3 July 2020
This matter has been under review for some years, with statements and advice to sides being issued by successive squires.
These have increasingly asked sides to consider their continued use of such face make up, the effect it has on their audience, the safety of their side members, and what alternatives could be used to achieve the same effect. Many member sides have heeded this advice and stopped using it.
The issue has however remained under constant review by the officers because although it has a complex and uncertain history, it is perceived by some as racist.
During the current lockdown and suspension of morris activity, the Black Lives Matter protests and more significantly counter protests by far right groups have brought a decisive shift in how issues such as this are viewed and debated in public life.
The use of full black or skin tone face make up has become part of a range of symbols used in political campaigning. Most worrying of all to the officers is that justifications for using it based on culture/tradition have been appropriated by the political far right.
The fact that some feel the practice to be racist should be enough for sides to realise it is no longer acceptable and is wrong when viable alternatives clearly exist. Those that wish to continue are now consciously taking morris into a political debate. The Morris Ring is an apolitical organisation and such sides who do not change must continue that debate outside of membership of the Morris Ring.
As an organisation, we are open to clubs to join who agree to uphold the standards and dignity of Morris. The officers unanimously agree that the use of such face make up now falls short of this test and is wrong. They advise member sides who wish to remain in the Morris Ring to stop this practice.
This matter has been discussed over time with the Morris Federation and Open Morris as part of the JMO. There has inevitably been recent press interest and as part of our discussion within the JMO a copy of a press release sent to the Telegraph today is attached for information.
The officers therefore are to take the following steps with immediate effect:-
- No new applications to join the Morris Ring from sides using such face make up will be accepted.
- All current member sides who use this are to be contacted by the officers to discuss supporting them to review alternatives, discuss the issue with sides who have successfully changed to alternatives and agree a timescale with them to do so. If your side is affected by this change please contact bagman [at] themorrisring.org for assistance.
- Further steps may be required in time and the officers will update the membership.
One final point arises with regard to the public liability insurance obtained by the JMO.
In discussions with the JMO insurance broker on updating terms of Morris Ring membership, the use of such face make up potentially being a problem in maintaining cover is also apparent. Further advice is being requested before the renewal of the insurance policy in January 2021.
However given the volatility of public protests, using such face make up may be viewed as an aggravating factor such as to void any cover. Any update will be shared with the membership as a matter of urgency once confirmed.
Although the issue of insurance has not driven the officers’ decision, it is a further indication of how serious this matter has now become.
3rd July 2020
Peter Simpson - Squire of the Morris Ring
Jon Melville – Bagman of the Morris Ring
Clayton Francis – Treasurer of the Morris Ring
Simon Newman – Squire Elect of the Morris Ring
Ed Worrall – Chair of the Morris Ring Advisory Council
Appendix – Press release
JMO Statement for the Telegraph, 3rd July 2020
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.
Joint Morris Organisations, comprising The Morris Federation, The Morris Ring and Open Morris
3rd July 2020