Philadelphia Writer Defends Racist Parade Skit on Huffington Post

ICTMN Staff
1/16/13

In "Thou Shalt Not Wear a Native American Headdress," a column posted to the Huffington Post, writer Thom Nickels has attempted to defend an Indian-themed skit, performed at a Philadelphia parade, that many people have criticized as racist.

The parade in question is the Mummers Parade, which happens New Year's Day and is noted for a historic lack of cultural sensitivity. As a story at Slate explains, in previous eras (we're talking the 1800s) the parade was rife with racism, as "members of the community 'impersonated' types, with 'Chinamen,' 'Dutchmen,' 'Red Indians,' and a blackface 'Jim Crow' making regular appearances each year." According to a 1981 article from Smithsonian magazine (put online by a group of Mummers and preserved at archive.org), "Blackface was a tradition until 1964 when official city policy ruled it out, bringing to an end the dissension that had grown between civil rights groups and the clubs."

Many Philadelphians hold their breath when the Mummers Parade rolls around, dreading the overtones (however subtle) of racism and xenophobia that tend to persist -- and in 2013, they had good reason to. One group put on an ill-advised "tribute" to minstrelsy which featured a type of sanitized blackface, and some observers described white parade dancers from another group in Rastafarian dreadlocks and (perhaps) wearing blackface. (There's a blog post by Tara Murtha at PhilyNow that treats those aspects in detail.)

And then there was the skit -- "Indi-sourcing" -- that featured a group of Mummers dressed as Indians (the Asian kind) at a call center in New Delhi who are chased off by another group of Indians (the Turtle Island kind). No, it doesn't make a lot of sense -- here, watch:

Charges that the skit is racist didn't sit well with writer Nickels. His essay at HuffingtonPost.com gets off to a provocative start: "In case you haven't heard, in Philadelphia the 'politically correct' crowd is on the warpath over a New Year's Day Mummers skit." Nickels dismisses the critics as "hypersensitive" and suggests that people should find more worthy targets for their outrage.

Nickels then goes into reminiscences about dressing as an Indian at Boy Scout camp, and playing cowboys and Indians as a young boy -- although the girls, he explains, dressed as "squaws." The Boy Scout rituals "taught us to be respectful and to honor the American Indian," he writes, and playing Indian was a way of "honoring our true American ancestors in a special way." Nickels blames the fashion industry for spoiling the fun by putting "war bonnets" on sexy female models, and finishes with a story about a friend who was beaten by a Muslim who found his "Turkish sultan" Halloween costume disrespectful of Islam. "Welcome once again to our super-hypersensitive world," he concludes.

Commenters have, understandably, jumped on the piece. "Thom, you cannot honor somebody by doing something they find offensive," wrote one. "This is not hard. The fact that you can write this many words about this topic and not stumble upon this simple fact is pretty impressive, though." Another reader observed, "The First Amendment protects (to an extent) your right to be culturally tone deaf and offensive. But if you're going to deliberately provoke offense, have the guts to own it. Don't go parading your ignorance in other people's faces and then deride them as overly-sensitive when they are offended by your deliberate offensiveness."

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
EVERY HUMAN BEING IS BORN INTO A TRIBE OF PEOPLE. TRACE YOUR ANCESTRY AND YOU ARE ALSO NATIVE B.C. DO NOT SHAME YOURSELF OR YOUR ANCESTORS . CELEBRATE YOUR NATIVE ANCESTORS - YOU ARE THEIR DESCENDANTS. AND CELEBRATE THE NOBLE NATIVE TRIBES OF OUR TIME. WE ARE STILL HERE HOLDING HONOR FOR ALL!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Mr. Nickles....If it were true that "The First Amendment protects (to an extent) your right to be culturally tone deaf and offensive" I dare you to walk into an airport dressed in traditional Muslim clothing, and yell "BOMB". Would people be overly sensitive if they thought your actions were down right stupid, or maybe criminal? Truth be told, Nickles pushes the envelope for the same reasons that the Westboro Baptist Church go to Soldiers funerals.. Both are poor representations of what the First Amendment was written for

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Guess they are living out their secret fantasy. They wanna be NDN's its okay have fun breaking the overly- sensitive barriers about what is offensive to people. That must be your gift your passion your role in life. In the end what are you accomplishing calloused emotions where people will not find someones BS on their heads offensive? Set some boundaries for your opinions. Make love not war.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I don't see it as racist, they don't even look Native American or Indian. Just looks like a bunch of ignorant people making fools of themselves. See how the younger people are feeling ashamed of their elders.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
wow wow

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
It isn't so hard to believe that this type of mindset still exists and is very active in the USA. Why not mimic what and who they are.. where they came from....not just everyone around them. This still shows the Euro mind has not progressed as far as others.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Hypersensitive??? Clearly you do not know anything about Indigenous Peoples or their culture. Lucky for me I did not hold much credit to your name or your source of information. The Boy Scouts, really? Too bad your parents cannot get their money back for sending you to the Boy Scouts (what a waste of your childhood memories and your parents money) and sadly you leaned next to nothing about Indigenous Peoples. Not that we would want you to because you'd make a mockery out of that too.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
It would take an insensitive person to pronounce those who care as "overly sensitive." It's an statement made to excuse racism, or hopefully, just ignorance.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Really

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Require passports for Indians to enter the White mans lands. Stay on your reservations and live the way you used to.Quit using White mans technology. Tom Metzger
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