As the Mummers began to march into the new year, they were once again unable to resist dragging behind them embarrassing relics of the past. At least two marchers with Froggy Carr, a wench brigade, wore blackface, which has been banned from the event since the 1964 parade but regularly still shows up in the 120-year-old New Year’s Day parade.
Members of the troupe say they were mimicking the look of Gritty, the Flyers mascot who dons orange and black. Some Froggy Carr members’ indignant responses to questions about the face paint — including some flat-out denials that white people wearing black paint on their faces is offensive — signal that this is more than a few bad actors.
That, and the fact that the men wearing blackface weren’t stopped at some point — although it is not completely clear when they put the paint on — suggests a troubling lack of empathy from the brigade as a whole.
It’s hard to believe in 2020, after decades of conflicts relating to race and this parade, that any Mummer could genuinely believe that wearing black face paint — even with a few spots of Gritty orange — would not immediately be seen as offensive.
Blackface is rooted in early minstrel shows, when white people performed demeaning and dehumanizing caricatures of black people. There is no instance when it is not offensive. And the last people who get to defend it are white people. Froggy Carr owes the city a public apology.
The visual can carry as much weight and hate as the N-word. The Mummers should know this well, especially after last year’s controversy, in which an African American man marched with the Finnegan New Year’s Brigade Comic Club. In the skit, he walked a Mummer dressed like Mayor Jim Kenney as a dog. This prompted outrage from many Philadelphians of color who were upset by a sketch that they felt echoed the parade’s origins in minstrelsy.
Though an infusion of younger and racially integrated Mummers groups like the Vaudevillains, the Rabble Rousers, and the Lobster Club has sought to change the parade’s racist reputation in recent years, the persistence of this tired stereotype is proof that there is something profoundly broken in the Mummers.
In 2016, after many race-related issues, the city enacted a screening process for performances and provided sensitivity training for the leadership of troupes, including Froggy Carr. Mayor Kenney, formerly a Mummer himself, called out the offensive behavior in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon, calling it “abhorrent and unacceptable.” Froggy Carr was disqualified from the parade’s competition and officials say further punishments are forthcoming.
Meanwhile, the Mummers themselves — particularly the string bands and fancy brigades who don’t seem to struggle with living in the 21st century — should break ties with groups that have historically been problematic, including wenches like Froggy Carr and comic brigades like Finnegan, who smear the parade with their bad behavior.