Mummers say they’re working weekly to keep blackface out of parade

John Pignotti (center) discusses self policing on blackface issue as members of the Quaker City String Band Look on (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

John Pignotti (center) discusses self policing on blackface issue as members of the Quaker City String Band Look on (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Mummers groups not directly involved in the New Year’s Day blackface scandal are speaking out on the issue and vowing to police other Mummers to keep the parade going.

John Pignotti of the String Band Division said even though it wasn’t his group’s members who donned blackface last month, they will be keeping a watchful eye on everyone next year.

“The Mummers and the city officials are working hand and hand to make sure this will never happen again, and we’re getting a lot of progress, it isn’t just one meeting,” Pignotti said. “We’ve been meeting once a week, and come New Year’s Day 2021, this situation will be behind us.”

The promises come as Mayor Jim Kenney is threatening to end the parade if blackface and other racist acts are allowed to keep happening.

Former String Band Division president Tom Loomis said this is an all-out effort.

“There were over 10,000 marchers on New Year’s Day, two people did a deplorable, disgusting act [that] reflected on all of us that marched,” he said.

Loomis added that his division already keeps an eye out in several ways to prevent any racially insensitive themes from cropping up.

“The String Band Division itself has had rules against blackface for decades. All of our themes, our costumes, our music are reviewed by the city before we ever march,” he said.

All the divisions understand the threat to end the parade is real, Loomis said.

But the Mummers have made similar promises in the past. Blackface has been banned in the parade since the 1960s. Since 2016, the city has required the Mummers to undergo cultural sensitivity training, but even with that training in place, some in the parade have worn blackface.

While the city no longer directly supports the parade financially, it does spend about $700,000 a year on police, trash removal, and other services that allow the parade to take place.

In addition to the mayor’s threat of shutting down the parade, City Councilmember Cindy Bass has proposed formal fines and bans for those caught making offensive displays.

“If you are found to be in blackface, there is a $75 individual fine and a five-year ban from participating in the Mummers parade,” Bass said.

She is hopeful that organizations will self-police to prevent it from happening again. Her proposal is only the beginning of an effort to make the parade more inclusive, Bass said.

“We are looking at additional penalties to the clubs themselves if that happens and if they have not policed themselves,” she added.

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