After the champagne corks stopped popping, Philadelphia celebrated New Year’s Day with an annual tradition — one that has a long association with racist and distasteful acts.
This year, the Philadelphia Mummers Parade — a yearly event with roots in 17th century European customs — included a skit that shamed Caitlyn Jenner, marchers who wore brown face and the alleged assault of a gay man. Nearly 50 Black Lives Matter demonstrators protested the event. Two were arrested, according to Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate.
The mostly white, male marchers dress in unusual costumes and put on skits for the parade, which has a carnival-like atmosphere. But hateful acts aren’t an anomaly at the event: Mummers marchers have consistently angered Philadelphia’s communities of color for years.
In the Mummer’s early days in the 19th century, marchers impersonated and wore gear to mock many racial groups, one including a blackface “Jim Crow” who made regular appearances, as Susan G. Davis described in her 1982 work, “Making Night Hideous”: Christmas Revelry and Public Order in Nineteenth-Cenury Philadelphia.
Blackface continued in the parade until it was banned in 1964, but by then black people hadn’t truly been involved in the parade for 70 years.
“I never felt welcomed. I never felt like it was a space where my body was invited and welcomed or even safe,” said Anyabwile Aaron Love, a professor of African American Studies at Penn State University. “If the Black Lives Matter group or even black people did something like this, there’s no way they could pull off the same type of event and there be so much public drunkenness and indecency. … You see how one group could be portrayed and another could be treated. It’s a microcosm for what we see throughout the nation.”
In 2013, a musical skit in the parade by an all-white group featured white people dressed in stereotypical Native American and Indian garb.
“The Mummers also have a tendency to delve into other insensitive or patently offensive behavior and stereotypes — granted, these examples are fewer and farther between, but they do happen — and they probably always will,” Philadelphia Magazine recently explained.
Organizers tried to make the 2016 parade more inclusive and diverse, but some groups didn’t seem to get the memo. The Finnegan New Year’s Brigade group mocked Caitlyn Jenner with a skit that included the song “Dude Looks Like A Lady,” and one marcher wore a shirt that said “In memory of my dignity” and “1960-2015.”
Members of the group told KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia that it wasn’t their intention to cause harm to the LGBT community. But The Associated Press reported that a man who said he was the group captain refused to apologize for the Jenner display.
“We meant no harm,” Michael Inemer Sr. told KYW Newsradio. “We intended to be funny. This is isolated clearly to just Bruce Jenner and Caitlyn Jenner. We had no idea it would end up like this. We watch ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and Bruce Jenner and Caitlyn created this whole story long ago.”
Inemer did apologize for a marcher who yelled “fuck gays” and said he had banned that marcher from the group. He added that Finnegan NYB wanted to reach out to the LGBT community and try to fix any damage they had caused. But that was after their account tweeted a picture saying “Mummers Lives Matter.”
“Our trans citizens do not deserve this type of satire,” Jim Kenney, Philadelphia’s newly sworn-in mayor, tweeted.
— Jim Kenney (@JimFKenney) January 1, 2016
Comedian Margaret Cho, a prominent LGBT activist, went on a retweeting spree highlighting several distasteful acts from this year’s parade:
— Juntos (@Vamos_Juntos_) January 2, 2016
— Anthony (@Anthony19145) January 2, 2016
Cho lated tweeted, “I hate when people think we are living in a post-racist, post-sexist, post-homophobia world. We are IN IT. NO ‘POST’ ABOUT IT. It’s right now.”
Journalist Earnest Owens wrote after this year’s event that it’s time for the parade to end, saying that it has “bred an annual tradition of harmful transgressions against members of the community that goes far beyond the cringe-worthy costumes and dance numbers — it’s become a cesspool of cultural disrespect.”
But the parade won’t be going away anytime soon, Love said. “There will always be an interest and support for the mummers as an organization and the parade in Philadelphia,” he argued.
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