Mummer Accused of Playing Jay-Z in Blackface Is, in Fact, Black

“If it looks like I’m in blackface in the video, then people need to get new cameras,” says the man who portrayed the rap star in the New Year’s Day Parade.

“Jay-Z” leads “Mayor Jim Kenney” around by a leash during the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. (Image via screenshot)

On Tuesday, as the Mummers Parade festivities were moving from your television screen to drunken celebrations down on Two Street, a scandal began unfolding involving a local Mummers troupe and its purported use of blackface. Except — says the performer being accused — there was no blackface.

The skit in question came to us courtesy of Finnegan New Years Brigade Comic Club, which previously ran afoul of public opinion with a 2016 routine making fun of Caitlyn Jenner.

This time around, Finnegan took aim at City Hall and last year’s kerfuffle over Made in America. A man wearing a big gold chain and a dark jacket with “JAY-Z” written on the back led a Pinocchio-nosed “Mayor Kenney” around on all fours by a dog leash. At one point, Kenney struck a puppy-begging pose, and Jay-Z pats him on the head. The commentators on TV chuckled and one made a joke about things “getting political.”

But no one was joking about it on social media. Video of the routine, seen above, began circulating on Instagram and Facebook, and judgment was swift and harsh. Here are some excerpts from just one post, which was viewed more than 18,000 times before it became unavailable on Facebook:

“Well look up the Origin of the Mummers Parade Big Fella …” wrote one commenter. “Racist As Fuck. Can’t Stand it myself.”

“I hope Jay Z sees this and pulls Made in America,” wrote another.

It was very easy to believe that Mummers would use blackface — it was a longstanding tradition at the parade.

Mummers protest a blackface ban back in the 1960s. (Photo from the Evening Bulletin, Temple University Urban Archives)

In the 1960s, when the country was in the infancy of realizing how racist people are, parade producers instituted a blackface ban, but that ban was quickly lifted after protests. One year later, blackface was actually banned, but it still turns up in various forms:

On Wednesday morning, we reached out to Michael Inemer, a representative of the Goodtimers Comic Club, the umbrella group under which Finnegan is organized. He seemed perplexed when we asked him about all this talk of blackface, and he said it was the first he heard of it.

“That was a black American!” Inemer insisted. “We’re not allowed to use blackface!”

A few minutes later, my phone rang. The man on the other end of the call explained that he was the one who played the part of Jay-Z and that he is, in fact, black.

“I’m sitting at home with the costume right now,” he said. “Do you want me to text you photos of me with it?”

Within seconds, he sent me a photo of himself holding the jacket and another one of the shoes worn during the parade. We have cropped his face out of the photo he sent and obscured other parts of the photo that could potentially identify him:

Left: The man who played Jay-Z in the Mummers parade — with the jacket he wore. Right: The shoes he wore on Broad Street.

The man declined to reveal his name, explaining that he works for the city, and also declined to tell us what department he works in.

“I was walking Mayor Kenney around on a dog leash,” he said, laughing. “I think there’s a pretty good chance that he would retaliate, and it wouldn’t be hard for them to figure out who I am. I sorta stick out in the department that I work in.”

He said that he didn’t know anything about the controversy until he heard it from Inemer after we contacted Inemer.

“If it looks like I’m in blackface in the video, then people need to get new cameras,” he told us, explaining that he had “Jay-Z” written in white paint on his face. “This is how people’s reputations are ruined. You have to be careful with this stuff.”