Philadelphia Mummers Parade Marred by Brownface, Anti-Gay Slurs

Although African immigrants helped found the annual fete, minstrelsy and homophobia still rear their ugly heads in 2016.

A member of the Liberty Comic Club dressed as a “wench” participates in the New Year’s Day Mummer’s Parade Jan. 1, 2004, in Philadelphia.
A member of the Liberty Comic Club dressed as a “wench” participates in the New Year’s Day Mummer’s Parade Jan. 1, 2004, in Philadelphia. William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Philadelphia’s annual Mummers Parade hit the scene once again on Friday and was yet again mired in a series of racist and homophobic acts along the parade route, including the assault of a gay man, according to reports. 

The 116-year-old folk festival, considered the oldest in the United States, was created by Scandanavian, European and, yes, African immigrants in the mid-17th century based on the tradition of “mummers,” a German word meaning “to costume or masquerade.” Today’s parade now boasts more than 10,000 participants on New Year’s Day and is dogged by controversy.

Minstrelsy has always a part of the Mummer DNA, including blackface. But in 1964, under pressure from the NAACP, blackface was officially banned, yet it seems to find its way into the parade each year.

This year, brownface” was the insult du jour, with Sammar Strutters’ “Siesta Fiesta” revelers dressed as tacos with brown face paint, including children, reports NBC 10 Philadelphia.

About 50 activists from the Black Lives Matter movement held a protest along the parade route with signs shouting for justice for Tamir Rice. The movement itself was mocked by paradegoers, with signs saying, “Shark Lives Matter,” “Mummers Lives Matter,” “Wench Lives Matter” and “Pirate Lives Matter.” There were also reports of boos and the n-word being hurled at protesters by spectators. Two #BLM organizers were arrested by police, according to NBC 10.

The most controversial aspect this year, however, involved so-called wenches from Finnegan New Year’s Brigade centering their act around Caitlyn Jenner: A man dressed as Bruce Jenner dropped into a wheelchair and changed into a woman’s costume while Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady” played.

Group members held up signs showing Bruce Jenner on a Wheaties cereal box beside Caitlyn Jenner on a Fruit Loops box. Members of the same group were caught on video shouting, “F–k the gays! F–k the gays!”

Philadelphia’s incoming Mayor Jim Kenney called the Jenner display hurtful, saying on Twitter, “It was bad. Hurtful to many Philadelphians. Our Trans Citizens do not deserve this type of satire/insult. #Berespectful

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