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Mummers and Racism

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GUEST,Steve (Gloucester) 10 Dec 04 - 08:55 AM
Gedpipes 10 Dec 04 - 08:57 AM
GUEST,Paul Burke 10 Dec 04 - 09:03 AM
Ellenpoly 10 Dec 04 - 09:13 AM
GUEST,Mingulay 10 Dec 04 - 09:13 AM
The Shambles 10 Dec 04 - 09:14 AM
Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 10 Dec 04 - 09:19 AM
DMcG 10 Dec 04 - 09:56 AM
Paco Rabanne 10 Dec 04 - 10:01 AM
Bunnahabhain 10 Dec 04 - 10:07 AM
GUEST 10 Dec 04 - 10:15 AM
Ellenpoly 10 Dec 04 - 10:20 AM
GUEST 10 Dec 04 - 10:29 AM
Paco Rabanne 10 Dec 04 - 10:30 AM
GUEST 10 Dec 04 - 10:36 AM
Strollin' Johnny 10 Dec 04 - 11:25 AM
Once Famous 10 Dec 04 - 11:32 AM
Strollin' Johnny 10 Dec 04 - 11:39 AM
M.Ted 10 Dec 04 - 11:39 AM
GUEST,petr 10 Dec 04 - 12:27 PM
Ellenpoly 10 Dec 04 - 12:34 PM
Once Famous 10 Dec 04 - 12:38 PM
GUEST 10 Dec 04 - 12:53 PM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 10 Dec 04 - 12:55 PM
GUEST 10 Dec 04 - 01:01 PM
GUEST,Steve (Gloucester) 10 Dec 04 - 01:11 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Dec 04 - 01:45 PM
Geoff the Duck 10 Dec 04 - 01:47 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Dec 04 - 01:47 PM
GUEST 10 Dec 04 - 01:49 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Dec 04 - 02:02 PM
GUEST 10 Dec 04 - 02:08 PM
Manitas_at_home 10 Dec 04 - 02:59 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Dec 04 - 03:03 PM
GUEST,petr 10 Dec 04 - 04:39 PM
The Shambles 10 Dec 04 - 04:57 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Dec 04 - 05:23 PM
DougR 10 Dec 04 - 05:33 PM
GUEST,petr 10 Dec 04 - 05:34 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Dec 04 - 05:50 PM
Dave the Gnome 10 Dec 04 - 07:57 PM
Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 10 Dec 04 - 08:46 PM
Peace 10 Dec 04 - 08:57 PM
LadyJean 11 Dec 04 - 12:50 AM
Malcolm Douglas 11 Dec 04 - 02:58 AM
The Shambles 11 Dec 04 - 04:34 AM
Ellenpoly 11 Dec 04 - 05:39 AM
GUEST,American who does so know what a Mummer is 11 Dec 04 - 06:16 AM
GUEST,American who does so know what a Mummer is 11 Dec 04 - 06:33 AM
David Edwards 11 Dec 04 - 08:45 AM
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Subject: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST,Steve (Gloucester)
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 08:55 AM

We have just been told by a venue based in the village where we have annually performed our Mummers' play that this year we would not be able to perform the play as it is rascist.

Just to explain, we black our faces in the old Mumming tradition, and this is obviously where the problems arises.

Has anyone else come across this problem? If so, how did you deal with it?

We have been having a few problems with this venue for the past couple of years when the new manager took over (despite his head office giving us the go ahead) so I suspect that this is just a smokescreen, however this doesn't stop me from being offended by the allegation!

Maybe a little knowledge being a dangerous thing?

Be good to have another opinion!

Steve


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Gedpipes
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 08:57 AM

I think the Mummers society should hear about this and quick.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST,Paul Burke
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 09:03 AM

The Britannia Coconut Dancers have had this problem- I'm told a TV producer once asked them to dance in the nude (i.e. unblacked) and was given short shrift. I's probably worth asking them for their experiences.

http://www.coconutters.co.uk/


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Ellenpoly
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 09:13 AM

This is a hard one. The idea of tradition is brought up again and again as a good reason to keep doing something in a certain way. This can be applied to so many different things, though, and perhaps it can only be examined on an individual basis.

If someone were to "black up" for a minstrel show in the states, there would most likely to be hell to pay, unless it had gone through a lot of discussion and agreement with a host of different groups, both racial and artistic, and most likely nowadays-political.

The same is true for the Passion Plays which can be seen as extremely anti-semitic, which, in their day, was never thought to be a problem.

Then again, how do we differentiate between what has become a "PC World" about relatively minor traditions like the Mummers, and compare it to other "traditions" like religious families who practice so-called "Honour Killings" ALSO based on tradition.

Yes, yes, I've taken an extreme example, but it's to make a point. The Mummers have a tradition which to them seems to be one which hurts no one, and is within a context of "folk art", but who's to be the judge here?

I'm of two minds, which is why I'm writing this. Some traditions have had their day, some are downright reprehensible, and some need to be examined as a cultural and historical item of worth, but in that context.

Good luck.

..xx..e


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST,Mingulay
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 09:13 AM

At this rate Christmas and all associated references and time honoured rituals will soon be banned as being offensive to at least 3 members of society, none of whom really give a shit about what we do because they're all too busy getting on with their own thing and having a good time in their OWN WAYS. Sorry world, these are the things that we do at this time of year. None of it is racist as the people who originated these things had never heard of racism. They did, however, know about despotism, feudalism, poverty and degradation at the hands of their 'masters'.

Sorry, I do not like racialism, nor do I like apologist do-gooders who insist on trying to guide MY point of view towards their own narrow and biased own.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: The Shambles
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 09:14 AM

Is this 'Big Ron's' pub?

All this well-intentioned if OTT political correctness is doing nothing to prevent the deep-rooted racism that is still rampant in the UK. The prevention of monkey noises from football crowds does very little to change this either.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 09:19 AM

Anyone seen front page of todays newspaper [sorry i forgot wich one],
Christmas Banned!
it goes on to say how various forms of xmas celebrations have been banned, by various councils, ie mistletoe has been banned as it is sexist, and wimmin might complain, baloons have been banned as decorations, as they might trigger an allergic reaction, and lead to companies been sued, etc etc.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: DMcG
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 09:56 AM

Steve:

Would you consider a compromise such as using green makeup, rather than black? That is in keeping with the disguise aspect of the tradition and in my view would be better than dropping the play entirely - once you do that, it could easily disappear altogether. It reminds me a little of that old rhyme:

Here lies the body of old John Gray
Who died defending his right of way
He was right - dead right - as he walked along
But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.

I agree entirely that claiming this is racist is misunderstanding the tradition, but the fact is the pub owners' (or whoever) are the ones with the power here and if you think the tradition is worth preserving, its up to you to find a way of doing it in the face of such obstacles, however ill-founded.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Paco Rabanne
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 10:01 AM

I wonder if the SAS might have to 'green up' on future night manouevres.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Bunnahabhain
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 10:07 AM

Second that Green makeup idea. Don't think anyone can object to blue/red/green etc
DMcG is dangerously awake!


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 10:15 AM

How about half black face & half white, then you'll offend everyone & no-one?!


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Ellenpoly
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 10:20 AM

This got me interested. I looked up some things about the whole history of Mummers, and Harlequins etc..

Which character is blacked up? If it's Beezlebub, then I have found as much evidence that RED could work just as effectively to portray that character. It it's Harlequin then the idea of either a black/white mask or face paint seems to be a common practice.

It does look like there are enough differences in the "tradition" for there to be some room to maneuver...


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 10:29 AM

I think most people are very tired of this kind of nonsense..But how do you fight these mini facisims ?


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Paco Rabanne
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 10:30 AM

Vote Conservative!!


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 10:36 AM

There are plenty of folks who are from the dominant "white" culture in the US and Europe, who get really pissed off by the fact that their cultures are no longer homogenous, and no longer able to discriminate against minorities with impunity.

So in a pathetic, xenophobic attempt to turn back the clock to a time when they and theirs ruled their world, instead of all those dark skinned "foreigners" taking over with their "political correctness", these sorts of bigoted folks desperately grasp at the sorts of straws the Mummers are grasping at, claiming "our sacred tradition".

Time to move on. If you want historical authenticity, do as others have suggested for the masking--use something other than black face. It is simply too hurtful to blacks to justify it's continued use.

Living traditions aren't static, but ever-evolving. The Mummer tradition is a perfect example of how it could continue as a win-win situation, simply by changing the color of the face make-up.

Which begs the question, what are the true motives of the Mummers who refuse to change from black face to green or red?

Not pure as the driven snow, to be sure.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Strollin' Johnny
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 11:25 AM

Would a black person 'whiting-up' to perform in a Mummers' Play be considered racist?


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Once Famous
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 11:32 AM

What is a mummer?

Aren't they from ancient Egypt?


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Strollin' Johnny
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 11:39 AM

It's a British tradition Martin - totally outside your narrow US-focussed experience and way beyond your limited intellect.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: M.Ted
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 11:39 AM

I thought this was about the Mummers Day Parade in Philadelphia-where they have, at various times, refused to allow African American, Jewish, and Gay Mummers clubs to march---your problem is minor in comparison--


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST,petr
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 12:27 PM

well, to assume that the blackface in mumming and morris dancing
is racist is in itself an act of pre-judgement. Since the historical
origins of blacking up were really a form of disguise and have nothing to with race. It was a way to be anonymous and avoid persecution.

Of course its not just one character, like the devil or something as Ellenpoly assumes, its all the mummers. Not sure if greening up works,
as there is a green man character. I think the problem can easily be avoided with a brief explanation, which is what has been done in the mumming plays Ive seen. (It actually never occurred to me that
the blackface is a race reference)

I suppose if the trend continues they'll probably have to omit
the Turk whos part of the play in order not to offend Muslims.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Ellenpoly
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 12:34 PM

I didn't assume anything, GUESTpetr, it's what I'd been reading about Mummers since this thread started. It does in the past seem to be associated with certain characters, the devil being one, as is the turk. I haven't seen a Mummers play here, but was only looking for possible alternatives. The tradition is a long one which seems to go back centuries and not only in this country.

If it is now played with all Mummers in black face, I'm interested in knowing when that tradition started. And if it is indeed not a race reference, then why can't it be done as easily with either another colour, or a mask?

I make no judgements here, as I said in my first post, but it's not going away, all this kind of concern and censorship. The only way to oppose it, or to at least debate it, is with as much information as possible, yes?


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Once Famous
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 12:38 PM

You know, Strollin' Johnny, you are completely full of fecal matter. I asked a simple question trying to get a little knowledge on this expression and you gave a shitfaced snob ass answer.

Take your stupid cockney limey British tradition and shove it up your ass, after you've chewed it up with your bad teeth.

No wonder we laugh at your backwards culture that tries to imitate us. Only the Japanese are funnier at it.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 12:53 PM

Strollin' Johnny, your question reflects a basic ignorance of race issues. Blacks have no racist traditions of mocking whites by painting their faces white, and they have never tyrannized whites in Britain, the US, or anywhere else in Europe. Their homeland numbers in Africa were decimated by European and American colonists.

So your attempt to suggest it would "be the same thing" if blacks dressed up in white face to cruelly mock whites, is idiotic.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 12:55 PM

Here in New England the Green Mountain Mummers perform in green face. I don't know of any teams in the US that use blackface.

I looked for some photos on line but didn't find any. I'll try to post a pic at some point.

Allison


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 01:01 PM

The US director Spike Lee recently made a very powerful statement about the historic minstrel traditions which used blackface, to comment upon the sad state of "black entertainment" in the US being tragically dumbed down a la 'Amos and Andy'. He took a lot of heat from the US African American community, most of whom were appalled by the comparison between present day black tv sitcoms & the blackface minstrel tradition.

There are some American folk musicians, notably Michelle Shocked, who actually dared to explore this historic racist musical tradition (ie the blackface minstrel tradition) from a white perspective. But because she is much less known than Spike Lee, her album didn't cause near the controversy.

Additionally, I believe the time has come to remove the racist "Turk" stereotypes where they occur as well. Along with the racist Asian stereotypes, etc.

We don't need those traditions anymore, but we most certainly need to leave ALL those racist traditions behind. They simply have no place in the living traditions of contemporary societies, except in museums, history archives, etc.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST,Steve (Gloucester)
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 01:11 PM

Thank you to everyone for their input. Please keep the ideas and comments coming.

I know that the blacking may, on the face of it (no pun intended), be construed as rascist, but I have seen a Zulu dance which contained elements of the fight, death and resurrection which feature in our play. At least one character had white paint on his face (death?) I did not regard this as the least part racist (against white people) on his part and enjoyed the spectacle - even more as I could see the elements of his dance in our play thus confirming our common humanity.

The blacking in mummers plays originated as a form of disguise in order to beg and hide the identity of the participant. It may have also been a form of mask in order to permit the player to 'change into' that character. Either way changing the colour of the blacking may lessen any racialist allegations which we may receive, although I don't think we'll dance at the venue again as it isn't the first time we have had permission refused at the last minute.

Also as we are quite close to the Welsh border the blacking continues that morris tradition of blacking up one's face while dancing border morris and thus represents a 'regional' custom which we are keen to contuinue.

Interestingly enough there seems to be less objection to the villain being the Turkish Knight - a part I thought which would have caused more outcry on racial grounds. But hey, he gets brought back to life and is pardoned and dealt with as an equal at the end of the play.

We may have to bow to the inevitable and reconsider the choice of disguise, but that will require the concensus of the whole group.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 01:45 PM

Rochester Sweeps had some hassles about this at one point - and since the blacking there is to do with being sweeps with sooty faces, changing colours wouldn't have really make sense, since soot only comes in black. As I understand it that's all blown over, since it's pretty clear there's nithing about their tradition which is anything to do with race.

Generally speaking Morris sides these days tend to use all kinds of colours when they do paint their faces, but I'm pretty sure that's to do with wanting to look looking more decorative, rather than worrying about people misunderstanding blacking-up as something to do with Minstrel Shows and all that stuff, rather than merely as disguise.

Since the theme of Mumming Plays, with St George and the Turkish Knight, is largely about reconciliation in the wake of conflict, I can't see them having any problems on that score. Traditional multiculturalism, in fact.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 01:47 PM

When mummers are accused of racism it in usuually by somebody talking bollocks.
Let's face it - the racists dress in white robes with pointy hoods if they wish to be in disguise.
The lie is given to the racism accusation by the (admittedly not numerous, but I have known more than on in my travels) members of mumming teams who are of non-white origins but still "black up", because that is the costume of a mummer. I suggest you ask those mummers for an opinion before making sweeping statements.
Every race and cultore somewhere alomng the line has a custom which involves disguising individuals, whether it be masks, carnival costumes and makeup, styles of theatre, or covering the skin with ashes from a dead fire.
For an example of a non-British culture have a look HERE photos top and bottom of page
Quack!!
GtD.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 01:47 PM

But why on earth is this in BS?
    I missed this one somehow. I must have been traveling or something. I've moved it to the music section, where it belongs.
    -Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 01:49 PM

But here is the thing Steve. Even though we can all come up with isolated references to black people putting white make up on their faces, it doesn't begin to compare with the truly racist, widespread blackface minstrel tradition common in both Britain and the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

That blackface minstrel tradition was inherently racist, and causes black people a tremendous amount of pain. So why would anyone want to do it, knowing those facts?

Do mummers care so little about how their actions effect others? I don't think so, but when I hear these arguments FOR blackface being used by mummers because contemporary mummers claim it to be historically accurate and authentic (which I've never seen proved beyond a reasonable doubt, I might add), and therefore "not racist" I just have to shake my head.

White people don't get to decide what is deeply hurtful to blacks about these really deep seated race matters. They just don't. Only blacks, who have suffered so greatly as a result of racial oppression, have that moral authority. Not the descendants of the white people who oppressed and enslaved them.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 02:02 PM

But the Blackface Minstrel tradition, and blacking-up of mummers and Morris sides are not the same thing. There is no way in which the latter involves performers imitating or mocking black people. If it has been understood that way on some occasions, that is a clear misunderstanding.

That doesn't mean it may not be a good thing to be sensitive to that kind of misunderstanding, and varying the colours is one way of demonstrating that it is a misunderstanding.

There is of course a tradition of white-painted performers - seaside Pierrots. But that is rather beside the point.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 02:08 PM

It doesn't matter that they aren't the saem thing, McGrath. What matters is how the blacking up of mummers faces is perceived by Britain's black population.


As I said, mummers SHOULD take into account how British blacks feel when they see the mummers in blackface, and not do it. Period. And they should not do it out of consideration for Britain's black minorities.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Manitas_at_home
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 02:59 PM

Various African traditions do 'white-up' to mock their former oppressors and current authority (we can argue whether it's racist or it just happens that the objects of their derision are white until the cows come home). One such is John Canoe which can also be found in the West Indies. The Horniman museum has various photos, masks and dummies used in these traditions. I found it reassuring that people in such far off places with such different cultures should have something in common with our village mummers and Punch & Judy shows.

Incidentally, Strollin' Johnny, the US and Canada *do* have various mumming traditions although the Philadeplhia one sounds more like Carnival to me. But that's totally outside your narrow UK-focussed etc. etc.

Sigh.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 03:03 PM

I doubt very much if any black person here has has got too confused about that, GUEST 10 Dec 04 - 02:08 PM (use a name, PLEASE - it gets confusing. Were you the same GUEST as earlier in the thread, who seemed to have a different slant on such things?) And I've often enough seen families with black members taking the same kind of amused interest in Morris Dancers that other people do.

There are serious aspects of racism around, and tackling them head-on is important. But guising traditions which have nothing do do with skin colour, and nothing to do with the American style Minstrel Shows, are a distraction from that - and attacks on such things even make life easier for real racism to dig-in and hold-on.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST,petr
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 04:39 PM

there is a difference, guest.

If you are offended by mummers blackface,(the origin of which certainly is not to poke fun or imitate other races) then you should
equally be offended by Mary Poppins - since Dick Van Dyke has a carbon on his face. (whether hes a chimney sweep being irrelevant).

A friends teenage daughter walked into a clothing store and looking at the underwear aisle - said 'hey look at the knickers!' and two African american people turned and stared at her. An unfortunate coincidence perhaps, but no racism intended (only perceived).

and racism cuts both ways, I experienced it in Japan, when I was refused service in a bar (sorry Japanese people only!, Imagine saying that over here in BC.

and historically, whover said it was only white people enslaving Africans, and not vice versa, is not correct. GO back a 1000 years or more and European slaves were sold in North Africa etc. In fact the word slave - originates from Slav as a lot of slaves were sold into North Africa from Eastern Europe.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: The Shambles
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 04:57 PM

But why on earth is this in BS?

Well it at least insures that it won't be moved from where the originator placed it - perhaps every thread should have a BS prefix?


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 05:23 PM

It doesn't actually, Shambles - there have been cases where threads have been moved to the music section, having started in BS.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: DougR
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 05:33 PM

I question whether switching to green would work. The Green Party probably would raise hell if you did that. Maybe the spokesperson for the Green Party in the U. S. could help out here. Bobert?

DougR


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST,petr
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 05:34 PM

not that it matters, but
ellenpoly, by stating the question 'which character is blacked up' you did in fact assume something. Ie. that it is only one character.
They all are - except the horse.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 05:50 PM

That would include Father Christmas, I imagine.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 07:57 PM

Let's face it, whatever we do we are likely to offend someone. If the local catholic church puts on a carol concert outside is it being offensive to moslems? Is halloween offensive to christians? Are parading giants offensive to us gnomes? It's about time people just got on with their own lives and stopped interfering with others.

I 'black up' as Hector in the easter pace egg. Until some pillock mentioned it may be racist I never gave it a second thought. That is as far as it got - a second thought - before it was dismissed as nonsense. I have performed the play for years. I have spoken to black people, indian people, chinese people and people from all over the world. They have never given a single indication that they found it anything other than either fun or completely barking mad!

If I am offended at anything I see I simply stop watching. Easy. I have never forced anyone to watch the Pace Egg. If we give in to this PC drivel where will it end? Will Manchesters gay mardi-gras have to stop because it is offensive to the conservative hetrosexual? Will we stop the Notting Hill carnival on the grounds that it represents the black people of the area as rowdy drunkards? Will I have to shave off beard because it is offensive to orthodox jews that a non jew is mimicing them?

It is not taking the piss out of anyone apart from the players themselves. If I want to wear odd clothes, make up and act the fool for charity who has the right to tell me what colour the make up should be?

Get real.

Dave the Gnome


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 08:46 PM

Someone said that black people never "White Up", they are wrong,
Coco the Clown was [I'm almost certain] of black origin, he whited up to play the part of a clown, was he being racist?
of course not, its just a costume.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Peace
Date: 10 Dec 04 - 08:57 PM

There was an important comment made above--well, many, but one I wish to expand--to do with tradition. The subject was addressed by Jackson in a short story entitled "The Lottery". Traditions do need to be reviewed from time to time. The excellent suggestion to make the faces green might be just the thing you're looking for. I don't think Jolson would be a hit today. Maybe the voice, but not the makeup. Just as the word pickaninny has gone bye bye, so too maybe should blackface. Incidentally, the SAS use greens also in their face 'painting'.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: LadyJean
Date: 11 Dec 04 - 12:50 AM

I convinced some friends to put on a mummers' play at an SCA event many years ago. We had a line in our script, "He never should kiss a black girl when he could kiss a white, and when he met a bonny lass to sleep with her all night."
We changed black and white to dull and bright. Because that WOULD offend people. As my mummers were mostly women, I bought a bunch of cheap fake moustaches, and had them wear them. I didn't know they blacked their faces. Now there is a play, the name escapes me, that is meant to be done by blacks in white face. It's about a town where all the blacks have disappeared.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 11 Dec 04 - 02:58 AM

Simple disguise is generally the norm in ceremonial customs of this sort. In Europe, it is most convenient to use soot to blacken the face; in Africa, ash is used to whiten it. There is no racist motive inherent in either action. In the same way, jackets were traditionally worn inside-out; the point is to reverse the normal appearance along with a concomitant reversal of normal behaviours. More complex forms of disguise are also used (the "Burry Man" has close analogues in Eastern Europe and in Africa, for example) but simple face-changing is a base-line and universal behaviour.

Looked at out of its historical context, it is certainly true that a racist sub-text might be imagined by an observer ignorant of the way such things work, and who does not understand that Western Europe, just as much as other parts of the world, possesses a range of quite innocent traditional practices capable of extensive mis-interpretation if approached judgementally and without empathy or the will to understand.

It is an issue that needs to be addressed carefully in order to avoid misunderstanding and injured feelings, but I'd think that the way forward would be to point to the close parallels in other cultures by way of analogy and explanation rather than simply to panic in the face of the knee-jerk attacks that seem to come mostly, not from the Black British (who are not idiots) but from "right-on" middle-class Whites: who, all too often, are idiots; and bigots, come to that, though it's an odd and perverse bigotry that isn't susceptible to reason.

See also -for example- various discussions here in which people have agonised about such foolishness as whether Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor (which features a "brown girl") is "racist". They have been, as here, through ignorance, imposing a modern, anachronistic and irrelevant sensibility upon a completely unrelated situation.

With McGrath, I initially though that this discussion might be more appropriate "above the line", given that thread headings like "tech" and "folklore" are continually abused here to give undeserved prominence to irrelevant rubbish; having read some of the later contributions to it, though, I think that perhaps it should stay here after all.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: The Shambles
Date: 11 Dec 04 - 04:34 AM

Probably matters very little what we think - as there seems little real possibilty of this thread being moved.........


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: Ellenpoly
Date: 11 Dec 04 - 05:39 AM

GUESTpetr, yes it was not clear to me that all Mummers in this production would be using black face, and as I said from the beginning I knew little to nothing about the subject when this thread started.

I know a lot more now, thanks to all who contributed! Threads like these, whether they're above or below the line, really do contribute to the general knowledge, and this one especially has been pretty "clean" as far as sticking to the subject goes.

Good luck with whatever happens, Gloucester Steve.

..xx..e


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST,American who does so know what a Mummer is
Date: 11 Dec 04 - 06:16 AM

another Guest stated:

>>>Strollin' Johnny, your question reflects a basic ignorance of race issues. Blacks have no racist traditions of mocking whites by painting their faces white, and they have never tyrannized whites in Britain, the US, or anywhere else in Europe. Their homeland numbers in Africa were decimated by European and American colonists.

So your attempt to suggest it would "be the same thing" if blacks dressed up in white face to cruelly mock whites, is idiotic.<<<

I take it you've never seen the White-faced Mummer Parade which happens yearly in South Africa? The origins of which are a tad hazy but it takes place in that area that used to service British ships stopping in at port in an otherwise inhospitable region. The locals are quite a separate ethnic group from other south African nations as I understand it.

Since they play Banjos and sing American Southern Songs...it must be quite confusing to outsiders. I'm confused just reporting it but if I hadn't seen footage of it with my own eyes, and I have, I'd not believe it either. If I recall properly, it may have something to do with St. Stephens day which is also some kind of Mummer Holiday in New Orleans.

I'll have to get back to you all on this, but I do have Video of it and it is a HUGE festive occasion. My footage was taken by a friend in the late 1990's. When I find out the rationale for this parade, I'll post details

Of course, that doesn't remove the basic taint of racism from any white person in blackface, but...

it is worth mentioning.


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: GUEST,American who does so know what a Mummer is
Date: 11 Dec 04 - 06:33 AM

Aha..the video is labelled:

Cape Nguni Minstrels

Hope that helps


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Subject: RE: BS: Mummers and Rascism
From: David Edwards
Date: 11 Dec 04 - 08:45 AM

May I remind everyone that people of African and West Indian origin have BROWN skin, not black. If mummers or morris men were 'browning up' I would have reservations, but they black their faces (they would traditionally have used soot or charcoal) to hide their identity, which stems back to the days when people who took part in such activities had to hide who they were incase their employers etc took it as an excuse to give them the sack.

They are not attempting to emulate anything like the obviously offensive black and white minstrels, and this over use of political correctness is getting very tedious and is becoming trotted out more and more by people looking for racism/sexism/any other type of ism where there is none.

If something is overtly racist I'll be the first to complain, but mummers and morris sides blacking up isn't racist. Perhaps the person who is responsible for banning the mummers play should get involved in the kick racism out of football campaign and do something useful.


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