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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Broadstairs Folk Week Institutionally Racist!


Broadstairs Folk Week, which is taking place between 11-18 August, is, in my opinion, institutionally racist! It’s organising committee and Director, Jo Tuffs, actively endorse and provide financial support for Morris dancers and musicians from the “Border tradition” who are renowned for blacking-up for their performances. A practice many people, myself included, believe to be offensive and racist. 

Over the past 40 years “blacking up” by TV, stage, and cinema performers has all but disappeared with most people regarding it as distasteful and inappropriate. Yet despite pubic disproval blacking-up has survived and is flourishing within the Morris dancing and folk music community including, to its shame, the prestigious Broadstairs Folk Week.

The festival’s official Facebook page includes several photographs of “blacked up” Morris dancers participating in the 2016 “Big Parade – a family-friendly procession of music, morris and magic” which launches the festival each year. Their inclusion in the parade amounts to an official endorsement by festival organisers of blacking-up and the racist message which this sends out.

The festival’s website encourages Morris dance troupes across the country to visit Broadstairs Folk Week “to busk and take part in our big parade” and “to perform in show spots and run workshops”. In exchange performers receive free festival tickets worth £39 per day and subsidised camping for £5 per night. Some of the Morris troupes taking advantage of this generous offer black-up to perform. To provide those who engage in this offensive behaviour with the equivalent of £39 per day plus cheap camping is nothing less than a disgraceful financial subsidy for racism by the festival organisers and Director Tuffs.

Whatever the historic explanations and justifications for blacking-up might be this practice is no longer acceptable, especially in a modern, diverse and inclusive society. Instead of encouraging and supporting such offensive, racist, behaviour influential organisations and individuals in the Morris dancing and folk music community such as Tuffs and the Broadstairs Folk should be opposing and challenging it.

On 16th July I emailed the festival organisers writing that “to allow "blacked-up" Morris dancers to perform without challenge or criticism is insensitive, panders to racism and is plain wrong”. I pointed out that following complaints in 2016 the Shrewsbury Folk Festival had withdrawn its support from blacked-up Morris dancers and I urged the Broadstairs festival organisers, “to follow the brave and principled stance taken by the Shrewsbury Folk Festival and make a public statement about this totally unacceptable and racist practice before this year’s festival begins”

My e-mail went unanswered so I called the Folk Week office

on 26th July. My call was answered by Festival Director Jo Tuffs who as curt, off-handed and disinterested to the point of rudeness. I followed up this conversation with an e-mail to Tuffs expressing concerns about inaction over my complaint and offering to speak to the festival organising committee about the issue. I have not received a reply to this e-mail. 

I have been left with the impression that Tuffs and her organising committee don’t give a damn about the offence being caused by the Border Morris dancers and are happy to continue to encourage and financially support what many people believe to be the racism in the guise of a tradition by this shameful group of performers. 

Unless Tuffs and her organising committee take immediate action including the exclusion of Border Morris dancers from all official festival events, the withdrawal of free tickets to these dancers and the issuing of a statement dissociating the festival from blacked up dancers, I will contact the Charities Commission to ask for an investigation into whether Folk Week is in breach of its charitable objectives to promote multiculturalism. I will also contact Folk Week sponsors to ask them to reconsider funding a festival which currently appears to be encouraging and supporting racism.

It’s interesting to note that Broadstairs and St Peter’s Town Council, Thanet District Council and Kent County Council provide several thousands of pounds of funding to the Folk Week organisers. When providing such funding councils must adhere to the 2010 Equality Act and its public sector equality duty which requires funding to used, amongst other things, to “foster good relations” between people from different races and cultures and to “eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation”. Allowing public funds to be donated to an organisation which endorses and provides financial support to white Morris dancers who black-up is, in my book, tottally opposed to the public sector duty and if things don’t change Broadstairs and St Peter’s Town Council, Thanet District Council and Kent County Council should no longer fund Folk Week.

 NOTE the overwhelming majority of those who visit, perform at, or volunteer to help at Folk Week are I am sure decent, music loving, non-racists who are coming to Broadstairs to enjoy themselves and I wish them well. 


However the organisers of the festival have a duty to ensure that practices which offend, and which many perceive to be racist, should not in any way be tolerated or supported. I am extremely disappointed by the reaction of festival Director Jo Tuffs to my complaint and believe that she has demonstrated that she is not the right person to deal with this and should step aside to make room for someone who can. 

28 comments:

  1. Come off it Victorian chimney sweeps had spot all over their faces and that is what the are portraying and you think it's racist take a look at the government and the politics you believe in you are the racist ones

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  2. You are so wrong, the interceptor.
    Are you thinking of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins?
    Blacking-up or blackface, was both used to emulate "Moorish", hence, Morris dancers, just like the Black and White Minstrels, and used as a disguise by beggars earning money whilst performing.

    This is unacceptable in our contemporary multi-cultural society. To hang on to a tradition that now has new significance in the UK, is as bad as using the metaphor "N's in the woodpile"

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    1. You've mixed up alot of things here Anon. A theory is that morris dancing gains it's names through Moorish connections - essentially the Cotswold style which has huge similarities with the dances of the Basque regions. The Moors as they swept through Europe are believed to have influenced the dances. The name is also a derivative of the Moresque dances of 16th/17th Century. The Border tradition however did not "Black-up" to emulate Moors. This is a fallacy. In other regions - Leicestershire and the Fens sheep raddle was used therefore dancers wore red faces as disguise. In the English-Welsh Borders they would have used coal dust, earth etc. Their faces would have been smudged black - and I can agree that some sides now using stage paints can go too dark hence the similarity to minstrels, though you should note that most do not!

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  3. ...or we just don't let idiots like you tarnish our tradition.

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  4. Please get your facts right, you can't place today's mores on a centuries old tradition. The tradition of Black-faced Molly/Morris dancers has nothing to do with racism. The blackened faces are a form of disguise as you would know had you researched your article first. http://www.old-glory.org.uk/

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  5. You are coming across as a very big FOOL, mainly due to this preposterous, absurd statement that really does nothing more than show the level of mentality that you have, in this case very little. It is people like you with statements like this, that will cost events like Broadstairs Folk Week to close, or at the vet least, to rethink the content of this wonderful week.

    Oh yes, since when did Victorian chimney sweeps have clean WHITE faces after work? NEVER. Get off blogging such total rubbish.

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    1. Oooh, Tony Bolder, you are so Mannish. ;-)

      https://www.facebook.com/AllThingsMannish

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  6. Too get rid of a British tradition because it might offend people is racist to British people. If the tradition background had anything to do with black people then yes I would agree with you, but this has nothing, zero freck all to do with black people but to do with mining and chimney sweeps.

    Would be a big shame if history is lost because people are wrongly offended.

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  7. You know Victorian coal miners skin turned black from an evil combination of coal dust and lamp black from their lamps? There are thousands of early photographs showing this. These were the very people who formed Morris groups in the Midlands coalfield areas as one if the few ways they could entertain themselves and others. Blacking up has nothing to do with racism, it's to represent the poor miners who suffered terrible hardships.

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  8. Mr Driver you are wrong to attack someone you neither know or have probably never met,simply because she has a different interpretation of a situation than you have. I would suggest you thoroughly research the origins of this form of British entertainment before commenting. As I have not done so as yet, I will refrain from passing any further comment.

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    1. It would have been a good idea if you had before you left your comment!

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  9. Ian, please get some perspective. Sooty faces from mining and industry are what's represented by these Morris men. Positive discrimination which is what you seek actually erodes tolerance over time. I relish our multiculture but cherish my Britishness despite all its' faults and historical faux pas! You had started to earn my respect of late too....

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    1. Ian, like the previous post from Ramsgate Fan you were gaining a lot of respect (from me ) lately however this blog is really out of order. If you have any sense of fairness and understanding you might want to have a re-think. Racist behaviour my arse ! Have you been taking 'silly pills?'

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  10. Whereas 'blacking up' to portray Minstrels or people of African origin has long been accepted as racist, the use of soot or other disguise amongst Morris traditions is well known to have nothing to do with pretending to be a different race. Ignorance of English traditions does not allow you to libel people as racists, especially when those upholding those traditions are incredibly diverse and tolerant.
    You owe Ms Tuffs an apology.

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  11. I am extremely passionate about eradicating racism. I am left wing and proud, local, and interested in local politics as well as British folk traditions. However I agree with those who have questioned this logic. The blacking of faces in the morris tradition was never, and is not now, to portray black skin. It did indeed rise from the mining industry and was also used as a disguise. To lump the Morris tradition in with Black and White minstrels based on the colour of the paint is ridiculous and a step too far. Ian, you usually have some really good points to make but you are wrong on this score. This is in the same category as banning 'blackboards' from school for fear of causing offence, which never actually happened and neither should this. You don't eradicate racism by continuing the divide, you eradicate it by treating all colours and races as if racism didn't exist. Live the world you want to see. Celebrate uniqueness and beauty of each race. Don't call everything that could possibly be seen as emulating black skin racist when it isn't.

    Instead, why don't you research the origins of this tradition and support our wonderful folk week which does so much for our area.

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  12. I think you're attacking completely the wrong people with this diatribe. Cultural events like the Broadstairs Folk Week are hugely important to a community - apart from celebrating our heritage these events bring valuable income to an area and shouldn't be attacked lightly. If you feel seriously affronted by the black face tradition of some Morris sides you should make your views known to them, not harangue the festival organisers, many of which work voluntarily and in the interests of the community.
    I know that blackface in Morris Dancing is, currently, controversial but it has a long tradition steeped in our own heritage and more traditional Morris sides see this as an important part of what they do in keeping the tradition alive. I know some sides have taken to wearing blue face make up as a concession to the anti black face crowd but this has been their decision and not forced on them by festival organisers or people outside the folk community. If you have an objection to the use of black face by some traditional Morris sides you should represent your views and opinions to them – you might learn something about the history of the movement in the process. What the Broadstairs festival organisers are trying to do is put on a festival that covers the widest aspects of folk music and our folk traditions - and I think they do an excellent job. This is a side issue that shouldn't be allowed to take up their time. Get some perspective and move on.

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  13. Shame MR Driver, you have no knowledge of the history of the traditions of this country,totally unrelated to race.

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  14. There is little of no proof that Morris Dancing is linked to the Moores or that they are imitating the Moorish people. This is a very unproven suppostion
    It is true also that the "Disguise Theory" has been called into question of late (the teory being dancers would be dancing for beer money + begging, which was illegal, So thay disguised themselves with goose fat and soot in order not to be recognised>
    And As Border Morris originates from the Border towns of Jeredford and Shropshire.. These were in times gon by Mining communities, so who is to say that the Caol dust explanation is not Valid?
    I think the Border Sides could do themselves a favour by explaining this to the audience. This might stop the pompous Moral indignation that people like you spout on behalf of others.

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  15. Ian, you sir are a knob, pull your head out of your arse and see the world for what it is, I've gone home from a hard day's work looking lust like these so called racist many a time, does that make me racist.

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  16. If you'd actually looked at the picture of the people you've featured, you'd have seen that the facepaint is half black and half green. Who are we being racist against? Elves? Leprechauns? And we're not bloody racist either.

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  17. If you had bothered to actually look at the people in the picture you've used, you'd have seen that our faces are in fact half black, and half GREEN. So who are we racist against? Elves? Leprechauns? You've totally misinterpreted it, and are being extremely insulting to us.

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  18. You absolute f**king moron.

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  19. Utterly ridiculous Ian Driver.. Please do not blog on something you clearly do not understand. (explained above) Or are you just trying to keep a high public profile by pandering to the idiots who will jump on anything they can to prove anyone White/English must be racist ? makes my blood boil! No wonder Jo Tuffs did not wish to speak to you, she probably thought you were nuts.

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  20. Ian

    You've lost the plot, and the little credibility you still had.

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  21. Ian Driver are you suggesting we wear different coloured make up to pacify your blatantly unrehearsed piffle. Ifor we wear blue then according to you we would probably upset the Smurfs, green we would be upsetting the jolly green giant or worse still the Incredible Hulk, red the native Americans, yellow our friends in Japan and China I don't know what colour the indigenous natives are on Mars but we probably don't want to upset them either. From your obviously ill informed "research' and for your information the dancers aren't troupes but in fact sides. From my point of view when performing whilst blacked up the only people to have raised any concerns have been ignorant middle class white people with foot and mouth disease (open it and put both on). When you think again before putting pen to paper please remember the 16000 + service personnel who have given their lives for this multi cultural country of ours since WW2 so we all can live a free and unhindered life free from self opinionated arseholes like yourself who have no basic knowledge whatsoever of what your spouting on about

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  22. The moorish dancers are in a league of their own and tells a story of its own.@ They definitel black up and dont 'soot up
    You can not confuse the rest of morris with them.
    It is regional folk dancing and differs from regiion to region, telling different stories in a variety of ways.
    It is Border morris that soot up, I am int he sode used in the thumbnail and we have half green faces, that is how ridiculous this man is, he fails to accept artistic licence and only sees racism.
    He is am inverted racist imo.
    Why is it always white people that get the arse over it?

    And shrewsbury ff, was a few sjw;s that tried to inflict their view on others, claims were made that were lies and Sandra was taken to task over that, the council had no idea what we were on about in an foi yet they apparently wouldnt give the licence to sff if sooting ooccured..
    It was some members of a side that sooted up then stopped for pc reasons, then tried to force it upon
    the rest using lies and underhand tactics to achieve it.

    We are not Minstrels we are Morris!

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  23. This is not actually a serious post iot it? You cannot seriously be taking issue with Morris Dancers portraying possibly the longest standing traditions of folk week can you?

    If you are, you really need to take a long long walk, and think about what you are finding to fill your days, and whether you could be doing something more useful.

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  24. I'm still waiting for you to suggest how I can contact you directly to arrange a public discussion. I suggest representatives from efdss, all 3 Morris organisations, sides and community members. I'm happy to arrange for it to be in a "neutral" setting or indeed as part of a festival. I can organise for those that have researched both sides of the debate to be part of this.

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