It wouldn’t be a Mummers Parade without controversy.
On New Year’s Day the annual parade took over Broad Street, but one skit stood out: A man with “Jay-Z” written on his clothes was using a leash to lead another man portraying Mayor Jim Kenney, who was crawling on all fours and wearing a Pinocchio-sized nose.
Many took to social media to condemn the skit, apparently thinking that the man holding the leash was wearing blackface.
However, the man depicted as Jay-Z was Black, Kenney said in a statement on Wednesday.
“If it looks like I’m in blackface in the video, then people need to get new cameras,” the man reportedly told Philly Magazine. The man later identified himself as Darrel Young, arguing in an open letter that: “There was no blackface. I am Black.”
“A primary purpose of Mummers is to poke fun at our elected leaders, and, given the backlash, this obviously worked,” Young wrote.
Finnegan NYB says this photo was taken mid-parade and the man portraying Jay-Z in the skit is not in blackface. Daryl who played Jay-Z says he’s shocked by the mix-up and accusations of racism against the Mummers. He says he’s a Black-American who did NOT use blackface. #Mummers pic.twitter.com/4h6wOiSZAP— Denise Nakano (@DeniseNakanoTV) January 2, 2019
Kenney said the concept submitted to the city and Mummers organization by the Finnegan group in advance of the parade said an African-American man would portray Jay-Z, not someone dressed in blackface.
“The Finnegan group says that it complied with its theme application,” Kenney said. “The city condemns the use of blackface in any form and will continue to work with the Mummers to ensure future performances are nondiscriminatory.”
The skit apparently referred to a July kerfuffle when Kenney called for moving Jay-Z’s annual Made in America music festival from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art starting in 2019, citing logistical issues related to the two-day festival.
But after Jay-Z published an op-ed online and held meetings with the administration, Kenney reversed course.
NAACP Philadelphia Chapter President Rodney Muhammad said he is investigating the incident and intends to meet with Mummers organizers about the skit.
“I’m still in the early stages of this,” Muhammad said.
Calls to Mummers organizers were not immediately returned.
City Council President Darrell L. Clarke condemned the skit as a display of bigotry and intolerance when he initially believed it used blackface. He added blackface is regularly used during the Mummers parade and “people of color in our majority non-white city, including myself, do not participate in an event that we believe does not welcome us.”
Clarke later revised his statement, but noted the Mummers organization must do more to make the event more inclusive.
“Whatever the truth is of yesterday’s performance — if the individual portraying Jay-Z is in fact a member of this brigade, for instance — people of color know minstrelsy when we see it,” Clarke said. “This event and related organizations undoubtedly have much more work to do to make all Philadelphians feel welcomed and included in this annual New Year’s Day celebration.”
The Finnegan group’s acts have drawn criticism in the past.
In 2016 the Finnegan group depicted former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, who had come out as transgender woman Caitlyn Jenner. That skit depicted a man as Bruce Jenner who changed into a woman’s costume while “Dude Looks Like a Lady” by Aerosmith played in the background.
The city does not fund the Mummers parade, but indirectly supports the parade through traffic monitoring, policing, trash collection and more, Clarke said.
The Kenney administration, the city and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations provide those participating in the parade consultation and training on diversity, inclusion and cultural appropriation to prevent racist and bigoted performances from being a part of the parade, Kenney said.
In addition, each group’s theme is required to be preregistered and approved by Mummers leadership with input by the city, Kenney said.
“It is the role of Mummers leadership to monitor groups on parade day to ensure participants act in an unbiased and non-discriminatory manner, as set forth in the Mummers’ own guidelines,” Kenney said.