“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.” – Malcolm X
On an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked earlier this season, contestants The Vixen and Aquaria continued an episode-long feud after leaving the main stage. After Aquaria burst into tears, The Vixen said,
“You have created the narrative that I am an angry black woman who has scared off the little white girl. So when you get super defensive and tell me that I’m being negative, when I’m just responding to what you brought to me, that will always read to these [pointing at the cameras] as a race issue.”
The statement quickly brought praise from black Drag Race alumni, including Bob the Drag Queen, Kennedy Davenport, Aja, and Jasmine Masters. Aquaria herself even tweeted that she hopes fans can learn something from the discussion like she did.
However, the opposite sentiment was expressed by a large subset of the fandom. Recap articles claimed that The Vixen was “acting like a bitch.” Myriad Tumblr posts disparaged her – The Vixen even received death threats. To be clear, a black drag queen brought up the issue of race-based optics and received death threats over it. That is appalling, to say the least.
Maybe you’re thinking that comments on the Internet are not representative of the Drag Race fandom, that the racism The Vixen speaks of is outweighed by support for black queens. That is partially true: people with strong negative opinions do tend to be the loudest. But are we really positively supporting black queens, or is there something to The Vixen’s claims of racism within the entire Drag Race community?
Since drag queens make their livings from live gigs increasingly promoted through online presence, it seems logical that a contestant’s social media following can be a barometer of their popularity, since we don’t have access to their tax returns or show attendances. The following facts are found by looking at combined Instagram and Twitter followings (because who uses Facebook anymore?):
Just 25% of the top twenty-five queens of social media are black, despite about 35% of Drag Race contestants being black. Queens of other minorities are more proportionally represented here; the statistical lack of black queens is exactly mirrored by overrepresentation of white queens in the top twenty-five.
Bob the Drag Queen (1.05 million followers) has 50,000 fewer followers than Miss Fame, and 100,000 fewer than Pearl. Bob won her season but has just the 16th-largest following. This is the highest of any black queen. Seriously.
Shangela has 38,000 fewer followers than Milk. I guess even when people insist online that you were robbed of a crown, they don’t bother to actually follow you. They will follow you, however, if you’re a hot white guy.
Kennedy Davenport (267,000 followers) comes in dead last among all the All-Stars 3 queens, and behind Max, Miss Fame, and Pearl (all three of whom are white) of season 7, despite advancing to the finale of both seasons. Her feelings of being ignored at events apparently extend to social media.
Farrah Moan has more followers (773,000) than both Shea Couleé (671,000) and Peppermint (457,300), even though Farrah finished in 8th and both Shea and Peppermint made it to the Top 4.
Among this season’s queens, black queens make up three of the bottom four social media followings: Asia O’Hara, Monique Heart, and The Vixen herself. Add these queens’ followings together, and you’re still about 100,000 short of both Miz Cracker and Aquaria. Cracker’s not the only one who should be salty.
“But, Austin, these are just social media followings.” While true, the pervasive nature of modern social media combined with the extensive self-promotion of drag shows on these platforms cannot be underestimated. These statistics definitely seem to point to a season-traversing pattern of imbalanced social media followings between white queens and black queens. When Thorgy Thor makes an appearance, 140,000 more people instantly know about that than a Chi Chi DeVayne show, unless Thorgy promotes her. Since black queens face an imbalance in followers, might they depend on their more-followed white sisters for increased promotions? Are there other consequences of having fewer followers? Black queens are certainly more than capable of overcoming the imbalance, but they are still at an instant-marketing disadvantage. That’s the thing about racism: it doesn’t have to be an overt act or even a conscious decision. How often do you stop and think about who you’re following on Insta or Twitter? You probably don’t at all, but Drag Race fans statistically tend to follow white queens more readily, and especially white queens who we may perceive as being hot boys (see: Milk, Fame, Pearl, Aquaria, etc.).
This is not something new or even unique to Drag Race; the queer community has a history of valuing white gay men over black queer people and continues to do so to this day. Black queer people were often excluded from clubs and other establishments in the fledgling (white gay) enclaves of Greenwich Village, The Castro, and West Hollywood in the 1960s. The gay rights movement often (read: always) ignored the intersectionality of the queer community, and advocates even worried that the parallel black civil rights movement would lead to a backlash against white homosexual people. Today, the queer community continues this legacy of racism by reducing black gay men to sexual stereotypes on dating apps and porn sites and witnessing disproportionately high rates of violence against the black queer community. despite the fact that black queer people were at the forefront of both the gay rights movement and the creation of drag, we continue to undervalue black drag queens in favor of their white counterparts by dragging them online and not supporting their social media efforts.
Let me end this piece by saying that this article does NOT serve to throw shade or take anything away from white queens, especially the ones mentioned by name. I admire every single Drag Race contestant for their hard work, dedication, and amazing contributions to the drag community. They’ve all worked their (padded) asses off to get where they are, and they’ve earned every bit of praise they receive. However, it is also true that black queens work just as hard and don’t reap the same rewards. I also do not identify as being of African heritage, so I cannot possibly understand or speak to the full extent of the struggle that the black community endures every day. However, I can look at the numbers, history, and sentiments expressed by the queer community and draw the conclusion that there is a clear pattern of racism. Based on those factors, The Vixen’s underlying claim that the Drag Race fandom is quick to denounce black queens has a good amount of backing. Or are we to believe that Bianca del Rio’s levels of dominating her season weren’t enough for Bob to gain as much support as her hometown sister Miss Fame, who placed seventh? What of Monique Heart and The Vixen, two outspoken black queens not afraid to speak their minds? Do they have 300,000 fewer followers each than Miz Cracker and Aquaria simply because their looks and talent are that much worse? Although The Vixen can be a bit quick to retaliate to shade, she’s certainly within her rights to not take kindly to Aquaria and Eureka trying to antagonize her, and she most definitely doesn’t deserve the vitriolic reaction she’s received from some corners of the fandom.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that we are watching an hour and a half of edited content spanning the space of days for each episode, so it’s impossible to know the full picture of any drama that we see. We only get a snippet of the workroom interactions, yet The Vixen still had the instant reaction of worrying about being portrayed as the angry black woman. She wouldn’t have had that reaction and she wouldn’t have garnered the aforementioned unequivocal support of black Drag Race alumni if there wasn’t a history of just that happening among the fans.
It seems that we, as a community of crazy, obsessed Drag Race fans, need to do better not only for our black drag queens, but for all of our black brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings. None of us will be truly free unless we are all free, even if that starts with something as simple as following queens on social media. Check your own social media, and give black queens your support with a quick follow. Even if you can’t attend their shows or buy their merch, a follow shows support and it’s free, so there’s really no excuse not to, and it would help narrow the gap in support between black and white queens.