Mum­mers seek­ing in­clu­sive tone af­ter ear­lier in­sen­si­tive dis­plays

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY ERRIN HAINES WHACK

PHILADEL­PHIA | Or­ga­niz­ers of the Mum­mers Pa­rade are hope­ful that cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion ef­forts will help the city’s an­nual New Year’s cel­e­bra­tion be more re­spect­ful and in­clu­sive fol­low­ing a string of racially and eth­ni­cally of­fen­sive dis­plays.

The ini­tia­tives in­clude sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing ses­sions and on­line videos that ex­plore is­sues such as cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion and priv­i­lege, sex­ual iden­tity and the rules of satire. Mum­mers’ lead­ers also pub­lished an open let­ter last week con­demn­ing “ex­pres­sions of hate and big­otry.”

“We want to make this open for more peo­ple,” said Ge­orge Badey, a vet­eran mem­ber of the Fralinger String Band and chair­man of Love the Mum­mers. “The pa­rade needs to evolve and rep­re­sent the full spec­trum of Philadel­phi­ans.”

The Mum­mers Pa­rade — a Philadel­phia tra­di­tion since 1901 — is of­ten likened to New Or­leans’ Mardi Gras, or Car­ni­val cel­e­bra­tions in the Caribbean and South Amer­ica. It in­cludes more than 10,000 per­form­ers di­vided into brigades; many wear or­nate and ex­pen­sive cos­tumes, and some clubs cre­ate large props to ac­com­pany their mu­si­cal per­for­mances. Spec­ta­tors line the streets, and the pa­rade is broad­cast live on TV.

But the rev­elry has been tar­nished in re­cent years. The 2013 pa­rade in­cluded a min­strel theme and Delhi-based call cen­ter rou­tine. In 2015 a mem­ber of a bri­gade known as “wenches” car­ried a sign say­ing “Wench Lives Mat­ter,” a slight to the ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tion Black Lives Mat­ter.

Then in Jan­uary, one skit mocked trans­gen­der celebrity Cait­lyn Jen­ner, and an­other fea­tured par­tic­i­pants who painted their faces brown to por­tray Mex­i­cans.

Mayor Jim Ken­ney, a city na­tive and proud for­mer Mum­mer, con­demned the per­for­mances. In a re­cent state­ment, Mr. Ken­ney urged the Mum­mers to dis­play a more re­spect­ful tone that cel­e­brates the group’s tra­di­tion of satire and pageantry as well as the city’s di­ver­sity.

“Now, we need all Mum­mers, not just lead­er­ship, to honor that goal be­cause, as we’ve seen in past years, one bad skit or one bad ac­tor can ruin the rep­u­ta­tion of the whole pa­rade and hurt a lot of (Philadel­phi­ans),” the state­ment read.

Mr. Ken­ney has said that the free ser­vices the city pro­vides to the Mum­mers, in­clud­ing san­i­ta­tion and polic­ing, could be at risk mov­ing for­ward if there are fur­ther cul­tur­ally of­fen­sive in­ci­dents.

The sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing ses­sions are not manda­tory but rather a vol­un­tary ini­tia­tive be­tween Mum­mers and the city. Nel­lie Fitz­patrick, Philadel­phia’s LGBT li­ai­son, led the ses­sion on ho­mo­pho­bia and trans­pho­bia, and said much of the re­sponse was pos­i­tive.

“While they might think a skit mak­ing fun of Cait­lyn Jen­ner is teas­ing a celebrity de­serv­ing of ridicule, for many peo­ple, by at­tack­ing her, it is sanc­tion­ing and ap­prov­ing a mes­sage that mak­ing fun of trans­gen­der peo­ple is an OK thing to do,” Ms. Fitz­patrick ex­plained. “Some Mum­mers have reached out and said, ‘We didn’t know. This was re­ally in­for­ma­tive.’ That gives me hope that there can be a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence.”

For much of their his­tory, Mum­mers groups in­cluded only white men. Women were al­lowed just a few decades ago. The tra­di­tion is also a fam­ily legacy, with many clubs based in south Philadel­phia.

The Mum­mers have strug­gled to diver­sify, though the pa­rade did cre­ate a di­vi­sion last year specif­i­cally for eth­nic groups. Two new His­panic per­for­mance groups, a black drill team and the LGBT Miss Fancy Bri­gade, were among the par­tic­i­pants.

That di­vi­sion is not re­turn­ing this year, as or­ga­niz­ers hope to in­cor­po­rate di­ver­sity into the ex­ist­ing Mum­mer di­vi­sions.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Af­ter pre­vi­ous pa­rades, in which some marchers put on what were deemed to be of­fen­sive dis­plays, or­ga­niz­ers of the an­nual Mum­mers Pa­rade in Philadel­phia are try­ing to en­cour­age more in­clu­sive and re­spect­ful visual ex­hibits.

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