Readers may have seen this story elsewhere, about the Morris dancers in Birmingham on Saturday celebrating Plough Monday (that was yesterday) traditionally the start of the farming year in England. On the Monday after Twelth Night a plough is blessed by the local priest and taken round the village or town, bands play, Morris dancers dance, the Lord is praised for His gifts of agriculture and everyone prays for a fruitful harvest eventually. One of the sides was Alvechurch Morris who dance in the border tradition with black, guised faces. I have written about this elsewhere. It is an old tradition where the blackening of coal dust or soot from manual labour hides the features of men who might otherwise have faced a charge of begging (by dancing originally to collect money when agricultural work was limited during the winter season – you could see why the start of the farming year was welcome). However the professional race industry decided a few years ago that this ancient English tradition like anything English was racist and started to attack sides like Alvechurch. Alvechurch have the guts to stick to the tradition. They explain why here.
On Saturday some ‘anti-racists’ decided to interupt the dancing in Birmingham, and in order to avoid causing an incident the Alvechurch men decided to finish the dance early. But they did stand up for themselves very politely, as shown in this video of one of the arrogant young pups who wanted his hurt feelings tended to.
As an aside I don’t think this little boy is local to Birmingham – I think his accent is from a bit further north. Manchester would be my best guess.
Someone, presumably a dancer from the Alvechurch side made a formal complaint to the police about the harrassment. The Birmingham Mail describes how the ‘anti-racists’ tried to snatch the dancers hats. Now remember this is the West Midlands Police here. The police force who 10 years ago dealt with the abuses revealed by the Channel Four programme Undercover Mosque by arresting the reporters. This is the report from local newspaper the Bromsgrove Advertiser.
Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid denied traditional Morris dancers with black face paint are racist. Writing on Twitter, he said: “Proud of traditional Morris dancers from Alvechurch (in my constituency). They are as racist as I am #PloughMonday.”
West Midlands Police have received a complaint regarding verbal abuse and threats made to someone linked to the dance group, but none about the performance itself.
Birmingham City Centre Police Superintendent Andy Parsons, said: “We are aware of issues surrounding a Morris dancing performance in the city centre on Saturday afternoon.
“We have received one complaint regarding verbal abuse and threats made to someone linked to the dance group. No complaints have been made about the Morris dancing performance itself.
“Officers will be speaking with businesses in the area, viewing camera footage and taking accounts from witnesses in order to understand exactly what happened and determine if any offences were committed.
“Birmingham city centre regularly attracts street performers, preachers and entertainers.
“They contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of the area ? but it’s important that such performances remain lawful, do not incite disorder and should also be mindful of cultural sensitivities. Our officers will take action if they believe any performance represents a public order risk.”
So before they have even investigated, they are warning the victims that they might be stopped from performing an ancient English tradition.
Happily the people of Birmingham are overwhelmingly in favour of the dancers. As are other Morris sides and Festival organisers. The next important event in the folk calendar is this coming weekend in Cambridgeshire, the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey (sometimes Whittlesea). From the Cambridgeshire Times
One resident on the Whittlesey Discussion forum branded the racism accusation as “bloody stupid”, while another said: “This is ludicrous! What kind of ignorance do people hold to have to constantly wave this racism flag?!”
The story even forced one resident to comment: “Next they will stop soldiers from using face camouflage.”
And finally, one person uttered: “Hopefully won’t be affected [sic] here.”
While Whittlesey Straw Bear festival organiser Brian Kell quipped: “How long have you got?” when asked about the incident in Birmingham.
In an official statement, the organiser’s stated: “The Festival operates an equal opportunity policy with no prejudices against Colour, Creed or Gender. When inviting performers to their programmed events their policy is to provide the general public a broad spectrum of art forms based on British Heritage. They do not interfere with the diverse art forms these invited groups represent, in particular, their costume.
“The Festival has in the past and will in the future, resist any external organisation, individual or body who attempts to impose their will or ideology on the festivals’ invitation policy.”
Which sounds like they have also received similar criticism in the past, but are standing their ground. Hopefully all will go well.
Above another side were permitted to dance outside the Bullring without let or hindrance.