The mayor of Philadelphia sharply criticized two men who wore blackface while marching in the city’s annual – and often racially troubling – New Year’s Day Mummers Parade, calling their actions â€œabhorrent and unacceptable.â€
The group the men apparently were affiliated with, the Froggy Carr Wench Brigade, was also disqualified from Wednesday’s parade and may face additional penalties. It wasn’t clear Thursday whether the men were members of the group or just marching with it.
The parade features ornate costumes and musical performances and attracts thousands of spectators each year. City staffers monitoring the parade route saw at least one marcher wearing blackface, officials said. When they reported it, parade officials disqualified the group from competition.
â€œThe use of blackface by someone affiliated with Froggy Carr today was abhorrent and unacceptable,” Mayor Jim Kenney tweeted Wednesday. â€œThis selfish, hateful behavior has no place in the Mummers, or the city itself. We must be better than this.”
The group was paying homage to Gritty, the hairy, googly-eyed mascot of hockey’s Philadelphia Flyers that is orange all over, face included.
Many of the brigade’s marchers wore variations of face paint in the Flyersâ€™ colors of black, orange and white. But the two men cited appeared to have just blackface.
The men, Kevin Kinkel and Mike Tomaszewski, defended their decision and said it wasn’t racist.
Kinkel told WCAU-TV that he wore blackface as a tribute to a friend who died who used to do the same.
“I talk to black people. They told me, ‘What are you talking about? You can wear whatever you want. That ainâ€™t discriminating me. That ainâ€™t racist to me,'” he said. â€œThatâ€™s what they tell me.â€
Tomaszewski said he wore blackface because he likes it.
â€œYeah, why not?â€ he told KYW. â€œI know it’s a shame to be white in Philly right now. It’s a shame.â€
Previous parades have been marred by racially and socially offensive displays. Organizers have boosted cultural education efforts in recent years in a bid to create a more respectful and inclusive tone throughout their traditional celebration.
The new initiatives included sensitivity training and online videos on the rules of satire.
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report from New York.