographed with some black-faced border morris dancers (and the morris dancers having been criticised for posing with David Cameron.)
Personally, I’ve always been fed the line, popular in the last few decades, that blacking up in morris dancing is nothing whatsoever to do with any issue of race, and I’ve always believed it. But in the run-up to Dance for Diversity, I thought I’d educate myself further, since Wikipedia makes that so easy these days. The very excellent article on the subject, I’m delighted to report, opened my eyes somewhat to the murky and questionable nature of the evidence we have for the history of blacking up in morris.
I’ll spare you the details, on condition that you get yourself directly to the article and read it for yourself, but suffice it to say I now believe there is enough evidence of morris blacking being influenced by and associated with, if not having its origins in, race-based theatrical blacking… which does not always imply mockery, but that’s not the point. Racism is definitely a real thing and something we should actively resist. There are subtle arguments to be had, and it shouldn’t simply be a matter of being very careful not to cause offense ever (I am the *last* person to advocate avoiding offence) but nor can we simply say morris blacking has nothing to do with racism. Their histories are intertwined, and whether one has anything to do with the other is not simply a matter of the intentions of today’s black face morris dancers. It has to do with the impression that it makes on all observers, educated or otherwise. So we need to be mindful and careful what message we send.
I shall now stand down from my soap box and reiterate that we really enjoyed our road trip to London and we really hope they organise it again next year.