Philadelphia’s annual Mummers Parade was mired in controversy this week after a couple of marchers arrived to the event wearing blackface. The two men in question, however, insist the getup is not racist.
The Froggy Carr group was booted from the parade competition after city officials spotted their offensive costumes amid the sea of black-and-orange-themed fashions honoring Gritty, mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, CBS Philadelphia reported.
In a statement, city Mayor Jim Kenney condemned the incident, calling the men’s costumes “abhorrent and unacceptable.”
“The use of blackface by someone affiliated with Froggy Carr today was abhorrent and unacceptable,” Kenney tweeted Wednesday. “This selfish, hateful behavior has no place in the Mummers, or the city itself. We must be better than this. The group was disqualified and we will be exploring additional penalties.”
The costumes also drew a rebuke from Froggy Carr’s president, Stephen Pakech, who said the group doesn’t condone the members’ behavior.
The offending marchers, Kevin Kinkel and Mike Tomaszwski, are defending themselves against the backlash and insist their costumes had nothing to do with race.
“Black and orange, getting Gritty with it,” Kinkel said of their theme.
When asked they chose to wear blackface, Tomaszwski told CBS Philly: “Cuz I like it. Yeah, why not? I know it’s a shame to be white in Philly right now. It’s a shame.”
“It has nothing to do with being racist to the black person or the white person or the yellow person,” Kinkel added. “It’s our tradition.”
Local station ABC 6 reports that Philly banned blackface from the annual parade back in the 1960s.
This isn’t the first time the popular New Year’s Day parade, which draws thousands of spectators each year, has come under fire for performances and acts considered to be racially insensitive. Last year, a skit depicted a Black actor dressed as rapper Jay Z leading Kenney by a dog leash. A group of comics wore brownface and donned sombreros another year.
Rodney Muhammad, president of the NAACP Philadelphia branch, said he thinks it’s high time to “pull the plug” on the parade.
“I think it’s time for it to go. It’s the only parade that causes controversy on an annual basis,” he told the outlet.
Tomaszwski felt differently. When asked about his decision to wear blackface, he offered these words to those who took issue with his costume.
“What do I say to them? Don’t worry about it, stay in your neighborhood. Don’t worry about it. That’s what I do,” he said.
Tomaszwski and Kinkel were removed from the parade and have been barred from Froggy Carr and all mummers activities.
Watch more in the video below.