People Are Angry at the 2016 Mummers Parade

Racist, transphobic Mummers performances continue to embarrass Philadelphia. The city deserves better.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Mummers Parade was really offensive this year.

Well, okay, don’t stop me. But here’s the deal: This year, the Mummers Parade was supposed to embrace diversity. Here’s a French TV station writing about it! Before the parade, the Daily NewsStu Bykofsky mocked the idea that the Mummers need to be more diverse. So here is what happened this year.

Some wench brigades carried signs that said “Wench Lives Matter.” Maybe that’s more “we’re making a reference to a current event!” than openly offensive. Maybe. (There were the same signs last year.) But then this: The Sammar Strutters did a Mexican theme where they wore brownface and danced dressed as Mexican stereotypes.

It continued. Finnegan New Year’s Brigade did a whole skit based on Caitlyn Jenner‘s transition from Bruce. The bit was a guy dressed as Bruce disappearing into the crowd of 100 or so Mummers and coming out dressed as Caitlyn. (He did not even do a costume change; they used two people.) There were a lot of people in Finnegan, and not one person said, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t do this.” Or, if people did, they were ignored.

There were lots of Caitlyn Jenner jokes at the Mummers yesterday. Whoever runs Finnegan’s Twitter account went back and forth with people all night defending their skit until asking people to “Be a man literally and contact our email.” I did! I didn’t get a reply. I also tried to contact the Sammar Strutters with no luck. I did talk with a spokesman from SugarHouse Casino, the parade’s lead sponsor. No one from the casino was available to comment, because they were at the parade.

SugarHouse Casino has been a parade sponsor for five years now, so it’s clear they are OK with the Mummers’ brand of humor (“humor”). And I like the Mummers, too! For most of my life I’ve been using the line, “I am glad the Mummers exist so I can mock them.” But even that’s a bit too harsh, kind of: It is awesome that Philadelphia’s New Years parade is done by amateurs. It is awesome that some (many?) of them are drunk. It is a really fun day. Chilling on Broad Street on New Year’s Day with a giant magnum of champagne is one of my favorite things every year. The crowd is friendly, the open-container laws are ignored, and I’ve always had a great time.

But. There are many people who are angry at the Mummers, and it’s for good reason. You shouldn’t wear brownface. You shouldn’t do jokes making fun of Caitlyn Jenner for reasons relating to her transition. (I, and many people, happen to find her annoying — she’s the least likable character on the Kardashians show, which is an impressive feat. Also she killed someone in a car crash. There are lots of valid reasons to dislike her!) The Mummers consistently cross the line, and in a way they embarrass Philadelphia. You don’t have to care about the public urination or the general drunkenness from some of the Mummers. That is Philadelphia! But you should care when they use stereotypes to mock people — Mexicans, the transgender community — who haven’t generally been included in the parade. It makes them seem hateful.

People will defend this, too. “Oh, it’s only the comics! Don’t paint all the Mummers with a broad brush — you’re so hypocritical.” That’s bullshit. Anyone who marches in the parade — and PHL 17, who also didn’t return my call yesterday — is in a sense endorsing this kind of garbage. Channel 17 showed the Jenner skit and the Mexican skit without a peep that it might be wrong. They are complicit, too, every year. To broadcast this and not call it out is endorsing it. Steve Highsmith‘s sweater is not the only thing he should be embarrassed about. People like Bykofsky, who defend the parade and mainly complain about gaps between performances, ought to be embarrassed, too.

Nellie Fitzpatrick, the city’s director of LGBT affairs, commented on her Facebook page on the parade. “I am disgusted to be hearing reports of transphobic, disgusting performance(s) during the Mummers Parade,” she wrote. “In this case, the Finnegan brigade’s social commentary, went too far. It’s hurtful to the trans community and not representative of the city or the Mummers as whole. This bias, ignorant behavior endangers and belittles the lives of many people and has no place in our streets, celebrations or city!” Mayor-elect Jim Kenney had similar thoughts.

What’s sad is: We can do better. I have lived in Philadelphia my whole life, so I guess I’m biased but whatever: Philadelphia is the best city on the planet. I love almost everything about this town. And there is so much about the Mummers that is actually great! Yet every year I’m embarrassed. Which is fine, the city should not revolve around my embarrassment. But a lot of people are embarrassed. A lot of people know this is wrong. A whole group of people trained for an entire year and what they came up with was a shitty Photoshop about Caitlyn Jenner. Calling Jenner a Froot Loop in your Mummers skit is wrong. Wearing brownface is wrong. I know a lot of people feel this is some sort of affront to their freedom, but they’re wrong, too. Deal with it.

Sorry to break this to Finnegan, but you can’t do a skit calling Caitlyn Jenner a “tranny” and then say “but we love all LGBT people!” You’ve already shown you don’t. A member of Finnegan was caught saying “fuck the gays” on video (that man has reportedly been punished by his brigade). Another man says he was punched and called a faggot by Mummers. In the Gayborhood.

If we’re going to let a group march down Broad Street, leaving a sea of litter and beer cans in their wake, the least they can do is not openly offend minority groups that aren’t often included in the parade. I mean, come on.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.