In the weeks before the season finale of RuPaul's Drag Race, the gay blogosphere was abuzz with rumors that Sharon Needles had made racist comments. At the time, there wasn't any solid evidence to convict Ms. Needles in the court of public opinion, but a recent video has changed all that.
In the video, Needles says onstage:
The other night me and a couple of my friends went out to have a good time, and there's this young thing. I call her a "thing" because, you know, I don't know how to tip-toe around gender rules or queer politics. I'm 30 years old, rich, and famous; I don't have to deal with that shit anymore, you know what I mean? So we'll just call them "him"/"her"/"thing," whatever. And you know she really finds my shows offensive. ... So anyway she got upset that I paint myself brown, that I would use language that she found offensive. ... She made me an unnecessary poster child for post-racial change."
Needles goes on to say that there are "real" racists in Pennsylvania and that this person needs to stop picking on him and focus energy on the "real" racists. First of all, there is no such thing as a "real" racist, a "fake" racist, a "pretend" racist, or even being "a little bit racist." There's just racism, OK? (Please see "hipster racism" for more details). Also, we as a country are not "post-racial," so I fail to see how she could be given the unnecessary-post-racial-poster-child crown.
Needles, girl, you can't perform that stuff and not expect to be called out. What you did is known as "blackface," which has its roots in white supremacy. If you thought it was such a good idea, why didn't you do it on the show? If a person of color, or any person, for that matter, calls you out on something like that, maybe you just need to stop and think about it. I know you feel justified in doing these things, especially after a brick was allegedly thrown in your window, but that doesn't justify your language.
It's sad to see a RuPaul's Drag Race winner use such racist and cissexist language. Tumblr user "queerandpresentdanger" best summed up the severity of Needles' statement, writing:
So not only is Sharon Needles now being unapologetically racist, she's preaching and perpetuating cissexism and denouncing "queer on queer violence" without recognizing EVERYTHING SHE IS DOING IS VIOLENT. She is positioning the queer community as solely white and cis and preaching separatism from anyone who challenges that ... INTERSECTIONALITY ... DO YOU SPEAK IT?????
And as for Needles' age excuse, there isn't one. The fact that you are 30 years old, rich, and famous doesn't give you the right to disrespect someone who calls you out on your problematic language and performances. As "queerandpresentdanger" notes (and I have to agree), Needles is no better than Dan Savage.
I suspect Needles will likely say that he was just "joking" (failing to recognize how jokes can be used as a tool of oppression) or double down and say that people are just too "sensitive." Like Savage (who has been unapologetic to the disabled, trans people, and a victim of rape, just to name a few), I doubt there will be a real apology -- that is, unless Needles ticks off Christians.
Hopefully, this unfortunate incident with Needles will finally engage queer people to discuss issues of race and other intersecting identities rather than believing that it is OK to perpetuate negative language and stereotypes.