This Week in the Mercury


Friday, February 1, 2013

North Portland Gay Bar Cancels Drag Queen's Black Face Act

Posted on Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 5:32 PM

So the Eagle, a gay bar in North Portland, booked comedian Shirley Q. Liquor—a drag queen who performs in black face. Comedians constantly push social mores and the less politically correct often the more famous the comedian. And as Dave Chappelle highlighted, when done right, poking at racial stereotypes can be hilarious.

That was until Portland unleashed a flurry of protests in every corner of the internet.

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The Eagle had the good sense to cancel the show after a major outcry erupted on the bar's Facebook page—and bloggers criticized the bar by noting “community anecdotes have shown that the owners are racist, transphobic, desire controversy, and operate out of white male privilege.”

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Whether or not the last part is true isn't clear. A bartender at the Eagle wouldn't comment and messages left for owners were not returned. I'd say it's unlikely, however, that a transphobic establishment would book Liquor in the first place.

Chappelle wanted his black-face sketch to highlight the terrible nature of racial stereotypes, but that intention was completely lost on one audience member who laughed hardily for the wrong reasons. The incident was so unsettling that the episode never aired and is cited as the reason Chappelle took a break from the show.

Shirley isn't Chappelle (not even in the same universe) and her black-face routine, if you ask me, isn't funny. Liquors has been quoted as saying, “my comedy isn't racist, nor am I,” but the internet has spoken (as has every person with an ounce of common sense) and yes, a white man impersonating a black woman by painting his face black cuts to the very core of racism.

What is funny is that people will pay to see it and there is a significant group of people who don't understand why this is racist. Supporters of Liquor cite her New Orleans roots, as if living in proximity to African Americans bestows Liquor with deep empathy for a culture that has faced centuries of deep-seated racism.

In fact, Liquor herself wanted to open her show up with some dialog and a Q&A session, presumably where Liquor, again a white man impersonating a black woman, would wax rhapsodic about what it was like to have relatives lynched during the 1940s, what segregation felt like according to her grandmother, and the fear of living in a world where the murder rate among African Americans is as much as 10 times that of Caucasians. Ahem.

* I incorrectly identified the performer in the first post, Liquor is the correct spelling of her name.

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