Morris dancers and the origin of blackface

It’s good to see that morris dancers have stopped blacking up (May Day morris dancers swap black face paint for blue over concerns of racism, 1 五月), but it’s a shame to read the tired old nonsense implying that it’s associated with rural labourers blackening their faces to avoid being recognised while out begging. The earliest reference to morris dancing in England dates from 1448, but blacking up doesn’t become common until the mid-19th century. The earliest reference to blacking up in border morris is in 1855 and an onlooker’s comment makes it clear that it results from the influence of blackface minstrelsy.

Other factors such as the use of banjos, minstrel lyrics in songs, oral histories and the use of the N-word make the link between minstrelsy and border morris irrefutable. To argue that blackface in morris is anything other than minstrelsy plays into the hands of those who complain that political correctness is ruining traditional English customs, as well as being bad history.
Nicholas Wall




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