You Better Werk: The Queens Confronting Racism
If you’re a fan of Rupaul’s Drag Race (RPDR), then you know the show is never without its fair share of drama. From moments of calculated eliminations (Shangela was ROBBED) to queens being ready to throw down (did someone say they were from Chicago?), RPDR always provides a good cup of tea when you’re parched on a late Friday evening.
But while the show’s juicier moments get dissected endlessly online, not enough attention has been given to how toxic and racist the RPDR fandom can be—and the impact this has on the queens. From The Vixen/Eureka fiasco to the multiple cases of Black queens being called the N-word and receiving death threats online, it’s often hard to find the “love” that Rupaul so often speaks about in said community.
For this month’s “You Better Werk” Bloop celebrates some of the queens who have stepped up to speak out about the racism and discrimination that lives within the fandom and has been perpetuated on the popular show.
Bob the Drag Queen
Hilarious RPDR Season 8 winner and host of HBO’s hit show We’re Here, Bob continues to amass a huge following on social media. But the fame and glory hasn’t come without its fair share of racism. Addressing issues ranging from the microaggressions the queens face online to the ways in which they are stifled on a professional level, Bob is here to remind us that in order for us to dismantle white supremacy, we have to reckon with the issues we have in our own community first.
Bob also reminds us that in order for there to be any progress, we have to remember that everyone in the queer community is on the chopping block when it comes to systemic oppression. “In America, this idea that racism doesn’t affect all of us is not true,” she noted. “We have to accept that racism is an American problem. The arch of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice and I’d like to see more of that.”
If you follow Peppermint online, you’ll quickly learn that she doesn’t mince her words. As a frontrunner for RPDR Season 10, Peppermint has been using her platform to not only speak up about the injustice that Black trans people face, but also to call out queer artists who are not speaking up.
“It bothers me the lack of public acknowledgement about what’s going on here & right now,” she posted to her Twitter feed. Considering that both she and Bob now host a weekly Instagram Live to talk about the issues that affect the Black queer community, there are plenty of reasons to continue stanning Peppermint her and her work.
Fans of RPDR Season 9 know that simply calling Shea Coulee “fashionable and talented” would be an understatement. Now back on All Stars Season 5, Coulee is using her platform to spotlight why we need to give more attention to the racism that takes place in the RPDR fandom.
“We need to hold the fandom to a higher standard”, she told the A.V. Club, after explaining that being a Black queen means knowing that racism comes with the package of success. However, Couleé also reminds us that there is so much power in being a Black queen. “If I give racism too much attention, it’s going to slow me down,” she states. It’s time we start giving Couleé her flowers (no pun intended) for being such an outspoken advocate for anti-racism.
If there is anything that we learned about RPDR Season 10, it’s that some of the queens don’t have time for white fragility. We saw this with The Vixen, who not only challenged many of her peers to address the ways they treat Black queens, but also called out the entire franchise for the ways in which Black queens are portrayed on the show.
In a piece that she wrote for Pride.com, The Vixen got personal about her experience and about the ways in which we continue to perpetuate racism in both the fandom and the community. “A Blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl can wear jeans and a t-shirt and look all American, but we do it and we look ghetto,” she states. But beyond that, The Vixen continues to call out the show’s double standards toward Black queens. “Black excellence needs to be celebrated,” she goes on to highlight, explaining that the show will continue to do more harm than good if we don’t acknowledge the problem. “You can’t call it a fair race if the challenges don’t acknowledge the double standard. The playing field isn’t level.”
Since her appearance on Season 10 of RPDR, Mayhem Miller has made a name for herself not only as the life of the party, but also for speaking up about the racism she encounters both on and off the stage. During her time on All Stars 5, Miller opened up about her own experiences with the police and why Drag Race needs to have a reckoning with the racism found in the fan base.
“With responsibility, there needs to be accountability,” she shared in a recent interview with The Advocate. “I think more people need to speak out. It’s not just about saying that their behavior is unacceptable-we have to take our power back as well.” Like many other queens, Miller wants other drag performers to stand up and start telling their fans that they need to do better by Black drag queens and Black drag fans. “The fans want to stand up for their queen and tear down another for them,” she explains. For Miller, it’s about more than saying “Black Lives Matter”—it’s about taking a stance and telling fans that racism doesn’t have a place in the drag community.
Among all of the conversations happening around race and racism in the RPDR fandom, Season 10 contestant and Werq the World (WTW): The Docu-Series Season 2 star Asia O’Hara has decided to get personal about her own experiences with racism and discrimination.
In 2018, O’hara opened up about her personal experiences with racism and how social media triggered her after receiving a racist death threat to burn her alive, similar to an experience she had in her youth. She would go on to talk about the racial bias in the show, alluding to the idea that RPDR fandom isn’t fair to many of the Black queens. In 2019, she noted on Twitter that the vast majority of RPDR fans are, in fact, racist.
Recently on her WTW episode, she got candid about the discrimination she faces on tour and the ways in which racism is often overlooked in society. “Fans ask me to step out of the picture so they have just a picture with the other girls, like Kameron and Aquaria,” she shared during an interview.
For these queens, it’s not just about acknowledging the racism, but giving attention to the ways in which Black queens on the show aren’t given their proper dues. If we’re going to celebrate RuPaul for working to give us the representation we’ve always wanted in media, we have to acknowledge the queens who are working to dismantle the racism and discrimination that also lives on—and off—the show.