The global image of the Black woman continues to be under attack, the latest of which being with Charles Knipp and his character Shirley Q. Liquor. Liquor, is described by Charles Knipp as being "the Queen of Ignunce," who is based on his experiences with and interpretations of Black southern women. Knipp, who is white and gay, performs the character — an illiterate, welfare collecting, mother of 19 children, who drives a Caddy, and attends Mount Holy Olive Second Baptist Zion Church of God in Christ of Resurrected Latter-Days AME CME — in blackface.
Men who take on roles as female characters for the purposes of entertainment are nothing new and they’ve been handsomely rewarded for their efforts with our dollars. Starting with Flip Wilson’s the devil made me do it “Geraldine” and in recent years Martin Lawrence’s “Big Mama’s House,” Shawn and Marlon Wayans’ “White Chicks,” Eddie Murphy’s “Norbit,” and Tyler Perry’s popular character “Madea.” With the exception of “White Chicks,” all are Black men dressed in drag as Black women. The exception is the Wayans brothers, who flipped the script and took on the roles of two white women.
What’s the difference between a Black man in drag and a white man in blackface when both are depicting a Black woman?
Some have argued that Black Americans should not complain about Knipp’s character Shirley Q. Liquor because we turn a blind eye towards Black actors who also perform in questionable roles.
You’ll get no argument from me regarding Eddie Murphy as Rasputia Latimore in “Norbit.” In fact, long before the film was in theaters, the billboards promoting it were enough to make me wanna holla and throw up both my hands. And while I definitely didn’t appreciate Murphy taking on the role of a fat Black mean woman for the rest of the world to sit around and laugh at, I can’t overlook the fact he did it as a Black man.
Hattie Mae Pierce, Martin Lawrence’s character Big Mama, is a Black religious woman living in the South. While Big Mama is definitely a big mama, she isn’t mean. However unlike Shirley Q. Liquor, she isn’t on welfare, we never saw her guzzling down 40 ounces of beer, and to the best of my knowledge she doesn’t have 19 kids, one of which being named Kmartina. Oh, and like Murphy, Lawrence is a Black man.
This brings me to Tyler Perry and Mabel “Madea” R. Simmons, best known for the way she says, “Heluur! This is Madea-ur!”
Madea probably comes the closet to Knipp’s Shirley Q. Liquor character, being that she didn’t find out that Deacon Leroy Brown was her daughter Cora’s father until her class reunion in 2003 and she’s known to drive a Caddy. She will argue with anyone, has a penchant for her unique pronunciation and enunciation of words, and is part of a large family with many children and grandchildren.
"Madea" or "Madear" is a typical Black Southern name for a grandmother. The term is a shortened form of "Mother Dear."
Again, criticism withstanding, Perry is a Black man taking on this role.
A favorite defense of whites against anyone Black who takes issue with Shirley Q. Liquor is the Wayans brothers as Brittany and Tiffany Wilson in “White Chicks.”
As if somehow, two Black men taking on the characters of white blonde-haired and blue eyed cruise line heiresses is even remotely the same as a white man in blackface taking on the role of an overweight Black woman. Mind you, this woman sings in his parody The 12 Days of Kwanzaa, “On the fifth day of Kwanzaa, my check came in the mail. AFDC! Thank you, Lawd! Come on kids; let’s go to the store for some collard greens, ham hocks, and cheese!”
I wish that when men, white or Black, decided to go in drag as Black women we were always portrayed as beautiful wealthy yet dim socialites.
The difference between a Black man in the role of a Black woman and a white man putting on blackface and attempting to do the same is that whites don’t have the same history of slavery and racial discrimination that Blacks do.
Since Black women were brought to America, as slaves, we have been forced to endure every form of racism and sexism there is at the hands of whites.
Let me recap it for you.
First, it was the Massuh we had to contend with and his penchant for darker skin that is primarily responsible for the various shades of brown that represent our people today. Janie Crawford, Leafy, Nanny, and Zora Neale Hurston. Ashay!
Then for many years, we were forced to take on the role of raising whites children, cleaning their houses, washing their laundry, and cooking their meals. In keeping in line with America’s approved racial etiquette, we did all of this while being referred to as “girl” or “nigger” and remembering to never look whites directly in the face. Mrs. Thomas, Lena Younger, Sofie, and Florida Evans. Ashay!
We dealt with Jim Crow and with the racist police officers, teachers, landlords, bosses, and bus drivers. Rosa Parks. Ashay!
For many years, we were denied roles in major motion pictures. When they couldn’t get away with that anymore, we were denied the same wages as our female white counterparts and the accolades bestowed upon them. Hattie McDaniel and Dorothy Dandridge. Ashay!
Now it’s 2008 and we’re nappy-headed hoes and being found in shacks, raped, beaten and urinated on. In addition, just to remind us that we’re still Black, our asses are being analyzed during tennis matches on live television for the world to see.
Misogynistic lyrics recited by Black men and financed by white, continue to portray us as sexual objects to the point where some of us are so confused that we’ve gladly taken on the role.
So I find it ridiculous when anyone, white or Black, defends a white man who puts on blackface and an afro wig, calls himself the Queen of Dixie, and says things like “I’m gonna burn me up some chitlins and put some ketchup on there and aks Jesus to forgive my sins.”
Is Knipp even capable of understanding that back in the day after pigs were slaughtered, their intestines, the chitterlings Knipp mocks, along with hog maws, pigs’ feet, and neck bones were given to slaves by their Massuh to eat because it was he who controlled their food choices?
And unlike with Tyler Perry’s films, there is no feel good lesson of morality at the end of Knipp’s performance. Just a bunch white gay men and women, probably drunk, applauding the performance of one of their own for being able bring to life their own racist stereotypes of how they see Black women.
This isn’t an argument in defense of characters like Murphy’s Rasputia Latimore. Rather it’s an argument that these characters, while demeaning to Black women, are not racist.
The same can’t be said of Charles Knipp’s Shirley Q. Liquor character that is demeaning, disrespectful, and racist by virtue of the fact that he is a white man in blackface that is using the most negative stereotypes of Blacks to entertain other whites. Stereotypes that are based on traits that can be directly traced back to the history of racial discrimination faced by Blacks from whites in this country.
For example, the generations of Black women and men who in their youth weren’t allowed to attend school with white children and were forced to go to work to help support their families. Because of America’s sanctioning of segregation and racial discrimination, they never learned how to speak and write English properly; therefore creating the dialect that Knipp so often makes fun of.
Somehow, I find it hard to believe that if the heel was on the other foot, and some Black comedian was traveling the country selling himself as “a piece of poor white trailer park trash” in whiteface, that he’d be welcomed with open arms by whites. I’ll take it a step further to add, that if that same Black comedian were in whiteface and impersonating a white gay man, it’d be off with his head…literally.
So while I know it’s easy to try and point the finger of blame back on Blacks in defense of Charles Knipp for our poor excuses of comedy in the form of Black men up in drag, unfortunately it’s just not the same. One is just ignorant, while the other, Knipp, is the expression of years of covert racism towards Blacks from whites post integration. I expected whites to defend Knipp; after all, they make up his core audience to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars annually. However, for Blacks to do it is a slap in the face of our ancestors and all that they sacrificed for us to have the opportunities that we have today.
I don’t do ignorance.