Enough with the #PhillyShrug: These Mummers Cannot be Reformed


A Mummer. Photo by Kenneth Lipp

Declaration Editorial

Yesterday found Broad Street, from City Hall southward, swollen with brightly colored walking epithets who marched through the streets of Center City for Philly’s annual gallery of tone-deaf, aggressive, and insensitive ignorance (also known as “tradition”): the New Year’s Day Mummers Parade.

For the first time in its 115 year history, the parade was not held in South Philadelphia, but stopped at downtown’s boundary at Washington Avenue. Organizers say that the truncated route was designed to draw larger crowds to watch the choreography of the various passing Mummer divisions or brigades – each performance more rife with pejorative depiction than the last.

Acts included a Cowboys vs ‘Indians’ battle, featuring all Caucasian actors, which of course broke into a game of football (in which many participants wore fragments of Redskins jerseys). This followed with a brigade of “Asian” men in kimonos. Every ethnic casserole was topped with at least one large, fluttering Italian flag.

Give this video recap a watch, and be sure you view the football game performance, and, of course, the obligatory chant of “USA! USA! USA!”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abnsWipDNz0]


Another group was later spotted holding placards seemingly mocking the recent birth of the “Black Lives Matter” movement:


And the debauching of the city did not end at the edges of Broad Street or with the closing of the parade – participants and spectators alike had run of the city from Two Street to City Hall, making their raucous rounds of alcohol withdrawals and urine deposits, with no respect given to location.

Participants of 2015 mummers parade urinate on building at love park. Photo by Joshua Scott Albert

Participants of 2015 mummers parade urinate on building at love park. Photo by Joshua Scott Albert


Twitter was awash in criticism that the annual event was permeated in racism and cultural appropriation – not to mention general incivility in the forms of public urination and heaps of garbage strewn on streets and adorning trees – and those critics on Twitter didn’t need to work hard to prove their point.

Philadelphia’s Al Dia, the city’s Latino daily, has taken the position that the parade needs to be more inclusive in order to be be preserved. Al Dia‘s Twitter account yesterday called for diversity among participants in order to reform the event, and its image, to exist among contemporary institutions such as desegregated schools and women’s suffrage. Much of the engagement from the greater community was skeptical. Some commenters felt that persons of color performing acts from their own cultures would “ruin” the event.

Sabrina Varvoulias, Al Dia‘s managing editor, tweeted the following as a case-in-point for a more inclusive Mummers Day:

The Mummers Parade, by its very DNA, is a largely-unrepentant racist affair that has no business existing in 2014. What DNA, you ask?

In an in-depth City Paper examination of the Mummers’ historical underpinnings by Emily Guendelsberger, she writes:

While the early days are fuzzy, one thing’s clear: In the 1830s, rowdy bands of proto-Mummers shooting guns off like Yosemite Sam started showing up at holiday time in arrest records and in the diaries of irritated rich people in Philadelphia proper, the area now called Center City. The drunk, costumed men were seen as a dangerous nuisance — the first formal parade in 1901 was essentially appeasement, as the city, unable to keep things under control in the holiday season, bribed the Mummers with prize money to hold their celebration organized on Broad Street. There was a definite sense of “At least we know where they are now.” 

“In contrast to older, rural themes of semi-human disguise, Philadelphians commonly impersonated kinds of people,” writes Susan G. Davis in “Making Night Hideous,” a 1982 paper on historical South Philly holiday traditions published in American Quarterly. The two most popular types of disguises were the ones that required the least effort: “Wearing women’s clothing was an easy transformation and popular. … Dressing as a woman could be as simple as filching a sister’s dress.” And: “Blackface was a popular theme in the street Christmas from the 1830s. … Like transvestism, blacking-up was quick and cheap.”

Is it reasonable to conclude that a tradition grounded in such offensive displays and overt, celebrated acts of petty criminality – which, as the puddles of piss near Christmas Village and other parts of the city demonstrated yesterday – will never fully be rooted out, no matter how much inclusion and diversity are forced into the proceedings?

After all, blackface was banned over 50 years ago. And despite this fact, elements continue their willful ignorance and disrespect:

City parade director Leo Dignam told Daily News journalist David Gambacorta: “That’s banned. If we had seen that, we would have pulled that person from the parade.”

“We’ve been talking about this for 20, 30 years,” Dignam added. “It can’t be allowed, and it’s not right.”

And yet, blackface continues every year.

City officials withdrew the $150,000 in funds for the spectacle in 2008, certainly dealing a blow to the annual affair, although Sugarhouse Casino has agreed to a three-year sponsorship. The club’s numbers will likely continue to dwindle, however, even as they desperately attempt to keep their racist anachronism on life support – going so far as to accuse Mayor Nutter of subverting their tradition by stealing their costumes.

While, as Nutter’s office confirmed, it was in fact the Mummers organizers who requested that their parade be abridged to match dwindling attendance, perhaps it is time for citizens and public officials alike to not only rescind financial support but to end tacit acceptance of a hateful pageant, and openly decry this cavalier shame.

The Mummers parade does not need updating or reform. It is an institution that should be allowed to die.

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There are 32 comments

  1. Al

    I too was at the parade from 9 am until 7 pm. Racist? You were looking at a different parade! The city fathers decided on the route and it was a total mess. Certain brigades that went from south Philly to the northern section had to walk back from north to south. If the Spanish community would like to see more Spanish participation, well isn’t the answer for them to join the bands and various brigades? If anyone wore blackface it was only one or two people. I was very active as a spectator and didn’t see it. Take the city representatives to task over the chaos. They caused it. And, yes, urinating here and there has to be stopped!


  2. SM2

    So many liberals crying about the bigotry in the parade, so few actually doing anything about it by actually joining a club to put a stop to these displays before they hatch.


  3. Hack"Journalists"Can'tBeReformed

    I love how the people always trying to dictate the conversation on race or class are privileged white people. Call me crazy but I find it quite a bit racist and condescending that all of you think you’re the ones who should speak for black people rather than invite them to speak for themselves.

    I also love how you talk about “cultural appropriation” yet your site has a section named “Jawn Jawn”, among other things. Let’s not even get into the way your boy Dan McQuade and the other idiots bashing the Mummers gleefully appropriate the culture of all kinds of ethnic groups they don’t belong to, including plenty of black culture. Or the racist, classist, ignorant pieces they write on a near constant basis when it comes to people other than privileged white people. Or the fact that you are all trying to use faux moral outrage to justify the fact that you don’t like the Mummers for purely aesthetic reasons.

    And of course you don’t see the irony in any of this. That would require an ounce of self-awareness, something you try to lambast Mummers for supposedly not having.

    The real question is who on God’s green Earth asked you your opinion on the matter?


    1. Dustin Slaughter

      No, I do see the irony actually. If you’re a person of color and want to write a rebuttal to this, or the Mummers Parade (or both), feel free to contact us and we’ll consider publishing.

      Thanks for reading it, and I personally apologize for offending you. For better (or worse), I personally felt that something needed to be said.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Al

        The last reply did little more than call names and hang racist labels on every white person in the parade. I believe Mr. “Hack Journalist” would be wiser if he joined a group and became more involved in the association.


      2. Hack"Journalists"Can'tBeReformed

        I’m white, but I’m glad my point got through.

        Did you see the black Mummer in the Golden Sunrise fancy division? I’m guessing not. There were also plenty of black people you could have asked for their opinion down at the Mummers parade. You must miss the black musicians who are in the wench brigades or the comics every year, or the band of mostly black kids playing on top of of a truck that was driving in it this year.

        If there was actual blackface, that’s racist. The “Wench Lives Matter” sign though was not even remotely racist. It was satire that was probably to say “We’ve been here just as long as you have and we have every right to exist”. The Obama figurehead had nothing whatsoever to do with Obama’s race. Have you ever seen the ones they have of other presidents, white presidents? They’re all caricatures. That’s the whole idea of those heads. It was about the fact that the president of this country amnestied illegal aliens. I do not personally agree with the opinion but the fact is it’s nothing but satire based on the opinion of that group or that person, not racism. The Nutter commentary was because he is the mayor, not because he is a black mayor.

        You show an obvious ignorance of both what the current Mummers are and of the people who are Mummers. The current Mummers are almost every single one of them descended from poor South Philly or other part of Philly immigrants. These are the people who used to populate every working class Philadelphia neighborhood, especially in South Philly. I’m not talking about pre-war, either. I’m talking about as recently as a decade or two ago. They are people who have never been in power and who in their history have railed against it quite a bit. They went from being mocked by the elites who made up the Mummers back then and being discriminated against by politicians, police, and every other civil service group to joining the ranks of all of them. These are the people whose ancestors died in protests and strikes back when you could be shot for doing either just to get the work conditions that people OF ALL RACES take for granted. Nobody else did that. They’re proud of their own heritage for a reason, and I’m sure they’re proud of the fact that their families took over a tradition that was decidedly elitist and made it consist almost entirely of working class people like them. Every person who has ever worked a minimum wage job should get on their hands and knees at the graves of the ancestors of people like the current Mummers and thank them for fighting so hard for the workers’ rights we all take for granted.

        Not a single one of you ever takes a second to actually talk to the Mummers you badmouth in these condescending pieces.

        You also probably don’t even know that Mummers have existed ever since people like my Celtic ancestors were pagans back in Ireland and Scotland, that they have existed in other places around the world, and that they are very big in majority black countries for the same reasons Mardi Gras is big among all races in New Orleans.

        For the record, I’m not a Mummer and have no connection to them whatsoever. I’m just tired of hypocritical people dominating the conversation and judging people without a leg to stand on.


      3. Dustin Slaughter

        Actually, your assumption that we didn’t attempt to talk to anyone there is incorrect.

        There were many on social media – of all colors and backgrounds – who find aspects of the parade very offensive, including the ‘Wench Lives Matter’ placard.

        Incidentally, a man holding one of those signs is apparently a coach at a South Philly school. The school is now in the process of editing a section of its website where his name is listed: http://www.theprepcharterschool.org/athletics.shtml

        Apparently they fear backlash from members of the public who found his sign to be offensive.

        Thanks again for your input and perspective, though.


  4. Kenneth Lipp

    Just a note: the black musicians for the comic divisions are paid to play, don’t wear costumes, and don’t call themselves Mummers. Not that a black person participating in a demonstrably racist act makes the act magically not racist.

    As far as talking with the Mummers, I’ve spoken with many about the event I did on Thursday, including an in-law. No one is going to say “Yeah, that’s racist part of our parade where we express our collective cultural privilege and disregard for minorities.”

    People defend the Confederate Flag based on a notion of “tradition,” and I don’t need to myself be descended from slaves to see through the euphemism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hack"Journalists"Can'tBeReformed

      Big shocker, you’re white too. Who are you to say it’s racist, exactly?

      I didn’t ask who you talked to on social media. I asked who you talked to AT the parade. As in actually getting up off your rear end and going to the parade you’re writing about rather than passive aggressively ranting from inside wherever you are. You know, like actual journalists (which you claim to be) do.

      No but you sure need to not be somebody who comes from privilege like so many of you do. You also need to go to the back of the line, behind the ACTUAL people of color who should be the ones speaking on it the most. Also, the hilarious thing about your little comparison is that the Irish, Italians, Polish, and other ethnic white people were also oppressed by that Confederate flag and those who waved it, and that WASPs and the KKK specifically hate “Papists” as they label Catholics, which those ethnic white groups almost exclusively are. They’re also the people who as Nativists terrorized and killed Catholics and their places of worship right here in Philadelphia.

      By the way, I love how Mr. Slaughter’s tone completely changed when I said I was white. He went from being apologetic and “I’m so sorry” to going back to his faux moral outrage and condescending talk.


      1. Dustin Slaughter

        Had you actually read my comment, you would have noticed that we did make an attempt to speak to others: “Actually, your assumption that we didn’t attempt to talk to anyone there is incorrect.”

        And yes, my tone did change. That’s because you’re a white person essentially arguing in a comment section on an article about racism in the Mummers Parade that racism doesn’t exist in the Mummers Parade because there was one (unpaid) African American person participating.

        Anyway, carry on with your axe grinding. Take care.


      2. Hack"Journalists"Can'tBeReformed

        Phil Perspective: I absolutely love it when some kid from a culdesac whose lessons in “diversity” came from seminars at his most likely all-white suburban school has the nerve to talk about “racist”. Kid you don’t have the slightest clue. I’m with people of all colors and creeds and have been since I was a teenager. You’re on a little phase of your life where you’re trying to co-opt an image that I was raised into to feel better about yourself or more important or more interesting or whatever else. What do YOU do to help your fellow human beings, no matter the ethnic group they come from? When have YOU made somebody from a group other than your own feel welcome when they move into a neighborhood you were raised in?

        As for how a white working class person in the Northeast is different than one in the South (and guess what? Kid ain’t working class)… if you have to ask then you don’t have a CLUE.

        You liberal joke. You’re just as bad as the Fox News/right wing extremists on the other side. Both of you are outsiders preaching on things based on ZERO experience.


    2. Hack"Journalists"Can'tBeReformed

      “Born in Illinois, raised in Alabama”, and yet you think it’s your place to speak on the matter.

      You don’t have the slightest bit of a clue what it’s like to be a working class white person in the Northeast. We don’t have the slightest bit in common with people raised in the South or with any non-ethnic whites, and neither do the Mummers.


      1. Phil Perspective

        This response is so bad. How is a working class person from Philly different from a working class person from the South? Just because a Philly resident likes the Eagles and the one from the South likes NASCAR and college football? Obviously the MOTU have you suckered.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Hack"Journalists"Can'tBeReformed

      Actually, Mr. Slaughter, I’m a working class white person calling you a hypocrite. You are no journalist. No journalist is as willfully ignorant as you yet has the nerve to spew faux moral outrage. The fact is it is neither your place nor the place of a white boy from Alabama to speak on the “racism” of the Mummers. It is the place of ACTUAL people of color, who you are speaking over. Furthermore, having a section called “Jawn Jawn” is APPROPRIATING BLACK PHILLY CULTURE. Oh but it’s okay when you all do it, right? Furthermore, Dan McQuade has shown himself to be plenty racist, as have the majority of the people directing their faux moral outrage whenever the topic is about black or other non-white Philadelphians and them losing their neighborhoods and communities to gentrification or appropriation.

      And again, I did not ask who you talked to on social media. I asked who you interviewed in person, not just who was there that you talked to on social media. Maybe you’ll get that this time around.

      And again I ask… who on God’s green Earth asked your opinion on the matter, and how do you have a leg to stand on?


    4. iLL Cosby

      This is not true the black band members in the wench division are considered mummers and have been participating in the tradition for over 100 years i can connect you with several bands in the parade if you would like to talk to them about how they view the parade and if they consider themselves as mummers.


  5. AB Wallace

    There are people in the basements of South Philly, who sew every single one of those costumes. The extra scratch provided from the work is great around holiday time. You complain about piss and racism, aren’t prepared to go interview a single in the street mummer to see if he’s actually racist. Maybe you’re just prejudiced about overgrown Angelo frat boys. Have you given one thought to the people who would lose their jobs if the parade totally ended? Shame on you.



  6. Cara Liom NYB

    The Cara Liom NYB is happy to answer any questions or assumptions about the parade that you may have. When organizing an event of such large numbers, it is tough to weed out all of the debauchery. However, don’t forget the year round community service we do for all races and kinds. We will again be supporting the Special Olympics in the Polar Plunge. For anyone that’s interested in donating or becoming a “racist Mummer” please contact us at caraliom@gmail.com and we would love to show you how wrong you truly are. Have a great holiday and a happy new year, no matter what color you are! Cara Liom


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