Mayor Jim Kenney is right to warn that he will end the city’s annual Mummers Parade if participants don’t stop wearing blackface.
Kenney spokesperson Lauren Cox announced Thursday that the mayor has sent a letter to the organizers of the four Mummers divisions and requested they meet with officials following another blackface controversy at this year’s event.
“The future of the parade is in jeopardy if Mummers leadership does not make immediate changes to better control the parade,” Kenney wrote in the letters.
City staffers monitoring the parade route this year saw at least one marcher wearing blackface, officials said. When they reported it, parade officials disqualified the group from competition.
Kenney criticized two men at this year’s parade for wearing blackface, calling their actions “abhorrent and unacceptable.”
“This selfish, hateful behavior has no place in the Mummers, or the city itself. We must be better than this,” the mayor tweeted shortly after this year’s event.
The men, Kevin Kinkel and Mike Tomaszewski, defended their decision and said it wasn’t racist. They said the group was paying homage to Gritty, the hairy, googly-eyed mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers that is orange all over, face included.
Many of the brigade’s marchers wore variations of face paint in the Flyers’ colors of black, orange and white. But the two men cited appeared to have just blackface.
Kenney asked the parade’s organizers to put mechanisms in place for accountability if participants violate Mummers rules next year.
The mayor warned Mummers leadership that if they fail to commit to changes, city officials will consider other alternatives.
“Ultimately, the City may prefer to produce and control its own New Year’s Day parade or celebration that is more inclusive, which will displace the Mummers parade on Broad Street,” Kenney wrote.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass on Thursday introduced legislation that would ban the use of blackface in the parade and bar violators from marching in public parades for five years. Councilman Mark Squilla co-sponsored the bill.
Bass said the latest instance of two Mummers wearing blackface was the impetus for the bill.
“I’m sick of it,” she said about the persistent appearance of Mummers in blackface. “Something has to be done.”
The annual New Year’s Day parade has a long history of racially and socially offensive displays.
For more than a century the parade has featured an attachment to minstrel-show stereotypes, including blackface.
The city did not impose a ban on Mummers marching in blackface makeup in the parade until 1963, after Cecil B. Moore, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, and the Congress of Racial Equality successfully pressured city officials to ban blackface from the parade. The ban precipitated a legal challenge, as well as protests by civil rights activists.
Yet the Mummers continue to wear blackface, and offend African Americans, who make up more than 40 percent of the city’s population and others who despise the despicable practice.
The mayor’s warning is long overdue. For decades, city officials have tolerated the Mummers’ offensive behavior. This must be the final warning for the Mummers to clean up their act.