If Mummers leaders don’t do a better job at stamping out bad conduct including racism, Philadelphia could look to host its own New Year's Day parade and change policies on cost forgiveness for cultural parades, Mayor Jim Kenney warned Thursday.
Mayor Kenney issued the warning in a letter addressed to leaders across all Mummers divisions. Kenney acknowledged efforts to curb bad behavior but said Mummers leadership needs to do more in light of recent events.
“This parade has an infamous history of using racially and culturally insensitive themes, and the repeated inability of Mummers leadership to control the use of blackface by some participants threatens the City’s continued support for the parade,” Kenney wrote.
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The Mummers were embroiled in another controversy this year when members of the Froggy Carr group wore blackface as they marched through the city, leading to the group being disqualified from the parade.
The Mummer with Froggy Carr who wore the blackface defended his decision to paint his face when NBC10 found him after the parade, saying he didn’t view blackface as racist.
Kenney called that incident “abhorrent and unacceptable” and said the city would explore further punishment.
Recently elected Councilwoman Jamie Gautheir said at the time that the city should stop giving the Mummers a permit for South Broad Street each year and pull any financial support for the parade.
An attorney for the Mummers said the two members seen in blackface this year snuck past checkpoints and have been banned from marching again.
But the Mummers have had other brushes with controversy, too. In 2016, one group made fun of Caitlyn Jenner while members of another group painted their faces brown and dressed in ponchos and sombreros. Some also dressed in taco costumes.
Last year, on New Year's Day 2019, one of the comic brigades showcased a black man leading a white man on a leash. The group defended it by saying the black man was role-playing as rapper Jay-Z and the white man was role-playing as Mayor Kenney. They described it as satire.
Kenney pointed to progress made since 2016, when the city started helping the Mummers screen parade themes for cultural appropriation or stereotypes.
However, he said a lack of control from Mummers leadership has continued to allow members to commit racist acts as well as harass city officials, including police officers. He said problems have arisen due to “the regularity of extreme intoxication” during parades.
Kenney said Mummers leaders must do a better job of providing oversight and organizing their divisions to receive appropriate permits to hold the parade. He cited specific examples where the city had to apply for permits on behalf of the Mummers because of their lack of organization.
He called for Mummers leaders to meet with Managing Director Brian Abernathy to discuss proposed changes.
“If you fail to make these necessary changes, the parade will forever be known for hatred and bigotry, not the hard-work, dedication and celebration that I once enjoyed as a participant,” Kenney said.