‘Drag Race Down Under’ Has Quickly Exposed A Racism Problem In Australian Drag
Any person of colour in the Australian drag scene will tell you that we are no strangers to racism in the community.
This weekend was a frustrating one for POC drag artists, highlighting the long fight we have ahead as well as the importance of having support from every part of the community.
For those who are unaware, last Friday, Aboriginal drag icon Felicia Foxx shared a post where she called out a number of local drag queens for their use of cultural appropriation and blackface in their past looks. One queen who was a recurring offender was Scarlet Adams, a current contestant on the upcoming RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under.
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Pictures of Scarlet surfaced including the queen wearing a burqa, dressed in a Native headdress, and having many extremely offensive uses of blackface. One especially awful look included blackface, two blacked out teeth, and an Aboriginal flag shirt, which she wore on Invasion Day. Further allegations of racism also arose where it was stated she has used overt racism like anti-Aboriginal slurs in her acts.
Alongside Scarlet, it was also revealed that contestant Karen From Finance had also admitted to being the owner of a huge amount of racist dolls, and even had a matching tattoo — and it became clear that no part of the Australian drag scene was immune to racism. The collateral damage of all of this? The Bla(c)k and POC drag artists who were once again confronted with the inherent racism that exists in the white-dominated drag community of the Western world.
An example of this racism can be seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race itself. It is widely known that the show gives the ‘villain edit’ to queens of colour on the show, at a rate of almost one per season. For example, one contestant, The Vixen, was introduced on her season as an outspoken political queen but was later cast as an aggressive character and season 10’s primary villain.
Drag Race has also stoked racism outside of the competition, with The Vixen stating in an interview “it’s definitely damaging to all of us and our careers when the show digs the grave for us.’ The Drag Race fandom’s racism even led to a PSA by some of the Black former contestants in late 2020 as it had negatively impacted the mental health and careers of these queens.
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When Priyanka won the first season of Drag Race Canada, certain people in the fandom and community accused the show of crowning her based off her Indo-Guyanese ethnicity rather than actual talent. I heard people in my personal circles saying a similar thing which, as a South Asian drag artist who was proud of Priyanka, was pretty upsetting.
Any person of colour in the Australian drag scene will tell you that we are no strangers to racism in the community. Representation and the treatment of people of colour has been a major topic of discussion in the last few months, with many local shows being called out for their majority white line ups. Most recently, certain Mardi Gras Sydney events were questioned for their lack of diversity, with local performers bringing attention to the all-white Mardi Gras board and their lack of engagement with POC issues.
The most Australian thing about Drag Race Down Under is that at least one queen has done blackface (more than once) and another had golly doll tattoos
— Tom 🦭 (@t_js100) March 12, 2021
Personally, as a Sri Lankan Drag King, the issue of representation was always at the forefront of my mind. Going to shows and seeing POC talent always beings me joy, and when I perform, I receive similar feedback from the people of colour that were in the audience. Myself and many other BIPOC drag artists dress and perform in ways that are directly influenced by our own cultures and experiences with racism. It’s a beautiful method of self-expression that allows us to feel connected to our identity.
This is why cultural appropriation in drag is so troubling.
When white artists create costumes out of other cultures, they do so without reverence and without having to face the negative consequences of being a person of colour in White Australia. At the end of the night, they are able to wash off their fake skin colour and do deal with the realities faced by BIPOC artists.
This ties into how white supremacy itself functions — allowing white people to benefit from our multicultural society while further oppressing minorities. When a queen in blackface is booked over an actual Black queen, not only is it mocking Black people, but it is removing an opportunity from the hands of a black queen while benefitting the perpetrator of the racism.
Scarlet Adams has apologised a few times in the past for her behaviour and did so again after her most recent call out, stating “I was young and I was ignorant. I am no longer that person.”
However, as Felicia Foxx wrote on her Instagram, “once you continue to take the piss out of numerous cultures on various occasions after you’ve been called out it is concerning and downright vulgar”. The sheer number of looks and continuation of the behaviour after every apology, highlights that Scarlet’s behaviour is not just a silly mistake and is indicative of intentional racism.
On a lighter note, many white allies within the LGBTQIA+ community have expressed their outrage over the last few days. Some performers and event producers have made commitments to stand up for POC drag artists and be active in their allyship, promising to intentionally include POC performers in events and uplift these voices. This is a good start and is encouraging to see.
As for us drag artists of colour, we’ll continue to fight to be on stage and be respected and will hope that these promises come to fruition.
Madhuraa Prakash is a Sri Lankan Tamil drag king who performs under the name ‘Manish Interest’. She can be found on Instagram at @madhuraasp and on Twitter @mads_sp .