Ubiñas: With new administration, can the Mummers be forced to behave?

3 x 2 Mummers 2016
Comic club member Michael Kenney pauses on South Broad Street to adjust his costume during the 116th annual Mummers Parade in Philadelphia on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. It remains to be seen whether Philly's new mayor, Jim Kenney, can get the Mummers to behave.

AS FIRST WEEKS GO, Mayor Kenney's has been solid.

Oh, I know people have criticized him for playing small ball. And maybe I'm just riding some kind of postholiday optimism high - don't worry, it'll pass. But Kenney's first few moves would only strike me as small if I considered things such as diversity and equality and inclusion and tolerance to be inconsequential.

In one of his first acts as mayor, Kenney told entitled local pols who parked at City Hall's doorstep to get to steppin' and find a real parking spot - a necessary reminder that they're no more special than the citizens who voted them into office.

With a stroke of a pen, Kenney once again made Philly one of the most immigrant-friendly places by restoring its sanctuary-city status. (Note to those who want to close off our city to the changing world: Immigration is a huge reason for the city's growth, so continue to be anti-immigrant at your own peril.)

And now, Kenney's freshman administration is turning its attention to the consistently embarrassing Mummers Parade.

I promised myself I wouldn't write about the Mummers again. In my first month at the Daily News, I made clear what I think of the aggressive and intentional ignorance that overshadows the rest of the New Year's Day celebration.

Nothing left to say, because nothing ever seemed to change.

But this year, we had Mummers wearing brownface and dressed in sombreros and ponchos . . . and taco costumes. And it wasn't only adults. Because racism is a tradition that should be passed down to the next generation, right?

For those who missed this lesson back in "Be a Decent Human Being 101" class: Blackface is bad. Brownface is bad. You know what? Forget it: Just put the face paints down - you can't handle them.

It didn't end there. A transphobic skit was based on Caitlyn Jenner's transition, signs mocked the Black Lives Matter movement, and some jerkweed screamed gay slurs into a camera. All in a year when organizers responding to criticism announced a new push to diversify the problematic parade.

See what I mean? Different year, different offensive incidents, and for a while I thought: The same reaction from a complicit city that has made Mummer hate-watching a favorite pastime:

Take a seat. Grab a beer. Wait for the inevitable -obia or -ism, and then wail about how bad Philadelphia looks or how ashamed you are to be a Philadelphian or how we can do better.

Until the next year, when we'd find ourselves working our way through the five stages of Mummers Parade-watching again.

But then -.

Even before he had been sworn in, Kenney - a former Mummer - responded to someone on Twitter asking for his thoughts on the Jenner skit. He tweeted back that it was bad and hurtful. He reiterated his feelings hours after being sworn in, and then charged the city's Human Relations Commission and his LGBT Affairs director, Nellie Fitzpatrick, to look into changes to the city-backed parade.

Among the changes under consideration:


Prescreening of acts.

And, of course, the latest cure-all: sensitivity training.

Fitzpatrick cautioned that this is just talk right now. Nothing has been worked out yet, but she was encouraged by the number of people within the Mummers community who called her to say she had their support.

The man who screamed the gay slur is now an ex-Mummer, and the brigade that put on the Jenner skit has asked for a meeting with LGBT leaders.

That right there is key, because even with rules and reforms, change won't happen without buy-in from the Mummers, and self-policing.

So why now?

Maybe it's a perfect storm of a new administration eager to make its mark, Mummers tired of having a parade they love marred by Neanderthals who can't come to grips with a changing world, and an evolving city sick and tired of being nationally and even internationally shamed.

Whatever it is, something about the conversation and calls to action following this year's parade just feel different.

Am I a fool for thinking so? I asked Fitzpatrick.

"You are not a fool!" she reassured. "You should have hope. I have a lot of hope. It's going to be a process. We're going to have to be patient. Large-scale cultural and institutional and systemic changes are slow. Anything done well is not an overnight fix.

"But this is a huge moment. It's not about ripping apart a tradition, it's about making it a tradition that everyone in the city can be proud of."

It's a new day, she insisted, "with a new level of cooperation and collaboration."

No pressure. We have 359 days to get it right.

Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

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