Calling time on full-face black makeup

Letter from the Committee to members, 3rd July 2020

In the light of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Joint Morris Organisations (*) are issuing a statement that calls on all three organisations to eliminate the use of full-face black or skin tone makeup.  Your committee fully supports this call.

Our traditions do not operate in a vacuum. While no morris dancer wants to cause offence, we must recognise that full-face black or other skin tone makeup is a practice that has the potential to cause deep hurt.

Morris is a living tradition and it is right that it has always adapted and evolved to reflect society.  In 2016, we issued guidance to our members with respect to using face paint as a disguise, and we welcome the fact that many long-standing teams who used to wear full-face black makeup have chosen to use masks, alternative colours, or other forms of disguise.  We now believe we must take further steps to ensure the continued relevance and inclusivity of the tradition.

Morris is a unique cultural tradition of which we should be rightly proud. We want people from all races and backgrounds to share in this pride and not be made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable by any element of a performance.

As a committee we have come to the conclusion that it is no longer a matter of personal preference but of taking a stand. Accordingly, a motion will be put forward to the AGM in September to ask member teams to review their policies and practices and move that The Morris Federation should not renew membership for teams where individuals still continue to use full-face skin tone makeup.

This decision has been considered for a long time and we do not take this action lightly. While not a direct reaction to recent nationalist articles, we should recognise that the use of full face black make-up can encourage and embolden these sentiments.

We understand that such a move may distress and upset people we know as friends.  We would like to reach out to member teams to engage with us on this matter so that we can move forward together.  Specific comments may be sent to feedback@morrisfed.org.uk – we may not be able to respond to everyone immediately, but we will give proper consideration to all comments from members, so please identify yourself and your team when mailing us.

We will be urging all of our members to consider this issue seriously and to vote on the motion that will be discussed at the upcoming virtual AGM to be held on Saturday 26 September 2020.

We expect that this story will be picked up by the press and we would urge all members to be aware of the wider issues when engaging with the media or in their use of social media.  We understand that no member seeks to contradict our aims for inclusivity, but it is not each dancer’s intent that matters, rather how they – and the Morris – are perceived by the outside world.

Joint Morris Organisations statement

The JMO (*) statement is:

“Our traditions do not operate in a vacuum. While no morris dancer wants to cause offence, we must recognise that full face black or other skin tone makeup is a practice that has the potential to cause deep hurt.

Morris is a living tradition and it is right that it has always adapted and evolved to reflect society. Over the past few years, many morris teams have already proactively taken the decision to stop using full face black makeup to avoid causing offence or hurt. We now believe we must take further steps to ensure the continued relevance and inclusivity of the tradition.

The Joint Morris Organisations (The Morris Federation, The Morris Ring, and Open Morris) have therefore agreed that each of them will take action to eliminate this practice from their membership. Teams that continue to use full face black or other skin tone make up will find they are no longer part of the mainstream morris community, be covered by JMO public liability insurance, or invited to take part in events organised or sponsored by the JMO.

Morris is a unique cultural tradition of which we should be rightly proud. We want people from all races and backgrounds to share in this pride and not be made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable by any element of a performance.

3rd July 2020”

(*) The Joint Morris Organisations comprises The Morris Federation, The Morris Ring and Open Morris

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