Blackface Drag Queen Feels Regret. Almost.
If there has been a crusade I have held in the last few years, it has been to permanently shut down Chuck Knipp’s blackface drag character, Shirley Q. Liquor. (I dont’t even like posting this photo, but I think it helps people understand exactly what we’re talking about.)
Jasmyne Cannick, who lead a most successful campaign to stop Knipp’s LA performance in February, blogged yesterday about an article in the upcoming June issue of Rolling Stone about Shirley Q. Liquor, the black southern woman on welfare with 19 kids, as it is performed by white gay man, Charles “Chuck” Knipp, who moonlights as a nurse and Quaker minister.
Although the online version is not the full article, the online version was surprising for three reasons.
- The number of celebrities who have hired Shirley Q.–from actress Sela Ward, the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy cast and country music star Dunn of Brooks & Dunn.
- Knipp does well on Shirley Q. gigs & mammy knick-knacks–to the tune of $70,000-90,000 per year.
- Knipp regrets that his performances create an environment for white people to laugh at blacks.
To the last point, Knipp says:
“Wealthy white people are starting to hire me for private parties, where I play the raisin in a bowl of oatmeal,” he says. “From the way they interact with me, I can see that my being there as Shirley makes them feel it’s acceptable to openly mock black people in a way they otherwise would not, and that does cause me to have second thoughts. If what I’m doing is truly hurtful, then I need to stop.”
Well I am glad he realizes that. But I guess the mounting protests over the last 5 years of mostly black people (and in NYC, whites and other allies of color) hasn’t mattered at all to you? So it took white people to make you stop and think about what you were doing? It doesn’t make me pity him. It makes me understand the ways black people (either physically or sybolically–in the case of mostly non-black people “performing” blackness) are just fodder for a conversation about white people–their anxiety, their suffering, their “humanity.” In other words, black people’s collective pain, anger, and frustration mean absolutely nothing to white people, unless it’s in solidarity with some other groups’ pain–which is why the white gay orgs are always looking for a black minister to support their poltical aims–yet they never get behind issues that impact blacks a a whole, queer or not.
The article concludes with him doing his normal schtick of him defending his performance to bring about racial healing. To be fair, I am not sure when he said this to the reporter–before or after expressing regret for the implications of his performance. Lecia Brooks, Director of Education at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, AL told Rolling Stone:
“I was incensed to see all these white folks nonchalantly giggling at a white man in blackface drag,” says Brooks, who is black and a lesbian. “It’s amazing to me that even the rampant homophobia in the South doesn’t put a dent in the sense of racial privilege presumed by the white gay men who patronize this clear example of racism and misogyny disguised as entertainment.”
Couldn’t be better said. The question for me is, does Chuck Knipp feel bad enough to give up that $70K hustle?