Tuesday 30 August 2016

Knowing your Borders

A Border Morris side
Border is a type of Morris dancing in which most sides (teams) usually black up their faces. It is an old tradition which owes nothing to acts like the black and white minstrels which it predates by centuries. It was a traditional method of disguise at a time when dancing for money could be construed as begging, and was thus illegal.

The Shrewsbury Folk Festival has decided to ban any Morris side that continues to black up. This very much reminds me of an incident that I wrote about in June 2009 - see the original post in which I also explain the origins of the custom in more detail.

The festival director said: "We have been approached by one group that has requested we no longer book sides that use full face black make up and another that has asked us not to change our policy and to continue to book these sides. The festival finds itself caught between two sides of this opposing argument. The festival has never wished to cause offence to any person and as such, from 2017, we will no longer book sides that use full face black make up."

The complaint came from an equality group called FRESh (Fairness, Respect, Equality Shropshire).

I accept the fact that the festival was caught between two sides of an argument, but it seems perverse to side with the one that got its facts wrong by perceiving racist undertones that aren't there. In Otley, I have seen a Border side who painted their faces blue, which I always assumed was to avoid precisely this kind of misunderstanding, although it does leave them open to jokes about Smurfs.

Some Border sides may compromise; others definitely won't. The one good thing is that this ban has been covered by both local and national press who have explained the origins of the practice, which should mean that more people now know its origin is not racist. I can't help feeling that information is a better way forward than a ban.

'Equality and Diversity' is the current term for what we used to call 'Equal Opportunities'. Aren't we in danger of forgetting the Diversity bit?


  1. Well said - this ban comes across as one of the worst examples of bogus and misplaced anti-racism.

  2. And the very same anti-racism campaigners will then continue to wonder why there is a right wing backlash against perceived political correctness.

    Some people are so right on they are incapable of seeing when they are wrong.

  3. Here's hoping Theresa is tough on Morris Dancing and tough on the causes of Morris Dancing.

  4. Somebody else trying to eradicate our culture from under our noses....


Comments, including disagreements, are welcome.
Abuse and spam are not and will be deleted straight away.
Comment moderation is installed for older posts.