Years ago, I rejected a man who then threw my past in my face, a past that I never actually lived. After I turned down Alvaro, an Argentine suitor in Buenos Aires, he suggested I return to where I came from (Go home, f*cking yankee n*gger!). After all, he wrote, I should be picking cotton on a plantation in Alabama, not roaming around free in South America.
Memories of Alvaro returned as I watched that video, the one in which RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season-three winner Trixie Mattel makes a slave joke about Latrice Royale, a fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race star. It happened one night last April at the Denver, Colorado, stop of Haters Roast: The Shady Tour 2018.
“You like this outfit? I couldn’t decide what to wear,” Trixie said. “It’s just like a [sic] cotton. Latrice picked it.”
As the folks in the audience both chuckled and groaned, Trixie added, “Oh, is that too far, Denver? What, did you forget to invite your black friends tonight?”
I wonder what Kanye “Slavery was a choice” West would think of that. After the video of Trixie’s cotton crack surfaced this past week, social media was divided, with some damning her while others defended her.
Trixie’s Twitter response: “If you think drag queens apologize for jokes made at a roast, you watch too much TV.”
If you think drag queens apologize for jokes at a roast, you watch too much TV.
— Trixie Mattel (@trixiemattel) July 5, 2018
Sound familiar? Former Cheers star Ted Danson never formally apologized for wearing blackface and using the N-word at a Friars roast for his then-girlfriend Whoopi Goldberg in 1993, so there’s celebrity precedent. (The New York Friars Club did issue its own apology.) That doesn’t make it right–or funny. But apparently, to some, all’s fair game in comedy, drag, and roasts.
Just because Goldberg was in on Danson’s joke didn’t excuse it. The same applies to Latrice’s presence at the Denver show and her apparent non-reaction. Should that preclude the rest of us from finding it offensive?
It’s not about whether Trixie’s dig was racist. I’m so tired of arguing about what is and isn’t racist. Let’s focus instead on whether it’s offensive. That’s something we each get to decide for ourselves. If you’re OK with Trixie’s slave joke, fine. But the rest of us get to feel how we feel about it.
Personally, I don’t get roasts. If someone is going to honor me, I’d rather they do it with compliments rather than insults. But if I’m ever unlucky enough to get roasted, I can handle jokes about my big lips. I can handle jokes about fried chicken and watermelon. I can’t handle jokes about slavery. They’re never funny. Slavery needs to be off-limits to white people looking to engage in black comedy–even drag queens.
During the four and a half years I spent living in Buenos Aires, I got pretty used to dark drag humor. My race–or more accurately, my presumed “big black c*ck”–was a punchline in nearly every drag show I went to. Whenever the mistress of ceremonies singled me out of the audience for some black comedy, I laughed on the outside, lest I be considered a bad sport.
But on the inside, I yawned. The jokes were as stale as the beer on tap.
Oh, well. At least I could chalk it up to cluelessness and ignorance about black and white history in the United States. They weren’t trying to offend me. They just didn’t know any better.
What’s Trixie’s excuse? She can’t be unaware of the centuries of oppression and racism that has been the black American experience. And she used one of the ugliest chapters in American history for a laugh anyway.
Slavery wasn’t just about slavery. It was also about rape. It was also about murder. It was also about tearing apart families and ripping children from their parents even more brutally than under the immigration ban that has had so many of us outraged in recent weeks. It was also about centuries of damnation at birth, a curse that still resonates today.
Should we joke about that? What’s next? Are #MeToo and Time’s Up ripe for punchline status yet? In the future, will a white person dropping the N-word just for laughs be protected under comedic privilege even if the white person doesn’t have a black partner who happens to be in the audience?
Trixie’s attitude is as old and tired as her humor. She’s the frustratingly all too familiar defiantly unapologetic Caucasian who thinks it’s OK to say something that can be perceived as racist because she’s not actually racist, and we all need to just chill out.
Morrissey has been singing that same old song a lot lately, and it still sounds out of tune. What would everyone be saying if Donald Trump had told Trixie’s joke, using Omarosa Manigault as his punchline?
Does Trixie get an automatic pass just because she’s a drag queen and she said it at a roast, where politically incorrect jokes are common? If Latrice had been offended would she have had every right to be?
Luckily for Trixie, she’s a D-lister with much less to lose than Roseanne Barr, who was fired from her namesake sitcom after comparing a woman of color to an ape. If Trixie were RuPaul famous, she’d probably be done. Breathe a sigh of relief, girl. Now get a clue.
Of course, there’ll be those who support her, just like some stood up for Roseanne. But at least Roseanne had the good sense to backtrack and own her faux pas. Trixie is standing her shaky ground.
I actually find her responses to the reaction to her joke more problematic than the joke itself. Let’s not waste time on constructive discourse, she’s basically saying. So you’re offended? Tough!
Unfortunately for Trixie, the joke was not only nasty. It was unfunny, too, which is such a, well, drag. But her apparent inability to see why some people are offended and her insistence on not caring might be the biggest drag of all.