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Double Standards At Pride?

My thoughts about an article on the BBC entitled “Pride events urged to stop using ‘Blackface’ acts” uploaded on 1st June 2017.

The article discussed the recent Durham Pride event, at which a Beyonce impersonator was due to perform, but was dropped due to allegations she was using ‘Blackface’ in her act. The artist never got to perform, so it’s hard to judge her act, or her intentions, but it does seem like she was going to accurately and affectionately perform Beyonce songs, whilst wearing some tan make-up to look realsitically like the star, and was not in any way intending to send up or poke fun at Beyonce or non-white people generally. Whilst I understand the sensitivity around ‘Blackface’ I do think there is something troubling about this issue arising at a Pride event.

First off the whole point of Pride is the acceptance of everybody regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnic origin, or any other variable such as what they look like, so for people who are supposed to be celebrating acceptance to nonetheless be finding this one woman unacceptable, in advance of actually seeing her for themselves, because she has chosen to wear some tan make-up for the act, is in itself counter to the whole idea of Pride, especially when you consider that a Beyonce impersonator ought to look something like Beyonce (and because of Beyonce’s vocal abilities any impersonator ought to be chosen on voice first, so that they may well need to wear make-up/wig etc to look more like her) and when you also consider that there will be plenty of other people at the event with all kinds of face paint of various colours then you have to start drawing the conclusion that it’s ok to wear face make-up of any other colour except brown/black, which would surely imply that there’s something wrong with having or appearing to have brown or black skin, as opposed to any other colour, which is the exact opposite of both Pride’s message of acceptance and of the beliefs of those who are objecting in this case.

But the biggest flaw in any Pride supporter objecting to this supposed ‘Blackface’ is highlighted in an argument made in the article that "Blackface is a form of racism that dehumanises black people turning them into objects that can be 'performed”. So the problem, it seems, is that impersonating a subset of society makes that subset feel less human than the rest of society. So how do you reconcile dragging up with that notion then? ‘Blackface’ impersonates people of race, which turns them into an object that can be performed, even though in this instance we are almost certainly talking about tan make-up which is in no way any different to the fake tan many people apply these days, and is being done to make the impersonator look more like the person she is impersonating, so is intended to look realistic rather than poking fun at anyone. Drag on the other hand impersonates a different subset of society, women, and in most (but not all) cases will not be a very realistic or flattering impersonation and may well find many opportunities for poking fun at feminity (albeit usually well meant), so doesn’t this in turn make women an object that can be ‘performed’ and couldn’t it therefore be construed as a form of sexism?

So either those at Pride truly believe that impersonating any subset of society dehumanises that subset, in which case any dragging up (or ‘reverse drag’ in the case of women impersonating men) would also be unacceptable by the same logic. Or else we have to conclude that impersonating any subset of society is sometimes acceptable and sometimes unacceptable, depending on such factors as the realism of the make-up, the intention of the impersonation, and the actual content of the act.

Personally I wouldn’t expect to see a old-fashioned minstrel at a Pride event, because the minstrel look is hideous and unrealistic, and in any case that specific look carries too much baggage these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to limit what celebrities people can and can’t decide to dress up as or impersonate,  as surely saying we can’t choose to look like any celebrity that happens to be of certain ethnic origins only serves to make those ethnic origins appear to be in some way wrong or unacceptable, which is counter to everything Pride stands for.

Having said that I wish to make three things clear:
1. I am not arguing that all ‘Blackface’ is always acceptable, and am certainly not suggesting a comeback for the Black And White Minstrels, or any other show of that era that relied on crued unrealistic ‘Blackface’ characters for its humour.
2. I have no problem with any form of dragging up or drag act. Drag acts are an enjoyable entertainment, especially at Pride events and the like.
3. Please do not conflate drag with transgender or transsexual. Drag is dressing up for fun or to provide entertainment for others, whilst transgender and transsexual people identify and/or choose to present themselves as one gender whilst being biologically another gender (or identify and/or present as both genders or neither gender). I have purposely avoided using the term ‘transvestite’ in the discussion as although it is generally the same thing as drag, there are some transvestites who would argue they were something other than drag, and the term has the potential to be confused by some with transgender/transsexual due to having the same prefix trans-, which might have caused some people to mistakenly think I am talking about transgender or transsexual people, which isn’t the case.

Page Last Updated - 02/06/2017
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