• annamarie623

Eagle Portland, Racism, and our Leather/BDSM Scene

I'm sure by now you've heard about the Eagle here in Portland making a stunningly bad decision to book a racist comedian and the community outrage that it triggered. The comedian is Shirley Q Liquor - a white gay cis-gendered man who dresses in blackface and whose act revolves around stereotypes of black women done in drag. If you've somehow not heard about this, you can find plenty of videos of them on YouTube. Try to not throw your computer across the room while watching. After receiving enough criticism and complaints, the Eagle did eventually cancel the performance but not until it had nearly sold out. That part, right there, is important. The Eagle made a shitty decision about an entertainer and clearly needs to do some work on that, but the bigger picture is that members of our community supported the show and actively defended it online.


I've written, deleted, and re-written this countless times now. It's a difficult topic. It is not, however, difficult because we need to decide if the act was racist, or if our ideal of "free speech" means that the Eagle shouldn't have canceled it. Whether blackface is racist has been written and spoken about eloquently already: Check out this and this and this . (Spoiler alert - it is!)


Portland has a long, ugly history of racism that still affects us today. When the news about the SQL event exploded online, there were comments everywhere that showed how oblivious many people are to the inherent racism in this situation, and in some cases showed the overt racism of those commenting. "But those are just people at the Eagle, right? If we shun the Eagle, problem fixed, right?" Hardly. I've heard every single one of these things in our community when topics of race come up and have argued almost all of these points in person. It's not just online. A brief summary of my arguments are after the comments, in case you can't see why they're fucked up:


"Lighten up." & "You're overreacting." - Stop minimizing other people's experiences around racism. The problem doesn't lie with the person who is hurt by these things, it lies with those creating and supporting these acts.


"It's art/comedy!" - So what? Art isn't somehow exempt from criticism. Neither is comedy. And calling something art or comedy doesn't automatically give it value.


"But canceling the show violates our freedom of speech! Censorship!" - The First Amendment guarantees that the government will not create any laws prohibiting the freedom to express oneself. That's it. This doesn't mean that we all get to say whatever we want without any consequences. It doesn't guarantee any person a venue from which to speak. It doesn't prohibit other people from complaining, disagreeing, attacking, or trying to get that speech shut down.


"So just don't go. What's the big deal?" - The big deal is that people in our community would have gone, and likely wouldn't have analyzed what kind of effects performance has in the bigger picture.


"But black comedians make fun of white people!" & "What about reverse racism?" - Yep. Comedians make fun of all kinds of people, and plenty of them use racial humor. However, there is a huge difference between racial prejudice - prejudice based on someone's skin color or ethnicity - and institutional racism. Institutional racism is generally what we mean when we talk about the damaging affects of racism, and is defined as prejudice + power. POC do not have the social power that white people do which means there is no "reverse racism". Anyone, though, can have a racial prejudice.


"You're just a bitch/dyke/feminist/hippie/hipster/whatever looking for something to complain about." - Really? Because hurling epithets is helping this conversation. I'm sure I could come up with some choice words to describe you, but they would be just as irrelevant.


"But (fill in name of famous/local POC here) said it was ok/likes it!" - Lots of people say lots of things. Fame or being the one POC you know does not make any voice more important or accurate than all others. If you're touting the opinions of one POC that is at odds with a whole community's opinion, and it just happens to match yours, you might want to take another look at your behavior.


"Well, I get judged for being gay/bi/poor/rich/etc…" - This isn't a contest. Really. Everyone has privilege in some situations and less in others. If you're a white person, you have privilege in ways that POC do not. Please don't derail conversations about racism with stories about sexism, homophobia, or whatever other issues that affect you. There are spaces to talk about those, and a discussion about racism isn't one of them. (And for fuck's sake PLEASE do not tell me that heterosexual, cis-gendered, white men have it the worst/are the most downtrodden. I've heard that, almost verbatim, and it's a load of crap.)


So what can we DO? On the small scale, don't attend Eagle events until they make some actual attempts at educating their staff and doing the work to become more aware of the POC in their community and in their neighborhood. Tell the Eagle that you're not going, and why. Now, if you're like me, this is a hollow act - I've never been to the Eagle and didn't intend to go. It's not my crowd. Boycotting them is pretty easy, and pretty meaningless. But if you DO go, stop! Also stop advertising their events (I'm pulling all the Eagle events from the PDX Kink Events calendar), and stop using them for your events. If you know of an organization that uses the Eagle, write them a letter about how messed up that is and why. (Hello Blackout Leather Productions… why is L.U.R.E. still at the Eagle when there are so many other venues available? Why haven't we heard anything from you, when you're the most visible Leather organization that has overlap with the Eagle crowd?)


In the bigger picture, talking about racism and calling it out when it happens goes a long way. Don't stay neutral, don't stay silent. Listen to people of color - please don't be the white person dominating the conversation and talking over the POC voices, trying to prove how very not racist you are. Even if your intentions are good, sometimes the strongest support will come from you sitting down, shutting up, and listening. And finally, take some time to educate yourself. I've put links below to some related articles that have great resources in them. Read them!


https://fetlife.com/users/10180/posts/1402446

https://fetlife.com/users/142982/posts/1401032

http://cnrg-portland.org/content/racism-ethical-issue

http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf


And again from above:

http://www.mollena.com/2013/02/blackface-still-racist-yall/

http://www.mollena.com/2013/02/racism-in-leather/

http://elainemiller.com/blog/2013/racism-and-up-your-ally/

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