Black Face Mammy

Do you think of your momma or grandma as an “inarticulate black welfare mother with 19 children?” If not you might be surprised to learn that certain–largely white–gays  are paying big bucks to have one of their own dress up in drag and black-face as Shirley Q. Liquor, to be the MAMMY they never had but always wanted.  What you are about to see is real and apparently this guy makes 75K—to—90k a year off of racism, classism and sexism—masked as satire—of an alleged childhood beloved black nanny.

Do you know about Shirley Q. Liquor and the larger issues of racism, misogyny and classism so rampant in Boystown (and other gay-borhoods), and the discussion of who belonged in the neighborhood and on the streets?  The ‘white [gay] boy’ that makes fun of poor black women and their plights — Charles Knipp, aka Shirley Q. Liquor — was set to perform at club Hydrate in Chicago on Memorial weekend.  Due to a group of people — concerned citizens — the show at Hydrate was canceled. Unfortunately, Shirley Q. Liquor is a national comedian.

Watching the above clip, I got sick to my stomach, but what about you? Some may be ambivalent or others may even find it funny, which is interesting to note, but alright you started there; yet, you don’t have to stay there.  Look at context clues, look at history, and look at who the audience most consists of in the clip; then look at who is requesting Shirley Q. Liquor to perform and the venue in which he performs his black-face. Now, take it all in and let’s start a conversation together about racism, classism, and the particular brand of a largely—white—gay misogyny, while acknowledging the purposed-exclusion of others who are deemed “outsiders” from the neighborhood.

Wealthy white people are starting to hire me for private parties, where I play the raisin in a bowl of oatmeal.  From the way they interact with me, 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.” Charles Knipp…

Under normal circumstances the community is the fail safe that protects those vulnerable persons who are often overlooked or cast aside in some ‘quiet corner.’ But what happens when one purposely excludes, targets, and removes what might be voices of opposition?   In Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, we have different communities of people (and businesses) living (and operating) in an area that is socially—if not legally—understood as red-lined for a particular community of persons, namely LGBTQ people.  With such a high concentration of marginalized folks, one would think that in this “haven of outcasts” there would be ‘tolerance,’ ‘acceptance,’ and all those other fuzzy, warm words that mean a “safe space.” Instead, what we find is overt racism, classism and yes, a particular kind of misogyny.

So in Boystown, the neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago, there are many tensions and competing interests.  So you have the black youth from the South and West side, who are in need of a safe space and place where they can hangout without immediate fear of being attacked for being LGBTQ. You have Black, Latino, and White lesbians negotiating where (Chicago) “Dyke March” — a march started in DC because of the discrimination by gay men and straight society — should be in terms of neighborhoods in Chicago.  Also, the looming cultural warfare and race-bias agreement between certain LGBTQ-centered businesses and venues, with a few of the largely white—presumed heterosexual—upper-to-middle class people moving into the neighborhood but LARGELY outside the community. Moreover, when you throw in the peculiar (in)visibility of the transgender communities within the larger Boystown neighborhood,  we can begin to talk about the tactics used to exclude which are predicated on race, class and misogyny.


When many of these youth come to Boystown to escape the same-sex prejudices of their respective South—and West—side communities, many, largely, do not find a warm reception from the larger Boystown neighborhood. In fact, with the exception of the Center on Halsted and other organizations, who rely upon these youths’ attendance to stay in business, some members of the neighborhood  (LGBTQ and presumed heterosexuals) have taken every legal and social avenue available to voice their frustration and desire to decrease the number of black and brown youths in their streets.  Notice how a few vendors and neighborhood members  have sought to expel those who do not ‘belong’ while being entertained by a white, gay guy gussied up in Black Face and drag.  Now ask yourself why that is?