Hello world! It’s Stripper Talk time again! This is a place where I field questions and answer them to the best of my ability, hopefully giving anyone who’s interested in burlesque some insight.
****I need to note for clarification that anyone who emails me is granted anonymity WHEN THEY ASK FOR IT, NO MATTER THE QUESTION. This week’s question comes from a performer who did not ask for it, and therefore their name was disclosed.
This week’s question comes from Miss Lorrie Ann from Las Vegas, Nevada
“My question to you is this:
I love pushing all sorts of boundaries in my satirical burlesque routines I perform. To be honest, as a performer when I go see other shows I’m board out of my gourd when all the routines are classic, strip tease, or bump and grind. I guess you can say I require more visual stimulation from performance. I like to see seriously choreographed routines or fucked up funny skit style routines. So as a performer I have this idea of doing a 1960′s slave/KKK routine as a funny haha routine equipped with noose and all…. You as an African American performer, would you #1 be in a routine like this as the slave, and #2 would you find this offensive if you were just an audience member, or laugh at it because after all burlesque is about poking fun at all things equally( in my opinion)…….Why should one be able to poke fun at a redneck, Jew, or china man but not other “sensitive” past worldly issues. I have also thought of routines such as old minstrel or black face routines and again would love your input:) thank you again!
Miss Lorrie Ann”
Hi Miss Lorrie Ann,
Wow- there’s a lot here for me to dissect- and I’m not even sure I’m totally equipped verbally to do it. We’ll see how it goes. I know that there’s been a little bit of talk about these issues at BurlyCon and online, and your question is a sticky one.
I’m going to gloss over your thoughts about neo-styles of burlesque vs. classic. I think both are awesome and both can be done both badly and excellently. Tastes are subjective. Slamming one genre to the benefit of another can alienate you in this community where we all need to stick together. Burlesque is a sexual art and being told that my art isn’t as cool as your art seems detrimental to the art-form.
Now onto your heavier thoughts…
As a performer of color- (I’m Irish, French and African-American), I would tell you that I would be upset to see or be asked by a performer that is not of my ethnicity***(see edit) to be in an act that depicts slavery, especially if it were in a “Ha ha” kind of way. Though burlesque does mean to make fun, satirize and poke potentially flammable topics, I think that it mostly should be explored by those who have personally been affected by the topic that they are dealing with onstage. I looked you up, and you being a caucasian woman would probably (I can’t really say, I don’t know your life story) not have dealt with issues of being marginalized by your race, or have had family that have been victims of slavery. Slavery is only a few generations behind me, and the horror of what happened to my ancestors strictly because of their skin is terrifying. What I see now happening and being said to me and others with non-white skin these days still saddens me. As a country we still have a lot of work to do.
Clearly you have to know that you portraying slavery IS offensive or you wouldn’t have asked this question. Why do you want to present a piece on slavery? What is useful about using blackface in your act? You know this topic is problematic. How badly do you want to insult or shock your audiences I guess is the question. Just HOW you deal with a topic like slavery is going to make or break your piece. AND you are still going to have to deal with criticism.
As a performer of color that HAS had to deal with stupid and ignorant situations and flippant comments just because of my brown skin (try being booked just because you have brown skin, or conversely not being booked because you have brown skin), seeing a performance by someone (especially someone appearing only caucasian-though I would try to do some research and ask questions) satirizing the horrors of black slavery would downright piss me off.
The idea that you think that these issues are in the “past” is frustrating to say the least. If these issues were in the “past”, why does our President still have to deal with attacks on his race? Why are some races seen as more marketable in the burlesque community and in popular culture? Why do people ascribe certain characteristics and proclivities upon me because of the color of my skin? If race weren’t an issue, you would see equal faces of different races on TV in movies and on the stage. But sadly, we aren’t there yet.
While I think that burlesque gives us the opportunity to discuss tough topics, it might not be to your benefit to talk about topics that have not affected you. I wouldn’t do a Geisha act because I am not Japanese, have not lived in Japan, do not know about the culture of Geisha’s and am not associated with them in any way. Now- if I did all of my research about Geisha’s and perhaps talked to one, learned their culture and explored WHY it was important for ME to present the image of a Geisha on stage and still decided to, that might be another thing. I’d also have to know that presenting a Geisha act will incite questions from my audience, and perhaps from some enraged Japanese contingent (and any other ethnicity or culture) who has every right to question what right I have to present the face of Geisha on stage.
Are you prepared to have those hard conversations from those outraged by your portrayal of the horrors of slavery on stage? Not only will you have to deal with African-Americans, but also caucasians and any other race that sees it problematic. And they will. And they should. Slavery was a crime on humanity. Humans were slaughtered and hung on trees because of their skin color. This is a topic that is delicate…to say the least.
Just because something seems clever and fucked up doesn’t mean it should be presented by YOU for an audience.
So you need to ask yourself WHY you want to do a slavery act. Why do you want to talk about it? How has slavery affected you? What would putting on blackface make a point on? The premise of blackface is steeped in ignorance and is basically like uttering a racial slur. I’m curious as to know the answers to these questions, and hope you’ll take it into consideration.
Think before you leap,
P.S: (an edit) * I’m only going to say just one thing that you must NEVER DO AGAIN: use the term “China Man”. It’s racist and unbelievable. Upon initially making this post I left this out of my answer because it was just too ridiculous to address, and I didn’t want to seem like I was flaming you. But by not addressing this, only part of the problem is addressed. Just so we’re clear too, the term “Oriental” is also out. I’ve heard some legends use it when talking about some of the Asian performers in their pasts and though they don’t necessarily know of a better term, I try to gently correct them and bring them into the 21st century.
**I removed the term “non-ethnic” since it was TOTALLY used wrong. I apologize it the term has upset you. Ethnicity is culture and has nothing to do with race.