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Open letter to Shirley Q: The blues you are playing is "dragging down" queer folks

“I wheel about and turn about and do just so, Ev’ry time I wheel about. I jump Jim Crowe,” sang Thomas D. Rice. (Rice invented blackface performing in 1828 – derived from his portrayal of a homeless crippled black man from Cincinnati, Ohio.)

My question for modern day blackface performers is: What’s so funny? As you paint your face black and wipe the black paint from your fingers, do you think about the years of segregated entertainment that black paint represents?

I must borrow another song from Mr. Rice and say; “Oh Hush!” The brazen insensitivity and elitist action of painting yourself black to make light of the years of oppression suffered by African-Americans is, for me, as an African-American woman, very painful. I don’t know what’s more insulting; the fact that Shirley Q has been performing in blackface for more than a decade or the financial support Shirley Q has received over the years from LGBT audiences. Chuck Knipp’s blackface drag performance is a celebration of racial divisions that only helps placard intolerance and promotes the racial segregation that exists within the LGBT community.

I find the support of this “racist cabaret” very curious and suggest to those who pay money to see blackface performances, which are nothing more than buffoon betrayals of African-Americans, this is supporting a form of modern day lynching. You are mocking and giving life to the ignorance that once allowed our society to drink out of separate fountains and empty a pool because Dorothy Dandridge dipped her toe in the water.

I wonder if you are gay like me as you rejoice in Shirley Q’s unjust jubilee that has for years amused queer crowds laughing at the “swing time” ethnic portrayals that are a pathetic attempt to validate mean spirited stereotypes. Stop the madness and loosen the noose! These overtly racist acts only kill progressive thinking of racial equality when you dress up black to play down diversity.

There is nothing in the world more difficult than taking the lead in the introduction of change and nothing more frustrating than the uncertainty of its success. But as I find my place to stand against the world’s ills of bigotry and injustice, I must have faith in our ability to bend confirmative ideals into revolutionary unity. If I don’t stand for equality, then I fall for oppression!

My hope is not only to express my pain in the blatant disregard of decades of cultural insensitivity but to liberate the acceptance of “book covers” and instead challenge the current consciousness to “read between the lines” that divide us by outing those who are so willing to use popular misrepresentations in an attempt to confine us to birth rights instead of accepting our living testaments. My hopes for LGBT individuals are that we embrace our colorful community to merge our civil pursuit for the legal privileges derived from our constitutional heritage. A diverged equality struggle is a dream with no hope of success. Until minority interests are represented in the gay rights movement, the road to freedom will always hit a dead end.

This morally indifferent behavior reminds me of the short story: “The Blues I’m Playing,” from “The Ways of White Folks” by Langston Hughes where the character Ms. Ellsworth believes herself to be superior to Oceola and the other protégé - rather than seeing them as “human beings” she sees them as “objects” to comfort her loneliness. I propose Shirley Q stops performing blackface drag shows and instead performs the song – “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land” in a Statue of Liberty costume.

“Black people are not an object of your jovial derogation!”

To add insult to injury, Shirley Q is performing at an event called “Hurricane Weekend" (Juneteenth, June 19), also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day – an American holiday honoring African-American heritage.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decried “… the ultimate tragedy of segregation. It not only harms one physically, but it injures one spiritually. It scars the soul and distorts the personality. It inflicts the segregator with a false sense of superiority while inflicting the segregated with a false sense of inferiority.”

The struggle, now begun, would continue to the finish. The constant challenge was to stay committed to nonviolence. He believed this would prevent an increase of hatred. And continued by stating ,“An individual has not started to live until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity!”

Please denounce the use of blackface performances and liminal spaces of human relationships to continue to improve race relations so as to limit rage and regeneration which allows the continual conflation of the personal and the political. We as a nation should uplift the commonalities of our intertwined history and refuse to condone the racial mocking that divides, cutting so deep that it leaves intense emotional scars.

By striking against ignorance and public ridicule of African-Americans, we embrace historical commonalities that emphasize our love and respect for one another. By standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the gay rights movement and getting equal together, we unite our struggle into one fight which is a rainbow lining in the upcoming equality storm.

Seeking direct action

Let’s make Juneteenth = No to Blackface Day!

My request is that partnering organizations sponsor a showing of the documentary “Ethnic Notions” to educate the injustice of misrepresenting a community of people and highlight that liberation is as much about the oppressor as it is about those they oppressed.

As Audre Lorde said about race relations, “What we share illuminates what we do not.” I will extend the olive branch and invite Chuck Knipp to attend the Dallas showing of the film.

Personal plea to LGBT community

Earlier this month the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force joined a New York coalition of organizations in condemning the racist drag performances of Shirley Q. Liquor and has contacted CafeShops.com to request immediately remove all Shirley Q. Liquor products from their website. Shirley Q.’s website is intermittently operative (when operative it can be found at http://www.shirleyqliquor.com), the merchandise remains on sale at CafeShops.com.

Please join us in requesting Fred Durham shut down Shirley Q’s racist merchandising website by writing, calling or e-mailing:

Mr. Fred Durham
1850 Gateway Drive, Suite 300
San Mateo, CA 94404
(650) 655-3000

GetEQUAL activist C.D. (Chastity) Kirven is a Lambda Literary-nominated author of “What Goes Around Comes Back Around” and a board member of DFW Pride Movement. Her artwork was shown at Butch Voices Conference in Oakland and in Curve magazine. She created the first GLBT cell phone documentary about same sex intimate partner abuse. She has an online clothing line at www.zazzle.com/cdkirven and is editing her online reality show about her life called: “SOULPRINT.” She is working on a play, her second book “The Glass Closet” and a documentary. Contact her at cdkirven@aol.com or www.myspace.com/cdkirven, or visit her website http://cdkirven.blogspot.com.