2013: Mummers Still in Blackface (& Redface)

From the outside looking in, you'd think every Philadelphian was a proud supporter of the glittered and feathered pageant known as the New Year's Day Mummer's Parade. But you'd be wrong.

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  1. Local news mummer puff pieces begin, as every year, with profiles of mummers getting ready for New Year's day parade, "America's oldest folk parade."

    "The now-112-year-old orgy of banjos, glockenspiels, feathers and sequins that as much as anything we hold dear, symbolizes our sweetly eccentric corner of the universe," is a typical sentiment of these stories.

  2. But you can't just literally re-print the same piece every year, and so these mummer stories find fresh-ish pegs by balancing tradition against progress, as eloquently articulated here: "But for something that virtually defines the word "tradition," the Mummers Parade is a surprisingly evolving entity, which is likely why the relic of the horse-and-buggy era has survived into the time of Instagram and 'Gangnam Style.'"

    Another evolution theme trumpeted in this year's mummer stories was the formal inclusion of drag queens (which, of course, prompted a 'family values' organization to rally against the inclusion of drag queens.)

    Despite these stories pivoting on tradition versus progress, the prominent historic role of blackface in the mummer parade is oddly, rarely explicitly mentioned. Neither is the fact that it continues, despite apparently, city policy ruling it out in 1964.

  3. Mummers in blackface has a complicated history in a racially complicated city within a racially complicated country. That said, today's parade makes it quite simple: it's time to have a serious conversation about mummery and the way participants choose to represent other ethnicities and races without hiding behind the cop-out of "But it's tradition!"

  4. Check out "Indi-insourcing," the skit performed by Venetian NYA, posted by youtube under the title "Mummers WTF."
  5. So WTF do you think? I searched "WTF Mummers" looking for response to this video, but found general WTF responses to the parade.
  6. But I did find response specifically to "Indi-insourcing:"
  7. That was before the Rastafarian-themed routine that featured blackface.
  8. And we didn't even get to talk about hipster mummers yet.
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