Fenland residents say it’s ludicrous ‘blacked-up’ Morris Dancers in Birmingham received abuse for being racist on eve of the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey

PUBLISHED: 15:07 10 January 2017 | UPDATED: 15:29 10 January 2017

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival 2016. Picture: Steve Williams,

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival 2016. Picture: Steve Williams,

Archant

Fenland residents hit out at shoppers who called Plough Day dancers in Birmingham racist for blacking up their faces.

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival 2016. Picture: Steve Williams,Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival 2016. Picture: Steve Williams,

The criticism comes just days before the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival takes place this weekend.

A group of Morris Dancers had to abandon a Plough Day celebratory performance at the Bullring in Birmingham on Saturday after they were accused by some onlookers of being racist over their traditional black face paint, it has been claimed.

West Midlands Police are now reviewing CCTV of the event after receiving a complaint of alleged verbal abuse and threats.

The Alvechurch Morris Dancers group based in Worcestershire arrived at 11am and had performed without any disturbance until issues began with a small section of the crowd.

A source close to the performers told The Telegraph: “The atmosphere had been great with the vast majority of people, but I was absolutely amazed by the vitriolic abuse they started to receive.”

“One lady was particularly angry and a group of young men started to become very abusive and confrontational, accusing them of being racists, which of course they are not.”

The Alvechurch Morris Dancers group were one of more than a dozen groups which were there to celebrate the start of the agricultural year, which draws similarities to the same outfits and face make-up donned by performers at the annual Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival.

Morris dancers, like those that will be seen over the weekend at the famous Fenland festival have performed with black painted faces since the origins of the tradition in the 16th century.

Historically Morris Men used the black face make-up to conceal their identities because impoverished 16th century farm workers would do the same when begging in winter because it was illegal.

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.”

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