by: Zach Stafford
As we enter the final days of this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, we have been hit with a curveball from Ms. RuPaul herself: No queen has been crowned. If you watched the last episode, you know that RuPaul has decided to let the fans decide who becomes “America’s Next Drag Superstar” by voting via Twitter (#DragRace) or Facebook. RuPaul tweeted the reasoning behind this move, stating, “Last year shady queens leaked the winner. This time we’re keeping it secret till the very last moment.” In defense of what many are calling a publicity stunt to hike up ratings and build upon the momentum of this season, I say, “Bravo, Ru.” The final queens are Phi Phi O’Hara, Chad Michael, and the now-infamous (and Lady Gaga’s personal favorite) Sharon Needles.
But wait! There is something a little fishy about two of these queens and their politics: They may have made racist comments.
First, there was Phi Phi O’hara’s comment referring to Latrice Royale and Dida Ritz as “the help,” sending the two queens into what looked like frustration. Dida Ritz asked, “Did she just call me ‘the help’?” And Royale exclaimed, “I’m from Compton! I’ll whoop your ass!” People were and still are upset over this comment, but most of the anger has seemed to dissipate with the excitement of the final episodes, and Phi Phi still has her “Phinatics” backing her up.
And now Sharon Needles has come under fire for a Facebook comment she appears to have made in February that has emerged and begun circulating around the Internet. In a screenshot we see Sharon writing, “I fucked a black last week…call me a cheater, not a racists..i don’t say n-word..i say nigger..,” among other very unsettling remarks. Though there has been no official response from Needles in regard to the truth behind this particular Facebook comment, the screenshot is flying around fast and could very well impact her image as fans vote. In an audio interview we hear Needles defending herself against claims of racism, stating, “I’m such a fan of using shocking images, whether they be relevant or not.” She then says, “I don’t hate anyone for how they look. I hate people for who they are.”
Though the politics of who can say certain words are tricky, as we see with battles around words like “faggot” or “nigger,” I think it is important for us to take note of this incident. Personally, that screenshot, the language it entails, and even Needles’ response in the interview leaves me unsettled and a tad angry. Those remarks are uncalled for and inappropriate, to say the least. There seems to be a constant tension between drag and racism, the most visceral example being popular performer Shirley Q Liquor’s choice to perform in blackface and exploit many dangerous stereotypes of black people, which has caused lots of backlash. So my real question is: why is drag sometimes racist, and why do drag performers occasionally do arguably racist things?
The answer? I don’t know. The solution? I really don’t know.
At the end of the day, Sharon Needles will most likely win season four of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and outrage over her comments may fall by the wayside. That said, those statements and her position on dealing with race should be important factors to consider when you cast your vote for “America’s Next Drag Superstar.”
Note: This piece was originally featured on the Huffington Post and was republished with permission. You can find the original here.
Zach Stafford is a Tennessee writer currently living in Chicago. His work has appeared at places such as: USAToday, Thought Catalog, The New Gay, and Bookforum. Outside of writing and watching Ally McBeal on Netflix, Zach is in the process of applying to PhD programs in the field of Cultural Geography & Urbanization. Also, Zach is the Production Assistant and a Contributor to the 50Faggots.com web series, which explores the lives of effeminate gay men in America. Follow him on Twitter @zachstafford.