Face Paint FAQ

Following on from the broadcast email letter to members ‘Calling time on full face black makeup’, on 3rd July 2020, here are some of the frequently asked questions from members.

See all our Face Paint pages:

We hope that these pages will answer some of your questions, and will provide inspiration to teams/individuals as they navigate through a transition from full face black makeup to other alternatives.

What process is The Morris Federation following?

A motion has been proposed for discussion at the AGM 2020 that, if passed, will ask all member teams to review their policy on use of makeup to ensure it meets the published Face Paint Guidance. The Committee will also be instructed to refuse membership (from January 2021) to any team that chooses not to comply.  Teams are perfectly entitled to make this choice and can continue to perform as they have always done, but will not be (re-)admitted to membership of The Morris Federation.

We don’t wear full face makeup, should we abstain?

NO.  Abstention supports the status quo but offers no useful guidance to the Committee – it just kicks the issue into the long grass.  As members of The Morris Federation, you are entitled to have your voice heard.  You do not have to wear any sort of makeup to have an opinion on this matter.  All member teams have ten votes and you should split your votes to reflect the thinking within your team.  But do vote, all our members have the right, and also perhaps a duty, to set Federation policy.

What right have you to dictate what a member team shall or shall not wear?

Unlike almost everything else to do with kit, music or dancing, the wearing of full face black makeup (in particular) is not just a matter for the team concerned.  The practice has been the subject of controversy for many years.  There are strong opinions held on both sides of the argument.  This is not about dictating details that are of concern only to the team itself.

Why is the Committee not neutral on the issue of ‘blacking-up’?

Because to remain neutral is to be content with the status quo. Both as individuals and as a body we have come to feel that now is the right time to act.  Four (of the six) officers have danced with Molly or Border teams.  Some have blacked-up in the past.  We understand the power of makeup and disguise and we are aware of their traditional use.  We have enjoyed the performances and shared the excitement of innovative teams.  But we (and many of these same teams) now feel that this power can be achieved in different ways and that the tradition is not as clear cut as once we might have thought.

We do not think teams that black up are being racist. But unlike almost everything else to do with kit, music or dancing, the wearing of full face black makeup (in particular) is not just a matter for the team concerned.  The practice has been the subject of controversy for many years.  There are strong opinions held on both sides of the argument.  Raising this issue is not about dictating details that are of concern only to the team itself.

We first signalled our formal disquiet in 2016 when we urged all teams to give serious consideration to the impact of ‘blacking up’ on both our audiences and the public perception of Morris overall.  The ‘black lives matter’ events of 2020 have brought the issue to the fore once more.  This Committee intends to “stand in the gap”.

What about “Team X”?

This isn’t about specific teams, though obviously only certain teams would be affected.  The argument is whether the practice of blacking-up is still acceptable in principle.  If it is not, the principle must apply to all our members.

Isn’t it The Morris Federation’s job to educate the public?

What form would this education take?  We can’t afford mass advertising.  We are neither funded nor staffed to deliver on any form of public or political education programme. Even with the best will in the world, we simply can’t reach every person who might come into contact with a team that blacks up.

Likewise, we have been trying to get Morris dancing into schools – in competition with many other extra-curricular topics – for years without much success.  But would that help in this case?  Schools practitioners report that they would either simply not be allowed to introduce, or would not feel comfortable introducing, black face-paint to schools attempting Molly or Border Morris.

Nor can we write material that a team might use to “educate” its audience.  Apart from the fact that it’s not necessarily the people who stop and talk who may be offended, a “community” team that dances only at certain local events has a different audience, and a different relationship with their audience, than a “festival” team that never goes to village fairs.  There is no generic one-size-fits-all explanation.  The history of Molly dancing in East Anglia owes little to that of the Border dances revived in the 1970s.

Finally, the Committee is not persuaded that a message that it’s “just traditional disguise” will be either accurate or effective.  The purpose of the “education” would presumably be to provide something that a team could rely on (in part) as a defence against an accusation of harassment under the Equality Act.   Lawyers (and ‘historians’ of the Morris) that we have consulted are confident that this would be demolished in short order by a competent barrister should this ever come to court.

Surely there’s some third way?
Rackaback Morris
Rackaback Morris

If by “third way” you mean “continue the tradition unchanged”, then no.  We have talked with dancers who black up, with dancers who do not black up, with people expert in the history of the tradition, with festival organisers, with members of the public.  We cannot find any form of words that meets the concerns expressed that would allow the practice of full face black makeup to continue unchanged.

If by “third way” you mean “some alternative that allows us to still wear black”, then yes.  Half-face, fine.  Streaks, fine. Multi-coloured, fine.  But not full face makeup potentially taken by a reasonable observer to be parodying a skin colour not your own.

What are the other morris organisations doing?
Feedback

If you have any questions, or anything at all you wish to discuss with us on this topic, or any experiences of moving away from full face black makeup, or statements from your team that you wish to share, please do email us at feedback@morrisfed.org.uk.

We would like to hear from all member teams who may be affected by this. Please email us at feedback@morrisfed.org.uk

Liverpool Liver Building

Joint Morris Organisations’ Day of Dance 2022

The Joint Morris Organisations’ Day of Dance will take place on Saturday 9th April 2022 in Liverpool City Centre hosted by The Morris Ring in the North West.  This was postponed from 2020 due to the Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak. For more info click on the link below.

Read More »

Don't miss out

Get The Morris Federation's News

Subscribe for news about The Morris Federation and morris related activities. Available for all.