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.

*eyes roll*

Although the online version is not the full article, the online version was surprising for three reasons.

  1. 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.
  2. Knipp does well on Shirley Q. gigs & mammy knick-knacks–to the tune of $70,000-90,000 per year.
  3. 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.

Hmmm…

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?

3 thoughts on “Blackface Drag Queen Feels Regret. Almost.

  1. Does he feel bad enough to give up the grip?… Unless somewhere within the pages of that article there’s a mention of an on-the-road-to-Damascus type of epiphany, I’d have to say, HELL NO!… The elixir of white privilege don’t purge they easy…

    It’s a lot like old leather….you’ve had it so long, and it feels so good, you’ll find any reason to wear it… Right “Chuck”…

  2. Sychronicity abounds

    Yo, Mr. K, I just gotta share this with you, man…

    I’m a regular visitor to AOL’s Black Voices – Gay Brothers forum… Well, recently Mr. Knipp’s SQL act was introduced as a topic of discussion, with folks giving their two-cents worth…

    Man, I was shocked to see some of my gay brothers actually defending this dude!… But we keep things relatively peaceful amongst our selves over there, so I didn’t go off like I really – initially – wanted to…

    Here’s a sample of some comments on the subject:

    “Lately, some people are just too P.C.

    I stayed away from Shirley Q. Lika because everyone I know was always hollin about how she was a racist and this and that…. I feel that black folks need to lighten up on somethings and go after issues that matter.”

    “People like this do not offend me because 1) I know they are not talking about me and 2) Their material comes from somewhere…They don’t just pull the stereotypes out of their asses…so instead of folks gettin their panties all in a bunch..they need to take a look at the nexus of the jokes…”

    “Just think of how many times we laughed at Richard Pryor talk about white people.”

    Needless to say, I was floored…

    Here was my offering (and subsequent rebuttal) to some these bizarre reactions (information I gleaned from your SQL post proved very helpful):

    ME: “Here’s what I find very problematic with Mr. Charles K…

    “Shirley Q Liquor” is a comedic characterization of negative stereotypes of African-Americans (specifically African American women) performed by a White man in black-face… His routine is intrinsically disrespectful to Black people by paying homage to the racist origins of black-face minstrel shows… In their genesis, these minstrel shows were used as a “comedic” medium to psychologically reinforce the wicked and despicable ideology and beliefs of white-supremacy and its bastard offspring, black-inferiority. Blacks were egregiously demeaned, degraded, and ridiculed. And there was no misinterpreting the maliciousness of the intent, nor underestimating the negative, often horrific, social repercussions such racist pandering effected on the community of African descent…

    The infamous Klan produced film, “Birth Of A Nation,” employed the use of black-face to create and transmit their racist poison through the use of celluloid… As a result, their recruitment ranks swelled…

    But just in case you might feel that there’s a relevant difference in negativity between the black-face of then and it’s current incarnation in Mr. Knipp’s SQL characterization, I give you the horse’s mouth.

    In the June 2007 issue of “Rolling Stone,” 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.”

    From Knipps own observations, the inherent, negative, racist seed of White people degrading Black folks through the use of black-face is already starting to bare twisted fruit… Some White folks are, already, feeling the comfortability of their (unearned) privilege in disparaging Black people, emboldened a bit more by the antics of Knipp’s SQL… More to this point, I offer the opinion of our lesbian sister, Ms. Lecia Brooks, Director of Education at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, AL (also from the Rolling Stone interview with Knipp):

    “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.”

    So, you see, this sh*t wasn’t funny then, and it sho’ ain’t funny – to me -now… It simply makes a mockery – whether intentional or otherwise – of past African American sufferings, with an inevitable nod, via white desensitization, to future racial disrespect.

    p.s…. And, BTW, Mr. Knipp’s SQL routine brings him in about anywhere between 70,000 to 90,000 duckies a year (including profit from the sale of his Sambo-ish SQL merchandise)”

    But one of our fellow SGL brothers was not swayed:

    HE: “Well, I don’t agree with the reasoning and on this subject have a strong defense because if many of us didn’t act ignorant and unlearned they wouldn’t have anything to go on.”

    ME: “The racism inherent in black-face performances (past & present) such as Knipp’s SQL is no respecter of good conduct from it’s intended target… Black people could wake up angels tomorrow and people like Knipp would still feel the need … feel the privilege … to racistly demean & disrespect Black folk…

    Also, “ignorant and unlearned” behavior is nothing unique to African Americans, my brother… And it is no where near a viable excuse to resurrect a brazenly offensive, racist period from our nation’s dysfunctional past – just for a laugh.”

    HE: “I don’t take offense to anything that white people make jokes concerning black people about for the simple reason maybe if they see the foolishness of how some of them act and do MAYBE it might make them take notice and make a change. ”

    ME: “I’m all for the improvement of Black people, but do you honestly think an insulting, black-face SQL is going to motivate an under-achieveing Black woman in the ghetto of some city into making significant behavioral changes within her life?… Do you think that this is even a thought that graces Knipp’s mind when he is parading his African-targeted misogyny in front of mainly White audiences – again to the tune of 90,000 dollars a year?… Let’s be realistic here.

    And I’m not so much concerned with the potential intellectual/behavioral impact of Knipp’s racist act on Black people (like I stated, I think it would be rather insignificant – other than just being plainly offensive) … as I am concerned with it’s potential influence on White people. It has the potential — as shown by Knipp’s own confessions — to weaken the respect/conduct boundaries with regard to what some White people may believe is socially acceptable commentary and behavior where Black people are concerned. With this country’s denial and inability, still, to adequately – sincerely – address it’s long-standing social problems with race (which seems to ever exist in powder-keg mode), this is not a good thing…”

    I have to admit, man… I’m still amazed at the inability of some of us to accurately recognize when we are being insulted… Oh, well, I’ve vented (and taken up quite a good deal of yo’ space in doin’ so – lol)… Just needed to vomit that up, bro.

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