In the three decades I lived in the Philadelphia area, I never–not once–had any desire to go to the Mummers Parade. The idea of standing on Broad Street in freezing temperatures did not appeal to me as the way to usher in the New Year. That some of the Mummers had a history of less than proper and considerate behavior was not a factor in my thinking; the thermometer was.
In recent years, some of the Mummers have been criticized for racist and bigoted undercurrents (in some cases, overcurrents) in their costumes and conduct. Note that I said “some of,” as the parade is composed of many different groups; pretty much the only thing they have in common is the parade.
At the Inky, Daniel Gold, one of the marchers, writes of wanting to see this aspect of Mummery improve and considers why such improvement is a struggle. His comments are perceptive and can be extended to the larger society. Here’s a bit (emphasis added):
To be blunt, most Mummers don’t understand the problem. And not enough are interested in figuring it out. They don’t feel racist, so they can’t understand why the public would see them that way. They view individual acts of racism as individual problems, and assume if they’re not the one doing it or getting caught, they’re not the problem.
But that’s not how it works. Racism is complex. Though it often occurs at the individual level, it is a cultural problem. In western society, it has artificially pit Black against white and historically created a hierarchy placing white at the top. When people speak of systemic racism, this is what they mean. In America, we all live with this and play a part. We either work to combat it or escalate it.