Dear Mary Cheney…

Recently, after seeing a promo for the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Mary Cheney, the daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, asked the following

Why is it socially acceptable — as a form of entertainment — for men to put on dresses, make up and high heels and act out every offensive stereotype of women (bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty, etc.) — but it is not socially acceptable — as a form of entertainment — for a white person to put on blackface and act out offensive stereotypes of African Americans?

Shouldn’t both be okay or neither? Why does society treat these activities so differently?

I’m not gonna lie, considering the source, my first response was…haterwrong… but when I thought about it, I couldn’t readily come up with an answer. I mean, it was obvious to me why drag is socially acceptable and blackface is not, and yet…feel… so, after pondering the topic for several hours…

Dear Mary Cheney,

I know you are being deliberately provocative with this question. In a world where we all, Liberals, Progressives, and Conservatives, exist in bubbles of those who think like we do, such questions are rarely considered from the vantage point of anyone who doesn’t think like us. Perhaps this is why the answer cannot be readily articulated, at least by some. Since you asked the question, I have an answer for you.hushMary, you have proposed a false dichotomy. The answer to your questions is not “both or neither” because there is a great deal of difference between drag and blackface. Yes, while they share the common foundation of being a form of entertainment, the difference lies in the intent of the performance and the context in which the performance occurs. Drag and blackface are comparable to the same extent that an American GI and a Nazi are comparable.

Drag is many things…updoDrag is an homage to women, writ large. Drag reflects, magnifies, and celebrates the archetypes of women in our society. When you go to a drag show, you will see Cher, Beyoncé, Britney, and others because they are archetypes of powerful women. They are aspirations or objects of fantasy. You will also see the working woman, and even those upon whom society looks down. The Bitches and the Sluts are in our society, too, and believe it or not, many people look up to them.

Additionally, the terms you chose are loaded and shaming. One person’s Slut is another’s sexually liberated woman. One person’s Bitch is another’s confident and assertive woman. You will also find those whom some might call Trailer Trash, because some people are proudly blue collar in their aesthetic and lives and want to see reflections of that on stage.

Whether intentionally or not, drag can also be biting social commentary, which is where some people get offended. It can be difficult to see yourself or your family reflected back at you from the stage, especially if that reflection is embarrassing in some way, but such is the nature of art. One man’s celebration of his trailer park heritage (or growing up in the projects) is another’s shameful remembrance of a past (or present) better forgotten.

Drag is political because it forces us to confront the foolishness of the role of women in society. Seeing a performer in platform stilettos, a corset, butt pads, a breastplate, and severe makeup forces us to ask why we socialize women in our society to do this to themselves. Again, the reflection can make some uncomfortable. Drag is also uncomfortable for some because it forces them to confront notions of what it means to me a man. After all, a real man doesn’t (and wouldn’t want to) dress up as a woman. It’s all about reflections, Mary!

ON THE OTHER HAND…

American actress and singer Judy Garland (1922 - 1969) in blackface as Judy Bellaire in 'Everybody Sing', 1938. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

American actress and singer Judy Garland (1922 – 1969) in blackface as Judy Bellaire in ‘Everybody Sing’, 1938. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Blackface is/was ANYTHING BUT an homage to Black people, writ large. Blackface served no purpose other than to remind White society constantly that Blacks were (please choose one):

  1. shiftless, lazy, do-nothings,
  2. only good enough to be “The Help” to White people,
  3. only good enough to entertain White people,
  4. innocent unsophisticated simpletons who needed White guidance,
  5. wild, murderous, raping, stealing, rampaging savages who needed the firm heel of the White man’s boot on their neck, or
  6. All of the Above

Blackface did not magnify, reflect, or celebrate any Black person, EVER. It was not biting social commentary on society’s treatment of the Black man (or Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc.). Blackface was a tool of oppression, serving to remind Black people that this is what society thinks of you, of what and who you can be. Blackface is as PATENTLY OFFENSIVE as wearing a Nazi uniform…nazi… or a KKK uniformkkk… or dressing like HitlerhitlerThat is the difference between drag and blackface.

Sincerely,

Dominion ONYX

P.S. It’s funny that Black people have been stereotyped as lazy ever since we stopped working for free, but I digress…

Luis, I ain’t forgot about you, gur!

Leave a Reply