They say lightning never strikes twice — but that clearly isn’t the case for the Mummers.
The racist history of the Mummers is well documented and persists annually. In 1963, Cecil B. Moore, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, had to pressure the city to ban blackface during the event. Still, members continue the practice. At this year’s parade, two members of the Froggy Carr club were seen masquerading in blackface.
Now is the time to rekindle the fire and activism of Moore.
Recently, Solomon Jones’ Inquirer column reported that the city spent approximately $670,000 on the 2019 parade and expected to spend about the same amount for 2020.
Just under $700,000 is a lot of money — especially when the racial makeup of the city is 43.7% black, according to 2018 Census estimates. The math is clear: that’s a problem. Given that the black community represents a plurality of the city, it’s fair to say they are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for these blackface embarrassments.
Resisting this unjust demand was the spirit of the NAACP’s petition, which argued that an event subsidized by taxpayers and blessed with an official permit should not ridicule a large constituency of the city.
Yet even today, Mummers are still not respecting the ban and should be held responsible by sectors beyond city government for not holding up their end of the bargain.
But more importantly, there are corporate sponsors to consider. Rivers Casino, formerly known as SugarHouse Casino and owned and operated by Rush Street Gaming, signed up in 2016 to be the “title sponsor” of the parade for four years.
When asked about the Mummers Parade performances in January 2019, a spokesperson for then-SugarHouse Casino told the Philadelphia Tribune that the company doesn’t have any input on parade content. By claiming ignorance, they basically wanted to abdicate their responsibility. Yet Rivers Casino is patronized by black Philadelphians. Given the track record of the Mummers, the casino should be asked if they are going to continue to support an event that has included so many instances of blackface and minstrelsy.
If Rivers Casino discontinues support, the same question should be asked of any new sponsors, applying the divestment strategy used by companies and institutions in the 1980s and ’90s who stopped doing business with South Africa to show opposition to the racist practice of apartheid.
Media and TV should also share in this responsibility of holding the Mummers accountable for their ongoing disrespect toward black Philadelphians. Networks such as 6ABC and PHL17, partnering with Facebook, have broadcast the parade live.
Black Philadelphians already face a host of systemic issues, including discriminatory policing, underrepresentation in hiring, and overrepresentation in mass incarceration. Amplification of an event that has historically belittled black people further highlights a lack of concern for the black community throughout the city at large.
Media outlets that broadcast this event are providing free advertising for any racism that occurs during it and making money from it via advertisements. It is not fair, nor civil, to profit from the pain of black Philadelphians. Until all Mummers get their act together, news outlets should stop broadcasting the event.
If there is continued support for Mummers by city government alongside corporate and media sponsors, I can only arrive at the conclusion that there is widespread complicity in any racism and insensitivity committed as part of this parade. By 2021, I hope this is not the message we will send the world about our city.