I’ve been asked quite a bit lately from white people in the drag scene what they can do to be an ally. This post may not be what you were specifically asking for…but below are just a few things that happen behind the scenes at shows that demonstrate the race divide. This list is only a start. Also, it only addresses things backstage at shows and doesn’t even begin to address the audience and other issues…like pageants....but it is a start.
Black performers are expected to be bubbly, friendly, and smiley backstage. If we don’t - we are called rude, dramatic, and a bitch. I like to be fully present when on stage at shows. So when I am backstage, I am usually concentrating on my music, mentally preparing for my number, etc so I don’t always interact with everyone and it has come at a cost to me.
If we don’t dance, we aren’t booked as much. Don’t get me wrong, I love to dance…but sometimes I just want to do a beautiful ballad, or try something new. But when we don’t dance, we’re asked why - as if something is wrong with it. White performers get to do “artsy” stuff all the time, or only do walking numbers - and they are constantly booked. And if Black performers aren’t dancers, they have such a low chance of getting booked.
We are mistaken for other Black performers by staff - bar staff, full time cast members, security. Names, pronouns regularly wrong.
Whenever there is an issue of money we are treated differently across race. If an establishment gets payment wrong, lots of times if it is a POC this happens to, it takes a lot of advocating to get paid the amount you were promised, and even sometimes scrutinized through the process. If tips go missing backstage, we get a lot more looks and questions (us and any helpers) than white people in the room, even when they have no reason to be backstage.
We are played against each other. For example we are compared to other Black entertainers. People run to us and gossip about other Black performers and expect us to talk bad about each other and whether people do or don’t, that always gets back to the person and soon there are tons of divisions in the Black community. Usually started by outsiders.
We rarely get to work with other performers of color because we are added to casts to fill a diversity quota. Other white people with the same, or less skill or experience are booked much more frequently, and taken under peoples wings regularly when they start.
When we kiki backstage, we’re too loud. I’ve been told many times, when talking and laughing with another Black cast member to be quieter. And when some white people were so loud they could be heard from the audience, nothing was said to them.
So as you can see…there are a lot of different standards for us. Some are conscious, and some may be subconscious. But just because they aren’t intentional doesn’t mean it hurts less. It doesn’t mean that we always feel connected. We absolutely love what we do…and it is heartbreaking when we’re just a little less accepted.