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Shirley Q. Liquor: Freedom of speech or hate speech?

June 14, 2010

by Javarré Wilson

Charles Knipp as Shirley Q. Liquor
Here we go again! It has become painfully obvious to me that some members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community would rather divide than build bridges between communities. For instance, Charles Knipp, a racist and culturally insensitive White gay male, dons a Black face telling jokes that reinforce stereotypical images of Black women and Black culture. Knipp’s reported professional experience includes working as a nurse and a minister.

Interestingly enough, he believes God has ordained him to raise awareness and heal America’s racial issues through laughter. Ordained by God? This belief is reminiscent of the teachings of slave masters who believed that slavery was the manifestation of a human order ordained by God. Knipp has dual American and Canadian citizenship. He is best known for his misrepresentation and denigration of Black women.

He plays Shirley Q. Liquor in drag – a heavy-set, shoplifting, promiscuous, inarticulate, malt liquor drinking single parent Black woman that doesn’t know who the fathers of her 19 children are. If that wasn’t enough, many of the children are named after sexually transmitted infections, like Chlamydia.

Knipp has been touring the country for a number of years spewing his racist venom in venues that will accept him, mostly White gay venues. In a Rolling Stone magazine interview, he admitted that most of his loyal followers are racists and White gay men. Fortunately, some of his performances have been successfully canceled in New York, Hartford, New Orleans, Boston, Atlanta and Hollywood.

Knipp is now bringing his blackface minstrel show to California to “allegedly” shed light on the plight of Black women. His show is scheduled at the Russian River Resort in Guerneville, which Supervisor Bevan Dufty referred to in a letter to me as “an extension of San Francisco.”

The Russian River Resort is located about 69 miles outside San Francisco where the majority of attendees are – you guessed it –White gay men. Even more disturbing, the theme of the show is Hurricane Weekend, in reference to Hurricane Katrina, and it will be performed on June 19, 2010.

June 19th or “Juneteenth,” as we all know, is a very significant and important event where Blacks from Texas and nationwide reflect and celebrate independence and freedom from the horrors of American enslavement. Knipp’s performances are deliberately scheduled around very important African American holidays and events, like Dr. King’s Birthday, Black History Month, Juneteenth and Kwanzaa.

I am outraged and can’t believe the Bay Area’s diverse community would allow such a performance in our own backyard. Why hasn’t this performance outraged the entire Black and LGBTQ communities? As many San Franciscans and Bay Area residents honor and celebrate Harvey Milk Day, May 22, 2010 – the nation’s first openly-gay elected politician of a major city – I can’t help but ask, “What would Harvey Milk do?”

Shirley Q. Liquor’s popularity with white gays is demonstrated by these three hosts for the Bravo show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
In 2009, several middle-age White gay men in San Francisco protested the performance of Buju Banton, a Jamaican artist, for his controversial anti-gay lyrics. The artist’s 1992 song “Boom Bye Bye,” where Banton sings of throwing acid in the face of a “batty boy,” equivalent to an effeminate man.

The anti-gay artist caught the attention of San Francisco’s “socially and politically conscious” community. Many leaders of the LGBTQ community and two San Francisco Supervisors met with the artist to address the matter. While members of our LGBTQ community appear to be policing insensitive issues impacting the White LGBTQ community, some continue to turn a blind eye to issues impacting the Black community.

Perhaps this racial insensitivity is a response to the ongoing political and social discourse around “post-racism,” a term that implies racism as we once knew it is now over, using Barack Obama’s success as an example. Honestly, I don’t buy it, but I do believe racism has morphed into another monster. A monster that frightens some Whites into believing their economic and political aspirations are in jeopardy and gives some White gay men – who consider themselves minorities – the green light to openly and sarcastically attack the Black experience.

Bitter? No, I’m outraged! Outraged at the fact some Whites believe it’s OK to attack the misfortunes of Blacks. These attacks are simply being used in a patronizing fashion and as a way to resist being denied the pleasure of using racial parody in their performances.

Even if this racial parody offends and dehumanizes Blacks, these racially insensitive performers believe that the show must go on, regardless. Sounds like a strong case of White privilege to me.

There is also this flawed notion that the envelope should be pushed to honor racial and cultural innovations at the expense of the Black experience. The argument: Blacks are too emotional and sensitive around racial issues and are frozen in time.

Some critics further argue that slavery, Jim Crow and de facto segregation is a thing of the past. With such a small number of Blacks residing in San Francisco, it appears that Black issues must take a backseat. Even more so now that GAY has become the “new Selma” or the “new Black.”

Charles Knipp applies the makeup that transforms him into Shirley Q. Liquor.
My outrage stems not from one’s ability to exercise freedom of expression, but the fact that some White people continue to think they know what’s best for Black people and our healing process. For example, Knipp (aka Shirley Q. Liquor) believes his use of blackface is a way to address the racial issues that Blacks are afraid to discuss. Really?! Since when have Black people been afraid to talk about racism, oppression or discrimination? While at the same time Knipp believes his performance is coming from a place of love.

Even more appalling, Shirley Q. Liquor invokes the support he receives from some Blacks, including RuPaul, a Black female impersonator who aspires to European standards of beauty. Think about it for a moment: RuPaul is an artist who is trying to revitalize her career even if it means supporting racially offensive and distasteful entertainers. Besides, RuPaul is not the spokesperson for the Black LGBTQ community.

While I am a true fan of the First Amendment and freedom of expression, Knipp utilizes hate speech to further his economic and social status by stepping back into the 19th century to dehumanize Black people. I am utterly furious about his racist attacks on Black women and I expect to see the same outrage that went into protesting the performance of a Jamaican artist to be directed at Shirley Q. Liquor’s performance.

Liquor’s performance is not a constructive way to bring about racial healing; it does however exacerbate racial tension. If there is to be peace and harmony across races, including harmony with the LGBTQ community, then we must all eliminate malicious attacks on Black people whenever they occur.

Most importantly, I urge you to join me by boycotting the Russian River Resort until they cancel the racially insensitive performance of Shirley Q. Liquor and agree to refrain from booking any future blackface minstrel shows. If left unchecked, it can cause greater harm and continue to drive a wedge between the Black and LGBTQ communities.

Should we just idly sit by and allow racism and White privilege to hide behind the First Amendment and dictate our legacy or do we work together to create a more welcoming community that respectfully honors the struggle and legacy of all communities?

Javarré Wilson, an Oakland-based writer, can be reached at Javarre@gmail.com.

What you can do

A reader writes with these suggestions:

1) Contact Arthur, the manager of the Russian River Resort, to complain and protest this racist act.

  • Street address:16390 Fourth St., Guerneville CA 95446
  • Phone: (707) 869-0691 or (800) 417-3767
  • Fax: (707)869-0698
  • Mail: P.O. Box 2419, Guerneville CA 95446
  • Email: info@RussianRiverResort.com

2) Sign the “Ban Shirley Q. Liquor” petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/sql2008/petition.html.

15 thoughts on “Shirley Q. Liquor: Freedom of speech or hate speech?

  1. Sam Kestu

    I agree with you about "Shirley Q. Liquor" and have contacted both the resort and my activist friends.

    Buju Banton's song, "Boom Bye Bye," calls for gay men to be shot in the head, shot with an Uzi, have acid thrown on them and then to be burned like an old tire. Buju Banton, real name Mark Myrie, is just reflecting the intense homophobia which pervades Jamaica. But that homophobia has had a devastating effect on Jamaica's LGBT communities. "It is widely believed that being openly gay in Jamaica is essentially a death sentence." Jamaican LGBT people are being given asylum in the U.S., Canada and the UK.

    The earliest protests against "Boom Bye Bye," back in 1992, were organized by GLAAD and Gay Men of African Descent. GMAD, the National Black Justice Coalition and more than 20 other groups co-sponsored GLAAD'S ad in Variety against the Buju Banton 2010 Grammy nomination.

    Anyway, I don't agree that Mark Myrie's call for the vigilante killing of gay men impacts only the white LGBT communities.

    To see more information about Buju Banton see http://cancelbujubanton.wetpaint.com/

    Reply
  2. gues

    You probably have a point in there somewhere, but you vomit such p.c. cliches that it reads like self-parody.

    Reply
  3. mike

    what an awful article. you're allowed to publish rags written off the street from inexperienced people?
    the editor didn't do himself a favor by allowing such an ametuer article in a newspaper that could really use more readers.

    Reply
  4. mike

    ..and you delete comments. now i know this newspaper is a rag. you won't make any money by losing entrepeneurs that are bigger than you as readers. good luck, you're gonna need it! : )

    Reply
  5. Selina

    Is Shirley Q. Liquire the only White Gay Supermacist? Just b/c you Gay doesn't mean your not a racist

    Reply
  6. Selina

    Oh ya I look up the artist Buju Banton, It's been alleged that that the song "Boom Bye-Bye" was targeting Gays it's not fact and second of all Just like Shirley Liquire is allowed to run around with his or her racist antics. IF and that's a IF Mr. Banton promoting hatred against Gays he should be allowed to freely express himself just as Mr. or Ms. Knipp can :)

    Reply
  7. strangelove

    sat·ire – noun
    1. the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.

    research Knipp a bit more, and you'll see that he also has white characters that are just as ignorant, and when you watch those characters, you will be just as horrified at their ignorance, as probably would the people being portrayed… i've always seen his stuff as exposing absurd stereotypes, not attacking the people being portrayed, and for that, i think he's brilliant

    Reply
  8. Lexi

    Im not sure who translates Buju's song but as a Jamaican there is no where in the song that states that he is asking for gays to be acid or burnt. However I dont agree with gays or any one being killed for their life choices. I do agree with Selina,,in my island the dislike for none heterosexuals stemmed from our British ruled ideologies,,It was a law back then for all British ruled countries/island to prosecute gays to the fullest extent of the law. I myself grew up with this belief but living in this country for several years has taught me tolerance/understanding to/of many things. I think many people have made mistakes in their life time and strongly believe that Buju should be given a chance to learn from his mistake,,and if you lot can continuously chastise him, then Knipp should be tucked as well. Like stated above just because your gay doesnt mean you cant be racist. It would be one horrible world to live in if all non whites thinks that all white males are serial killing cannibalistic necrophiliacs.

    Reply
  9. AngryBlackGayGuy

    Hey Javarre,
    If you're really so damn concerned about the black community, why don't you come over to my neighborhood here in Oakland, CA and lecture the black drug dealing thugs standing on the street corner not two blocks from our house to stop intimidating folks in my neighborhood. It's Saturday night and my partner and I would love to go to the last show at a local theater but we're too scared to go out onto the street or return to our own home after dark because of the violence. But I'm supposed to get all excited about some white queen's performance up at the river? It ain't Ms Knipp that's messing with me sister!! And PS- we love RuPaul and everybody's heard / seen him which is a hella lot more than I can say about Javarre Wilson.
    Get a life hon,
    Angry Black Gay !!

    Reply
  10. Black_Shack

    A buffoon of the highest order. I adore Shirley Q, and I must loudly exclaim that this inept writer speaks for no one but himself. This individual is possibly going to play a pivotal role in the demise of SFBV.

    Reply
  11. guest

    Shirley Q. Liquor is hilarious. What's wrong with you people? The problem is not with people trying to make light of the situation, but the situation itself.

    Reply
  12. James Ruiz

    But it's okay to make fun of white people and make a movie out of it like the Wayans Brothers did with White Chicks? When do we draw the line? White racism is okay but black racism isn't? What do you think of White Chicks the movie, out of curiosity?

    Reply
  13. Jeff

    This is an absolutely terrible article, full of the most poorly written PC cliches and catchphrases that I've ever seen. The writer, like most militants who are anti-Shirley, has never seen one of her shows, and knows nothing about the content of them (and clearly nothing about satire, though God bless the person who posted the definition). These are the same types of people who also claim to hate Lisa Lampanelli claiming she does nothing but advance racial and gay stereotypes and makes things worse (but conveniently ignore the fact she donated over $50,000 to the GMHC after the Westboro Baptist Fucks protested one of her shows). Really, the writer of this screed and the Westboro people aren't that much different-both are intolerant assholes who see the world only one way. Pretty sad, really.

    Reply
  14. Sam Kestu

    Mark Myrie, who is known as "Buju Banton," has been in U.S. federal custody since December 10th, 2009, except for one brief period when he was released on bail. He was convicted on U.S. federal felony drug trafficking conspiracy charges in June 2011 and is currently serving a 10 year prison sentence.

    LGBT people in Jamaica are still subjected to great hatred and violence, enough so that the U.S. gives asylum to LGBT people from Jamaica and the Caribbean whose lives are in danger in their own countries. Canada and the U.K. also provide asylum.

    Gays are killed in Jamaica.

    Murder music from Jamaican dancehall artistes is still a problem, even though Buju Banton is on hiatus.

    You can find out much more about Buju Banton, murder music, and the intense and pervasive homophobia of Jamaica at "20 Years of Musical Mayhem" http://bit.ly/MzboLW

    Reply

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