January 03, 2013

Mummers parade in redface, blackface

2013: Mummers Still in Blackface (& Redface)

By Tara MurthaFrom 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.

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.
But: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.

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!"

Check out "Indi-insourcing," the skit performed by Venetian NYA, posted by YouTube under the title "Mummers WTF."

Murtha searched Twitter for responses to the parade and found these:Joe Nolan
And the award for most racist Mummers brigade goes to "indi-insourcing" for dressing up as Indian people AND Native Americans

This "Indian In-sourcing" routine is one of the most racially insensitive themes I've ever seen in recent times #mummers

Here's a few #Mummers guys dressed as Indian call center workers. Love the dot, so thorough #smdh ow.ly/gsOty (youtube via @dhm)

#Mummers comic brigade celebrates "Made in America" theme with faux Native Americans raiding a faux Indian Call Center. Welcome to Philly.

That was before the Rastafarian-themed routine that featured blackface.

Courtney Wilburn
Curious about the thought process for the racist/xenophobic mummers skits. Were they like, "well since we can't do Blackface anymore…"

Courtney Wilburn
..and, there's the Blackface and fake dreds. Thanks, guys. #mummers

Jonathan Poet
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, some Mummers walked up Broad St. in blackface.

Jen J Walker
@systris I saw a whole band of them as Jamaicans in blackface. Also in another float. One coming up has a flat out minstrel theme
Defending the redface

Another columnist tries to defend the racist acts:

Stu Bykofsky: Strutting through controversy with the MummersThe other controversy is racism.

Out there in the twitverse--that's not a typo--some donkey sees blackface in the Mummers Parade and--kazaam!--as many as nine people on a couple of different "platforms" are finding other forms of "racism" in the parade, drawing insipid conclusions from their aggressive ignorance.

Before you can say, "What a load of crap," it winds up on storify.com (yeah, me neither) as a story or analysis--it's hard to categorize--by my friend Tara Murtha, who has done some really serious, penetrating work, of which this is not an example.

First, as Murtha acknowledges, blackface has been banned from the parade since 1964, which is longer than she has been alive.

Second, there's no proof that anyone was in blackface. Dignam says that every group has a city escort who enforces the rules.

Third, the alleged "racist" stuff was in the Comic Division, which uses comedy, satire and general silliness. The Venetian New Year's Association was mentioned for its Indi-Insourcing skit that satirized America outsourcing calls to India, then jumping the shark by having Native-Americans take over the call center.

Somehow, depicting Indians in call centers or Native Americans in buckskin is racist. Same with Eskimos (OK, Inuit) in igloos. Or women in polka skirts. Or male hillbillies in overalls. Or Turks in turbans. Or Hasidic Jews in long, black coats. They've all been featured in the parade.

If you're offended, here's a buck. Try to buy a sense of humor. Or an ounce of sense.
Comment:  Racism in the parade is officially banned, and Bykofsky didn't see any of it. Wow, that's reassuring. What else is he oblivious to?

We've more or less banned racism in the country, at least officially, since we passed the 14th Amendment. Did that eliminate all forms of racism? No.

More than just buckskins

The faux "Indians" weren't just in buckskins. They emerged from a teepee, rode "horses," and wore headdresses. In other words, it was pure stereotyping. Moreover, they pranced in a way that caricatured Native people. They acted like stupid little children who don't know the first thing about Indians.

The "Asian Indians" were just as bad. They were dressed in saris, with dots on their foreheads, as they do a fake Hindu-style dance. There must be thousands of different ethnic groups in India, but the Mummers reduced them to a single stereotype.

The whole point of "satirizing" people is to mock and belittle them. Bykofsky basically admits the Mummers are making fun of minorities, and he thinks that's okay. No, it isn't.

Bykofsky's list of other ethnic stereotypes isn't at all reassuring. Being bigoted against several groups just means you're a really big bigot. Unless the Mummers spent the majority of the time mocking white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, they're clearly prejudiced against ethnic groups.

By the way, Bykofsky, your father is a coward and your mother is a pig. Do you find that offensive? I hope not, because "I was just joking."

If you're offended, here's a buck. Try to buy a sense of humor. Or an ounce of sense.

For more on offensive parades, see Callaloo Stereotypes "Native Americas" and "Indian Princess" in Doo Dah Parade.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is that the Macarena? I mean, I know, mummers are supposed to act like fools, but still...