Early on in this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the drag queen The Vixen started a vital conversation about how the show’s audience treats queens of colour.
In a heated moment during Untucked, the companion after-show that runs immediately following Drag Race, The Vixen broke down the racialized way her argument with a white contestant, Aquaria, would be seen by viewers. “You have created the narrative that I am an angry Black woman who has scared off the little white girl,” she said, pointing to the cameras. “That will always read to [the cameras] as a race issue.”
It was a watershed moment. Drag Race is one of the most diverse shows on TV, but it rarely tackles how diversity functions within the four walls of its own workroom, and steers entirely clear of racism within its fandom—despite contestants like Bebe Zahara Benet and Asia O’Hara (and many others) speaking out about the vile way fans have treated them, from flooding Benet’s social feeds with racial slurs and monkey emojis to targeting O’Hara with racist death threats.
With her comments, The Vixen became the first contestant to bring this conversation about racial prejudice to the screen. And it continued throughout the season, with The Vixen and many other current and past contestants adding to the discussion about race and Drag Race on social media and in the press. So, when she and her season 10 sisters Monét X Change and Miz Cracker stopped by Toronto to perform at The 519 Church Street Community Centre’s Starry Night festival during Toronto Pride, FLARE sat down with the queens for a frank conversation about race, privilege and how to be a race ally.
During Pride we hear a lot about how heterosexual people can be allies to queer people. How can white people be allies to people of colour?
The Vixen: What’s most important, especially now when so many people of colour are being vocal about issues, is to listen and to amplify your friends’ voices. Don’t make it about you. Listen to what the people who are actually affected are saying and share their stories. As a white ally, you have the privilege of being heard, so share those voices.
Monét: As a white person, it’s important to recognize your privilege and to realize how that privilege can help affect change for people of colour. [Remember] it’s not about you specifically. It’s about the bigger picture and how you can use your voice to amplify our voices, how your voice can amplify people of colour’s experiences.
Courtney Act has been speaking up about race and talking about how to be a race ally. How has she supported you, The Vixen?
The Vixen: Courtney [who appeared in season 6 of Drag Race], from day one of our season, acknowledged that I was going to have an uphill battle. She stood by me through the whole thing, which is important. When you know that someone’s trying to do some good, help them. Courtney’s been really great about helping my platform be a bit more digestible for other audiences. She knows [my message] will be better received from her. That’s actually made a big difference.
Monét, you pointed out on Twitter that early on in the season the queens of colour were the least followed on social media despite statistically performing the best on the show. What do you make of that disparity?
First, it’s important to recognize that RuPaul’s Drag Race is one of the most ethnically diverse competition reality shows ever. In season 10, eight of us were people of colour. You have the five Black girls, Kalorie Karbdashian, Vanessa Mateo and Yuhua [Hamasaki]. You don’t see that on Real World: Battle of the Seasons.
The things fans react to on the show speaks to what they’re comfortable with. You have to look at the demographic. They’re not the same people who watch Love & Hip Hop or Real Housewives of Atlanta. It’s about getting them accustomed to seeing people of colour on their TVs, because that’s not what they’re used to watching.
As the show gets bigger, as we’re on VH1 [in the U.S.; Drag Race airs on OutTV in Canada] and are attracting a larger audience, we’ll see things shift, but for now the segment of people who are watching weekly are not necessarily the people who would want to follow me. But in time, they’ll see that Monét is fucking fierce and lit and that they should.
Miz Cracker, your name is a play on a racial slur. What did you make of the strong reaction some other contestants had to it?
Miz Cracker: One of the things that’s so apparent about drag that no one really talks about is that so much of it is appropriation. How many times do you see a white girl performing a Black woman’s voice? All of the time. It doesn’t matter what the diversity is in a group of queens, they’re all doing Nicki Minaj. One of the effects of my name is that it points out the weird racial issues in drag. When I call myself Cracker, I think it’s a great way of pointing to my privilege and the problems of me existing at all. When I see people get shocked by my name, I’m really grateful, because drag is supposed to be more than a fashion plate. It’s supposed to be something that makes people react. Not just a ‘Supermodel of the world,’ but a super PERSON of the world.
The Vixen, you founded a drag event in Chicago that celebrates Black excellence in drag called Black Girl Magic. What’s the aim of that night?
The Vixen: Two years ago when I started Black Girl Magic, it wasn’t just a show, it was also a conversation. I noticed, especially during Pride week, the shows I hosted or performed at had a larger audience of people of colour, which is how I knew it was working. Not only were the white faces in the room understanding, it dragged out more people of colour who felt welcome because I was there. That’s the most important work I can do, is make people feel comfortable in a queer space—especially people of colour or people who feel underrepresented.