POLICE are investigating an incident in Birmingham City Centre which surrounded a performance by the Alvechurch Morris men.
The Morris dancers were performing outside the Bull Ring when they were verbally abused and had threats made towards them by a person who questioned whether they had blacked their faces as a racist gesture.
Members of the group tried to explain the traditions behind the face paint but the barrage of abuse continued.
Since then the incident has been covered in both the local and national media and West Midlands Police have confirmed they are investigating a complaint – about the abuse and threats made to someone linked to the dance group.
Birmingham City Centre Police Supt Andy Parsons, said: “No complaints have been made about the Morris dancing performance itself.”
He added officers were speaking to businesses in the area, taking accounts from witnesses and viewing camera footage in a bid to piece together 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.”
The performance was held to mark ‘Plough Monday’ – the first Monday after Twelfth Night which is traditionally the first day of the farming season.
It is thought it dates back to the 15th Century.
Centuries ago the dancing was seen as a form of begging and it is thought Morris dancers, who were often labourers by trade, used the black face paint whilst dancing to conceal who they were as they tried to earn a living.
Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid also leapt to the defence of the dancers by tweeting: “Proud of traditional Morris dancers from Alvechurch (in my constituency). They are as racist as I am #PloughMonday.”
Speaking to The Standard he added: “Plough Monday is a great English tradition which dates back to medieval times. I’m proud to see Morris dancers from Alvechurch upholding this agricultural ritual, which has no racial overtones whatsoever.”
The Standard contacted the Alvechurch Morris Men but no one was available to comment.