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!

4 Responses to “Dear Mary Cheney…

  • > Drag and Blackface are comparable to the same extent that an American GI and a Nazi are comparable.
    I so love this answer so much. It takes being from the US to accept this answer as valid. If you ask a North Korean, Vietnamese, Iraqi, Filipino, Afghani, Nicaraguan, etc… what they think of the US GI, they will give you the same answer the Ukrainians and Russians would give you : Genocidal inhumane barbaric devils. In the case of North Korea, it’s over a third of the population that the US GIs wiped out of existence. Which is about as efficient as the Nazis were in the worst places like in Kiev and near Smolensk.

    So no, blackface and womanface are. as per your analogy. not really different at all. Likewise it takes being a man not to see that they’re both the same thing. You’re a US man whitewashing other US men wrongdoings, what a surprise.

    The argument that one is done as an hommage and the other a mockery is not worth much, sorry :
    1. Rachel Dolezal actually fought for black rights. She did “respect” black people enough to fight alongside them. She had at least as much respect for black people than any drag queen has for women.
    2. Lesbians showed very clearly in the past and now again that they don’t like drag acts in Pride, that they find them offensive stereotypes of gender norms imposed on them. Yet Drag is now an essential part of Pride whereas Lesbians are being banned from them in many cities. Men in Drag don’t respect women, if they did, they would stop this now.
    3. Since apparently showing respect is the defining reason Drag is acceptable, are you telling me that if I went to a black protest and blackfaced as Huey Newton or Thomas Sankara whom I love respect immensely (Sankara in top 3 of favourite people ever) I would not be kicked out? That you’d all understand my intentions and accept me?
    Fuck off now…

    Drag will be acceptable when women have discussed and voted on it and decided it’s fine. You’re not a woman, you don’t get to say “woman relax it’s just a costume”, you don’t have a vote.

    • domonyx
      1 month ago

      Thanks for reading my article. I appreciate that you took the time to respond.

      I agree that beyond World War II, the reputation of the American GI is similar to that of the Nazis. I should have been more precis in my analogy. As for the rest of what you said, I know you think you were scoring points, but all you did was show your own ignorance.

      Rachel Dolezal pretended to be Black, taking away opportunities from actual Black people. Once in a position of power, she is on record denying others opportunities for not being Black enough. Any “good” she did was negated by her enormous fraud.

      I respect that some women do not like drag, but there are lots who do. There is an argument to be made that drag has become so mainstream SPECIFICALLY because of the number of women who support drag queens and the drag community. Drag shows are full of women (and woman-identified and GNC people) screaming their asses off alongside the gay men there. There are as many or more women at drag conventions. To refer to drag as “womanface” shows an extremely reductive view of drag and a ridiculous conflation with blackface. Never, NOT EVER, did throngs of Black people pack an Al Jolson performance. Blackface has not ever provided a positive portrayal of any aspect of what it means to be Black in this country or on this planet.

      I agree that SOME Lesbians don’t like drag, but many do or are indifferent. You are also completely offbase about Pride. The only Lesbians excluded from pride have been TERFs, who seek to deny Transwomen their place at the table. The irony of this is that were it not for Drag Queens and Transwoman, there would be no Stonewall. So when you see Drag Queens at the center of Pride celebrations, they are occupying their rightful place in the movement that other Drag Queens and Transwomen started.

      Blackface is a uniquely racist invention that never ever served any positive purpose. If you want to be dumb enough to show up to a Black event in blackface, be my guest, but don’t come running to me when they run your ass out of there.

      Drag ALREADY is acceptable to enough women that it’s become a cultural phenomenon. Again, I respect that you and others don’t care for it, but your arguments against it are built on demonstrably false premises and logically flawed appeals.

      I don’t know what you thought you were going to accomplish by writing such a negative comment, but you did and so now I get to tell you to kiss my entire ass!

      • About Dolezal, I used quotes around “respect” precisely because that’s my point, that shows no respect. I can show you many men pretending to be women that have taken opportunities away from actual women and then claiming to be more womanly than cis women. That’s close to the actual quotes. No respect there either.

        I’m sure women in the Elizabethan theatres did also enjoy watching plays where the women were played by men. I’m sure black people went to the movies to see films where black people were played by white men. I really cannot find any evidence for your claim that black people didn’t flock to see blackface films. This is the only discussion I can find so far : https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/ao4wf0/why_did_al_jolsons_blackface_act_seem_to_have_so/

        As to your claim that “throngs of women pack Drag performances”, the best evidence I found is this : https://slate.com/human-interest/2017/01/why-drag-queens-biggest-fans-are-increasingly-young-women.html I read half of it and it’s only supporting your stance insofar as the fad that started with the drag race sparked teen girls comprising half the audience.

        At any rate internalized racism or misogyny should not be the factors deciding whether impersonating the oppressed is cool. The only thing your claim shows to me is that misogyny is more readily internalized than racism, which makes sense since women were always intermixed with men and are forced to care for their husbands, fathers and sons as sexes cannot live in separatism. Black people don’t have to care for a single white man if they want to, they can congregate, discuss in family about what the minstrels are doing in the streets, it’s much harder for women to do take sides when it’s their husbands doing the womanface.

        > Some lesbians don’t like drag?
        Fuck me man… NO FEMINIST likes drag. If even a poor feminist like Cheney can see that, it’s pretty clear that it’s your misogyny that’s impeding you from seeing the obvious.

        I don’t care if lesbians are “TERFs” or not, most have to be if they don’t want to date men, aka be be bi/heterosexuals. What I care about is that they were banned and that no drag queen did as much as look back to show any support to the banned women. No respect.
        BTW every time you use the word “radfem/terf” in a critique you have to know that feminists automatically substitute it with “feminazi” or “witch”:
        “The only lesbians who were banned from pride are the feminazi ones. The witches who won’t shut up get the stake.” Is what I hear for instance.

        I’ve heard the propaganda about stonewall enough. Feminists dispute it entirely. Guess who I’ll believe between men and women on the question?

        > Don’t come running to me when they run your ass out there.
        That’s exactly my point, you keep showing that you don’t read what I write. Of course you wouldn’t appreciate me blackfacing out of “respect” for Sankara or anyone. That’s my point, individual respect is no justification for participating in a historically (not really, it will always be) demeaning practice. There is no way to be respectful while performatively impersonating the oppressed. The only day it will be cool for me to wear a black face is when race will be no more. Likewise, when gender is no more, NO ONE, not even the feminists, will care about drag being a thing.

        Here’s an article I’ve read since : https://standpointmag.co.uk/issues/november-2019/blackface-is-evil-why-isnt-drag/
        Much better written than my comment, so I recommend you read it if you want to know why it’s not cool.

        In the end it’s really clear that the only arguments so far for womanface are :
        1. Racism is worse than sexism. Your stance clearly, but also that of anyone else in society safe the feminists. Goes to show how successful and stealthy patriarchy is.
        2. Women accept womanface more than black people accept blackface. Your main argument, better than the 1st one, still terrible.

        • domonyx
          3 weeks ago

          Listen, I am not going back and forth with you and these dissertation length walks around the same argument. I don’t appreciate the fucked up and condescending approach you took in your first comment so everything you have to say is trash to me. On top of that, your endorsement of TERFs and use of Rachael Dolezal of all people show that you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Next time you want to try to engage with someone, don’t be an asshole. And don’t bother to reply because I am not entertaining this conversation any more.

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