By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — A day after two Mummers wearing blackface strutted in the annual parade, Mayor Jim Kenney’s pledges of “additional penalties” remain vague and uncertain.
On Thursday, Kenney administration spokeswoman Lauren Cox issued a strongly worded statement in an email condemning the use of blackface by a pair of men in the Froggy Carr Wench Brigade during the 120th annual event.
The city disqualified the Froggy Carr during the parade and the administration expected to “explore options for additional penalties moving forward,” said Cox. But she declined to provide any further details or timeline of when they will be revealed.
“Our diversity is one of Philadelphia’s greatest strengths, and we should be embracing that — not alienating our fellow Philadelphians or others who have gathered to enjoy this tradition in our city,” Cox said.
Leo Dignam, Philadelphia’s assistant managing director and liaison between the city and Mummers, and George Badey III, a spokesman for the Mummers, did not return calls seeking comment on Thursday.
Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor at Mother Bethel A.M.E. church and co-chairman of the board for the civil organization POWER, said the blackface incident sent the message — once again — that the annual tradition was mostly for white people and its organizers were not interested in change.
“It re-enforces why Black people, in particular, in Philadelphia want nothing to do with the Mummers,” he said.
“It is not an event that is really, in my opinion, trying to broaden itself, trying to come into the modern era, trying to shed itself of the legacy of the past.”
The two men wearing blackface were identified Kevin Hinkel and Mike Tomaszewski, who were part of the group paying homage to Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty, the orange, hairy, googly-eyed creature, according to The Associated Press.
While many of the brigade’s marchers wore variations of face paint in the Flyers’ colors of black, orange and white, Kinkel and Tomaszewski appeared to have just blackface, the AP reported.
An image of the pair popped up on Twitter shortly after 10:30 a.m.
In an interview with NBC10 Philadelphia, Hinkel defended his use of blackface and maintained he wore blackface for a friend who had died.
“I talk to Black people” Hinkel said. “They told me, ‘What are you talking about? You can wear whatever you want. That ain’t discriminating me. That ain’t racist to me.’ That’s what they tell me.”
Hinkel added: “We ain’t racist. We don’t look for trouble and we don’t call out the N-word.”
The parade’s 120-year history has roots in the racist tradition of minstrelsy, and racially charged and offensively stereotypical performances and policies are legion. The city banned the use of blackface in 1963, but the offensive makeup has continued to pop up on the faces of performers and parade-goers.
The city implemented cultural sensitivity training and oversight after a transphobic performance in 2016.
Since then, groups have been prohibited from using makeup or wigs to change their ethnicity and must pre-register their parade themes and receive approval from the city.
Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, said in a released statement that blackface has a history of dehumanizing Black people and was used politically to exclude Blacks from government and American life in general.
Muhammad also called on the Philadelphia Flyers to publicly denounce the use of blackface in the parade. The Flyers organization did not immediately return requests seeking comment.
City Council President Darrell Clarke, denounced the use of blackface by the men in the Froggy Car group in a tweet, saying “further penalties are warranted.”
“There is utterly no place for this kind of reprehensible behavior.”
“There is utterly no place for this kind of reprehensible behavior in Philadelphia or anywhere in America,” Clarke said.
Wednesday’s parade was expected to cost taxpayers approximately $670,000, which included the cost for police, emergency medical services, sanitation and use of sound equipment, among other things.
Tyler said if Kenney was serious about cracking down on the use of blackface in the parade, he should institute a zero-tolerance policy and require the Mummers to foot the bill for city services to put on the parade if blackface is spotted.
“If you want to bring this to an end, then you’re going to have to go into the pocketbook,” Tyler said, adding: “Take away their money and I guarantee you you won’t see another blackface ever in the Mummers parade.”
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.