Saturday, August 04, 2007

Miz Bones Makes No Bones About Her Schtick

By Betty Baye
Louisville Courier-Journal
August 2, 2007

Just when I thought the insulting of black women couldn't get any worse (think Don Imus, think Eddie Murphy), a recent issue of The Louisville Eccentric Observer brought news of Shirley Q. Liquor. The headlines said, "The Most Dangerous Comedian in America. Why in the world is a gay white man putting on blackface and performing as a boozing welfare mother who drives a Cadillac?"

Why indeed?

Shirley Q. is poor. She drinks malt liquor (hence her last name), has 19 "chirrun" with colorful names and talks "ignunt" about most anything that pops into her head.

Shirley Q. is the black-faced (yes, a minstrel) creation of a white, gay man named Chuck Knipp, who seems to leave no stereotype behind.

David Holthouse's Rolling Stone article, reprinted in LEO, said that Knipp "has emerged from the dive bars and semi-underground gay clubs in the South, and he has rapidly developed a second-tier celebrity cachet." Wealthy whites book Knipp for private parties, prompting him to tell LEO, "I can see that my being there as Shirley makes them feel it's acceptable to openly mock black people in a way they otherwise would not, and that does cause me to have second thoughts. If what I'm doing is truly hurtful, then I need to stop."

But he won't. His minstrel act pays, so Knipp soldiers on as Shirley Q., despite the protestors who dog his appearances.

Knipp has offered various rationalizations for his monstrous Mammy creation. He's compared himself to Dave Chappelle making fun of white people and to Eddie Murphy's Rasputia, the fat, black, over-sexed character in the movie "Norbit."

Knipp also has insisted Shirley Q. is a response to a higher calling. "I think God's plan for me is to get right in the middle of all the tension (between whites and blacks) and just make them laugh."

In response to my e-mail, he offered a different explanation, but he wanted me to know, too, that "most African Americans who have seen my show laugh heartily; they see Shirley Q. Liquor as a representative of the dirty laundry and 'down home ignunce' that embarrasses so many people of color."

He added that most African Americans have taken up Dr. King's challenges to excel "as individuals of excellence and character," but others have chosen "to revel in perpetual victimhood … and rather than deal with their own cultural choices, i.e., hip hop, neckboning and clowning, some in the Black community still find it easier to play the underfunded card to justify the more embarrassing aspects of black culture."

Knipp believes he's performing a public service. But for which part of the public? The Klan?

And to think, many of the same people who have contempt for fat, poor, black women have equal distain for fat, white, gay drag queens.

But everybody needs somebody to look down on, I guess.

Monica Roberts, a member of the Louisville Fairness Campaign's advisory committee, appealed to the owners of a local establishment that caters to gays to reconsider an invitation for Knipp to perform.

Roberts, an African American, described Knipp's act as a minstrel show using "blackface images" that, even in the 21st Century, "carry much pain, anger and historical baggage." Not only that: Inviting Knipp to perform in our city gives cause, according to Roberts, "for African-American GLBT people in Louisville to seriously question our place in this community if our concerns, as your supposed allies, are going to be cavalierly brushed aside."

Carla Wallace, also of the Fairness Campaign, often has made the point that there are "interconnections between racism, sexism and homophobia."

What these sustained hateful assaults on poor, black women in music, film, "comedy acts," and sometimes even on the floor of Congress, suggest is that the women's lib movement has left many poor, black women behind. Otherwise we should hear a greater outcry.

It seems that Knipp's southern upbringing has trumped any extra compassion or sensitivity one might have expected, or at least hoped for, from someone who surely knows how badly stereotypes can wound, or even provoke some people to violence. But what goes around comes around, and maybe one day the joke will be on Knipp.

Betty Winston Baye is a Courier-Journal editorial writer and columnist. Her column appears Thursdays. Her email address is

No comments: