Agapism is a deontological system of ethics consisting of one simple command: in every situation, do the loving thing, whatever that may be.
Would it be possible that the most loving thing to do is to tear them apart?
I’d like to call a time out, a process point, if you will.
I’m frustrated because I don’t feel like I can add my opinion to the actual debate of race and drag because the conversation has been derailed by the focus on specific organizers’ identities, especially Morgan’s.
This has been one of the most stressful weeks of the year. Holy mother of Pancakes. So I’m helping to organize a town hall discussion in Austin around some problematic drag performances. And its been a fucking shit show. The first few days after we posted the event and started advertising, it was all civil. People were calm and collected.
And then I posted my open letter.
And then all of the sudden, we are witch hunters. We are making assumptions of identity. We are being unfair and making space unsafe. Never mind that their racist actions make us feel unsafe. Never mind that when we try to call them out they get defensive, call us names and brush us off.
Its so frustrating to me that you need to be gentler then gentle when calling white people out on their racist shit if they are even gonna pretend to hear you. God forbid you make them feel “unsafe” and “uncomfortable”. Nevermind the fact that they have been doing that shit to us for fucking centuries.
And goddamn it, I have been on my best motherfucking behavior. I have been so good at being polite and phrasing my responses in such a way that aren’t “inflammatory” (although we all know that nothing I say will ever not be inflammatory and who is the arbiter of that). But I’ve been really good to not sound angry. I’ve really stretched so that I don’t start fires.
But of course, the fire has been raging for centuries. The only thing I did was bring it into the light
And then! When I share that I had felt threatened by one of the queens, they come out and victim blame me and call me a liar.
I’m just so fucking done.
Matt Smith here. Not friends with any of the performers, organizers, or facilitators. Didn’t even know there was a drag controversy until this week.
Disclaimer: I mention some of the examples others have shared about what may be problematic in a performance. I’m not crusading against the performers. Even if I think you did something problematic, I don’t hate you.
I’ve been thinking about what makes a performance offensive, oppressive, whatever.
It’s not whether or not it pokes fun at some oppressed culture. We can all think of funny comedy like that.
I also don’t think it’s just when someone pokes fun at some oppressed culture without being a member of it… or that being a member of it automatically makes it all okay. Minstrel shows weren’t okay.
I think it’s about whether the performance humanizes oppressed people or dehumanizes them. Under the status quo, oppressed groups are dehumanized – reduced to a set of stereotypes. That’s why so many women seeing a black guy will clutch their purses, or why my father-out-law came to meet me for the first time fearing the worst. (The worst for him was promiscuity, and he was relieved to find we didn’t have a harem of half-naked men at the apartment. We made them all go home until he was gone.)
And that dehumanization is beneath all kinds of discrimination. We’ve all internalized oppressive bullshit. We all act on that internalized bullshit in varied ways, often without being conscious of it. That’s lot of the racism in today’s world. (If you don’t already know all this, tell me and I can show you where to find tons of evidence.) We either help break that down, or we’re complicit in perpetuating the status quo.
When white frat boys throw a blackface party, they’re treating race and racism as nothing but a source of entertainment. Nothing more serious than that. A minstrel show does the same – letting people feel okay about the stereotypes they’ve internalized and the reality of an oppressed community. The message is there’s no big deal, nothing serious to see here, just good for a laugh.
If someone says that a performance portraying her own community made her feel suddenly alienated, alone, and betrayed by the people laughing around her, that’s a good sign the performance was dehumanizing the oppressed group. If a bunch of ignorant guys in the audience point and laugh at the “crack whore,” that’s another clear sign of dehumanization.
And not to say that was the performer’s intent. Maybe even it was intended as a humanizing performance, and somebody completely misunderstood the message as “haha, a crazy crack whore.”
Similarly, when the imagery used for publicity is a chola behind bars, maybe that image was created by somebody who grew up in that culture and makes fun of their people with love. But the image on its own still pushes the same stereotypes that dehumanize latinos/as. And if the art doesn’t convey the love and humanize even as it pokes fun, that’s where things start to feel offensive, unsafe, racist, oppressive.
For these reasons, I find it less problematic when someone makes fun of their own culture. It’s more likely to be done and conveyed with love, in a way that’s palpable to everyone. But that’s not automatic. It could just as easily become a minstrel show.
The audience matters too: If someone’s performing for their own community, I’m less worried about dehumanization. But if you’re performing for the general public, where people don’t have that shared experience of the culture, the risk of dehumanization is far higher. And there are some people/crowds a humanizing performance would be lost on, just because they’re not in a place to get it.
So for me, there are two questions. One, is the performance coming from a place of love and common humanity, or just making fun of someone’s culture or plight? And two, will the audience have an experience that breaks down the oppressive BS we’re all spoon-fed in this society; or will they experience the art as license to (continue) not see(ing) us as people, and relating to us as some “other”?