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September 24, 2017

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Mummers seek inclusive tone after insensitive displays

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, 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.

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.

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