Guest Blogger

My Apology to Black Women for Gay America and Charles Knipp

Filed By Guest Blogger | February 27, 2008 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: black gay men, gay men, Jasmyne Cannick, race

[Editor's note:] This guest post is from Jasmyne Cannick. At 30, Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. A regular contributor to NPR’s News and Notes, she was chosen as one Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at her blog or her MySpace page.

At this year’s State of the Black Union, Dick Gregory apologized to President Bill Clinton on behalf of Blacks for our role in allowing Clinton to believe that he was Black.

In that same spirit, I feel compelled to apologize to Charles Knipp on behalf of gays for allowing him to think that he’s one of the Black women that he unsuccessfully tries to emulate. I also want to apologize to Black women on behalf of gay America for Charles Knipp. Knipp’s latest cry for help involved superimposing my head on some other Black woman’s naked body (link NSFW) and then tactlessly posting it on his website for my continuing to expose his constant mockery of the Black woman.

Charles Knipp is a self-described forty-five-year-old, fat, gay white man who believes he's on a mission from God. A mission that involves mimicking Black women as his alter ego character Shirley Q. Liquor. Knipp describes Liquor as being “a welfare mother with nineteen kids who guzzles malt liquor, and drives a Caddy.” The character is favorite among his core audience whom Knipp describes as being “gay men, their moms, and rednecks.”

And while Isaiah Washington was unable to escape the wrath of gay America, Charles Knipp’s blackface minstrel show continues to be rewarded by gay Americans to the tune of $90k annually.

Imus may have called Black women "nappy-headed ho's," but it’s Knipp who routinely tries to bring that image to life onstage as Shirley Q. Liquor when she tries to recollect the names of her "chirrun" with his skit "Who Is My Baby Daddy? Cheeto, Orangello, Chlamydia, and Kmartina...”

I blame gay America, from the political leaders to the club owners, for turning a blind eye to Knipp’s blatantly racist routines that in his words are performed mostly for “gay men, their moms and rednecks.” We are the reason that his racist act continues to go nearly undetected on the race radar.

And no matter how I feel about gay America, in particular white gay America, as a lesbian, a Black lesbian, by virtue of my sexual orientation, I am reluctantly tied to you as much as you are tied to me.

So I am just as much to blame for failing to help you understand that just because you usurp the Black Civil Rights Movement’s strategies and language and proudly display photos of your leaders with late civil rights icons on your websites that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still very serious race issues still at play in gay America.

I should have told you that Black women continue to remain under attack in this country. And that it doesn’t matter what our standing in corporate America, the White House, the media, who we’re married to, what our sexual orientation is, how straight and long our hair is, or how light our skin, we are still Black and we are still under attack. Hear me.

I should have sat your leaders down and explained that it is not okay for any white man, straight or gay, to perform in blackface and mock African-American names and holidays. I should have made you understand that many of the same gay nightclubs that book Knipp are owned by the same people that donate money to many of your gay civil rights groups. I should have connected the dots for you. My bad.

It was I who forgot to explain that while RuPaul is African-American, he’s as disconnected from Black America as Ward Connerly. So when he defends Knipp’s act, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

I should have introduced you to Angela Davis, bell hooks, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Sojourner Truth, Alice Walker, Ida Wells-Barnett, and the plight of the Black woman. Then maybe you’d understand why Charles Knipp’s act is so offensive to me as a Black woman. Then maybe you’d care.

Please forgive my shortsightedness. It won’t happen again.

Blacks are so often referred to as being the conscience of America. I want you to know that from this day forward, gay America can count on this Black lesbian to be its conscience when it comes to your involuntary and voluntary racist ways.

As for Charles Knipp, some would say that you need therapy. But I say forget therapy, I’m going to tell you this for free.

I’m sorry that you weren’t born one of the Black women that you so love to impersonate. I know how beautiful we are and how unfair it is that we are blessed with what your race often has to go out and pay for. But I say to you, love the skin you’re in. Most people in your situation settle for surrounding themselves with Black friends, marrying someone Black, moving into a Black neighborhood, listening to hip hop, watching BET, eating Soul Food, and voting for Barack Obama. Why don’t you give it try and leave the act of being Black to those of us who are? We have enough confused Black folks out there without having to take on a confused forty-five-year-old, fat, gay white man who thinks he’s Black.


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Jasmyne, while I certainly agree with you about Shirley Q. Liquor, I find your stereotyping of non-blacks distasteful at best and offensive at worst.

You rightfully accuse Knipp of mocking African-Americans, but then you indulge in the very same kind of hateful tactics yourself in the other direction to make your point. In my opinion, in this way, you undercut your own very valid argument and cheapen your points as a result.

I'd suggest you lay off the unfair anti-white stereotypes. You don't get a pass on using such unworthy and bigoted tactics just because you're a member of a persecuted minority anymore than anyone else does.

Rebecca,

I'm genuinely confused as to where you are reading these "anti-white stereotypes". Can you please explain which comment in particular you find offensive? I don't see where white folks are being stereotyped in this article.

Does Jasmyne express negative feelings toward white, gay America? Yes. But that is far different from stereotyping white gay Americans. Jasmyne is critiquing a social/political movement that is dominated by white cis-men and their frequently racist worldviews. Nothing new or offensive about that.

Yes, Jasmyn calls out white gay leaders who glorify black leaders like MLK while refusing to challenge their own institutional racism and white privilege. But again there is nothing wrong with that valid critique. Monica Roberts has called out HRC for this very thing.

So I just don’t see where your hostility is coming from Rebecca, but I’m willing to listen. In the meantime I’m grateful to Jasmyn for writing this and to Bil for posting it. I was shocked when I first heard about Knipp’s act, and even more appalled when there was little opposition to his presence at a gay bar in my college town.

"Most people in your situation settle for surrounding themselves with Black friends, marrying someone Black, moving into a Black neighborhood, listening to hip hop, watching BET, eating Soul Food, and voting for Barack Obama. Why don’t you give it try and leave the act of being Black to those of us who are?"

Need I say more, Nick?

Thanks Jasmyne for this posting. I hope to read many more of your articles here. How true that many of the clubs that book Shirley Q also donate money to causes. Here in Hartford,remember we shut the show down at a local club, this same club is now a major controller of PRIDE. This club now has its fingers in our local LGBT magazine right down to influencing what is on the cover.(mostly young cute white half naked males). According to the editor they (the club owners) want this and they don't want to see women or any political issues on the cover. Since they pay most of the bills via their ads,the magazine goes right along. (they were the club that threatened to remove their ads from the magazine because the editor dared to publish an article about shutting down Q.) So these racist people who think it is quite okay to book a Shirley Q now are running other facets of this community. We at QWB and other community groups in Hartford continue to speak out loud and Queer on this issue.

Michael Bedwell | February 27, 2008 8:57 PM

Knipp is reprehensible and SHOULD be condemned, boycotted, etc. And he is not the only racist white gay man, or the only one who doesn't get that he is.

However, does Ms. Cannick get HER racism? Obviously, Nick, doesn't see it, even in the statement, emphasis mine,

"And no matter how I feel about gay America, in particular WHITE gay America, as a lesbian, a BLACK lesbian, by virtue of my sexual orientation, I AM RELUCTANTLY TIED TO YOU as much as you are tied to me.... you usurp the Black Civil Rights Movement’s strategies and language...."

Girlfriend, if you actually knew anything about the history you’re always pontificating about you’d know that such “strategies and language” are not patented and blacks USURPED THEM, to use your words, from Gandhi. Would that Bayard Rustin, the black gay civil rights icon who taught MLK and others Gandhi’s philosophies and methods were still alive to respond to your drool. Your hair wouldn’t grown back for years.

How is your old pal Isaiah Washington? Has he gone back to denying he called someone a faggot? Is he still blaming the “white gay mafia” for his troubles as you have? And how about your other martyr, Michael Vick? Have you visited him in prison yet? Is he organizing dog slaughters there, too?

I suppose I, one of the white devils presumably, have no right to quote Eldrige Cleaver’s statement, “You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem.” But since I’ve already trespassed on the heritage that you apparently own alone [given your dismissal of RuPaul], I have nothing to lose by adding:

Ms. Cannick, you would be part of B above.

Great post, Jasmyne. I think you nailed this.

As for some of the complaints - "usurped?" Hell yes. When was the last time you heard someone say, "It's just like inter-racial marriage?" All of the comparisons to queers as civil rights issues always gets tied to the African-American struggle. I happen to think they are similar, and that's okay. Civil rights are civil rights. But usurped? Yeah.

I was glad to read this post. I thought this man was out of business years ago. I think that the ability of this vicious man and his degrading minstrel show to thrive in the gay community must be exposed and its meaning explored. I am angry to hear that his misogyny, racism and transphobia is rewarded by that community, and it makes me wonder what happened to the community's commitment to equality. I am angry to see the picture that he posted, and its clear declaration of racist misogyny.

I think it is fair to say, as you did, that his "defense" -- that he is "honoring" black women -- can obviously be better expressed in other ways. I am sick and disgusted just thinking about this.

I've been calling Chuck out for several years as well along with other gay and straight African-Americans.

This isn't humor. It's a new millenium minstrel show that's grossly offensive to me as an African-American transwoman.

Jasmyne, I respect what you had to say. And I agree whole heartedly that Knipp is despicable and pathetic. And frankly, I don't understand how anyone who credits our species with dignity could think otherwise.

Unfortunately, there are always some who will pick apart what ever you have to say,focusing on a phrase or even a single word. They just like to argue. In a way, they are as pathetic as Knipp. They need to deprecate others to validate their own sense of superiority. Like I said, pathetic.

Your message was valid and well articulated. You don't need my support or approval, but you still have it. I hope that you will continue to contribute your opinion here. Be strong, stay true...

Wow, way to turn an insightful and thought provoking comment about the racist antics of Knipp into your very own equally offensive racist rant.

Usurped? Are you kidding me with this? I guess you would also say that the African-American civil rights movement USURPED the language and tactics of Gandhi; or Christ before him; or the Buddha before him?

I usually enjoy your commentaries and I often come away with a new understanding on a given issue but sometimes you really seem like a closet racist yourself and that really turns me off and makes me question if you're ever worth listening to. That's a damned shame.

I think you could learn a thing or two from

That hilarious guy only makes $90,000/year? Damn, I guess I'm gonna have to go to his shows more often. He's worth it.

Chill out, people, it's called a parody.

Claude, you have proved the point of those who are
against him, for parody means a song or text intended to satirize, mock or ridicule the object of the parody. According to your comment, then, he's ridiculing black women, and you like the idea.