One of our correspondents this month poses a question we suspect might not have been asked ten or 15 years ago. “How do people who see the Morris dancers feel?” he asks.
His point is that we should consider what we do from the eye of the beholder. The hundreds of years of history and tradition of Morris dancing, for example, may not justify faces being disguised with black make-up if the sight of this could upset someone in today’s world.
So . . . how does this make you feel? It’s a question that has split our office; not asunder, but by age.
The reaction of the older section of The Village is: how will we ever do anything if we are continually having to worry about how people feel? Since when did hurting people’s feelings become so offensive that we should stop doing things for fear of someone with a different point of view being unhappy about it?
The younger section, meanwhile, says it’s a good point well made: If there are at least two readers who feel “disappointed” to see blackened Morris dancers on our front cover, we should at least bear this in mind.
Those of us who are white, and live in almost exclusively white villages, cannot know how it might feel to be part of an ethnic minority – in which case, shouldn’t we try to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective?
But, whichever side of the divide you are on, where does this stop? Somebody, somewhere, can always find offence with anything.
Have we really become so fragile, or is it that in trying to create a fairer society we have given a voice to those who were previously easily ignored?
At this time of remembrance, our schoolchildren are learning about how the young men who went to war in 1914 would have felt, in the hope that they will grow up to avoid the mistakes of the past.
If more consideration had been given to people’s feelings and the effects of conflict in the Great War, would the victims of shell-shock have been branded as cowards and even executed?
Times change quickly and it can be a tough balance for people like us, at The Village, who can never know for sure what will cause upset; in fact, we are often surprised by what does, and does not, get people going.
In the end, we hope to fairly reflect the society in which our readers live – while editing out what we believe to be extreme or unsavoury content – and that will continue to change year by year, thanks to debates such as this being carried out across the land.
Our correspondent asked as a postscript to his letter: “Did the 2004 cover [which also featured blackened Morris men] provide as much controversy?” The answer is no – which reflects how quickly times do change.
We have carried, without comment that we know of, at least 100 pictures of the Alvechurch Morris with blackened faces over the years. Will we be putting their picture on the cover again?
Well, yes – if the picture and the reason is good enough, we will. But aren’t we now bound to ask ourselves how it might make some people feel?