The Philly Mummers New Year’s Day parade held in Philadelphia earlier this week featured thousands of performers dressed in costumes. The parade, which organizers believe is the nation’s oldest folk festival is now in it’s 113th year—and every year it seems to come with new controversy.
Making headlines this year are two performances: one performance mocked Indians and Native Americans and, another group performed in black face.
If you’ve never lived in Philadelphia, you may not know that every New Year’s Day—going back, in some form, for centuries—the city holds a carnival-esque event with roots in European and minstrelsy traditions. It’s called the Mummers Parade. And the 2013 edition, like many before it, has generated controversy. This year, the primary target for criticism (though certainly not the only target) was a musical skit featuring an apparently all-white group advocating against the outsourcing of jobs by dressing in stereotypical Native American and Indian garb. As Philadelphian Dan McQuade wrote yesterday, the event has always been deliberately subversive and provocative. But, as he himself asked, does that make this sort of thing OK?
Joseph A. Ferko’s string band performance, titled “Ferko’s Bringin’ Back the Minstrel Days”, features a troupe of white men dressed lavishly in purple and pink clown-like costumes with red-painted faces and drawn-on exaggerated white lips. Both the performance’s title and the actors’ appearances not so subtly references blackface minstrelsy, a 19th century performance art where white actors would don makeup to portray offensive caricatures of African-Americans.
“What they’re doing is irresponsible and that it’s unquestionably inappropriate for contemporary audiences,” Guthrie Ramsey, an Africana Studies professor at University of Pennsylvania, told theGrio. “Ignorance is no reason to allow them to do those kinds of things.”