Call it the Mummers controversy that wasn’t.
City Council President Darrell L. Clarke on Wednesday morning denounced what he called a display “of bigotry and intolerance” during Tuesday’s Mummers Parade, because of what he claimed was a “use of blackface” by one comic club that included a character portraying rapper-turned-music mogul Jay-Z.
“This annual New Year’s celebration has once again brought shame and embarrassment to the city of Philadelphia,” Clarke said in a statement from his office.
Two problems there: The Mummer portraying Jay-Z was black. And he wasn’t wearing blackface.
Mayor Jim Kenney’s office, in a statement about 90 minutes later, said the Finnegan New Years Brigade Comic Club “submitted its concept in advance of the parade, presenting to both the city and Mummers organization that the performer portraying Jay-Z would be an African American male and would not be dressed in blackface.”
Clarke’s office then revised his statement to say that “many people” who saw the skit thought it included blackface.
“Whatever the truth is of yesterday’s performance — if the individual portraying Jay-Z is in fact a member of this brigade, for instance — people of color know minstrelsy when we see it,” the revised statement said.
Darrel Young, the Mummer who portrayed Jay-Z, pushed back, saying the skit “absolutely was not racist.”
“It is bad enough that our nation is plagued with a president who constantly lies in order to fan the flames of racism,” Young wrote in a letter to the Inquirer and Daily News. “Please don’t let that happen here in Philadelphia.”
Earlier Wednesday, a Twitter account attributed to Finnegan had suggested that Clarke “needs a new camera.”
The parade skit in question re-created a July 2018 cartoon by Signe Wilkinson, editorial cartoonist for the Inquirer and Daily News, that showed Jay-Z walking a dog with Kenney’s face on the Ben Franklin Parkway.
That was prompted by a dispute in 2018 between Kenney and Jay-Z about whether the rap superstar’s Made in America Festival would be moved to a new location in 2019 after being staged on the Parkway since 2012. Kenney, who had proposed a move, then backtracked on that position.
In the parade, a Finnegan Mummer wearing a large fake nose was walked on a leash by another Mummer wearing a jacket emblazoned with the name Jay-Z. Kenney has been known to joke about his sizable proboscis.
Some Mummers in the club walked Broad Street carrying poster-size copies of Wilkinson’s cartoon, doctored to add signs that said “Finnegan N.Y.B. Making Mummery Great Again!” and “Made In America!”
Finnegan Captain Mike Inemer, who played Kenney in the skit, said Clarke made the issue about race, not his club, since they were poking fun at Kenney, not Jay-Z.
“I heard he’s not backing down,” Inemer said of Clarke. “That’s crazy.”
Kenney, who grew up in South Philadelphia in the heart of Mummery, is a former member of the Jokers Fancy Brigade.
The parade has a history of controversial and, at times, racist skits that prompted a review of performances in Kenney’s first year in office.
“From the beginning of the Kenney administration, the city and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations have provided the Mummers with extensive consultation and training on diversity, inclusion, and cultural appropriation to prevent racist and bigoted performances from being part of the parade,” Kenney’s staff said in Wednesday’s statement.