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Daytona Bitch fired as official TD Pride drag queen over 'blackface'

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Daytona Bitch fired as official TD Pride drag queen over 'blackface'

One of the pictures of Daytona Betch as Miss Cleo that circulated on social media.
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Bitch facing accusations of racism

Toronto drag artist Daytona Bitch has been fired as the TD Canada Trust Pride drag queen following a recent performance in which she wore what some are calling “blackface.”

Bitch says she received the news in an email on June 26 that said she will not be performing on the Pride Toronto (PT) stages after PT’s director of development, Ben Freeman, placed a call to the marketing company that booked her gig. The email from Diamond Integrated Marketing states that Bitch's recent performance was “not at all well received by the LGBT community” and is contrary to TD's "longstanding commitment to diversity."

Bitch says she was devastated to learn her Pride schedule is now wide open, which means a big financial hit for the popular drag performer.

The performance in question, which generated plenty of angry discussion on social media, took place at Crews & Tangos on June 24. Bitch was a judge for Drag Race, and the theme was Caribbean Heat, she says.

Bitch dressed as Miss Cleo, an American “psychic” who achieved fame as a spokesperson for a psychic hotline from 1997 to 2003. She planned to read people’s fortunes as part of her act. But before the end of the night, photos were already circulating on Facebook with some calling the performance a “racist minstrel show.”

Bitch doesn’t see it that way. “I asked a couple people if it was offensive because it’s not blackface in my eyes,” she says. “I went to theatre school. I know what blackface is. It was not a minstrel show. I was doing a character.

“The people I asked at Crews & Tangos thought it was hilarious that I was dressed as a big fat black woman.”

Bitch wants “to apologize to those I offended,” but she is now worried about “physical threats” she received on social media. “Now I don’t feel safe walking down the street,” she says. “I’ve had a couple threats from people.”

Ivory Towers — another drag queen who joined Bitch onstage June 24 and performed with “tribal makeup" — has also been under fire on social media. She, too, maintains she did not perform in “blackface" and says she is an artist who uses makeup and costumes as part of her art. Towers says it’s not the first time she’s portrayed that look, and she does not regret it.

“Wearing tribal makeup is not racist,” she says. “People do tribal makeup in makeup school, and other drag queens have done tribal makeup. People wear tribal makeup on Halloween. It has nothing to do with being racist or attacking black people. To me, drag is an escape from reality . . . I am an artist and the least racist person that there is. I don’t regret it.”

But Rinaldo Walcott, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, says cultural appropriation can be very traumatizing for some people, especially people with a long history of being victimized for the way they look.

“There is no excuse by any artist, particularly a white artist, in 2013, to do blackface,” he says. “I think it even strains the imagination for black artists to do it, too. So [Bitch] should really have asked, what did she think this was going to achieve?”

However, as a drag artist whose character is considered crass and shocking, Bitch says she frequently walks the line on what is considered offensive — and sometimes crosses over it. “I feel that drag is supposed to be controversial, and it has been from the start,” she says. “The line exists to slightly dip your toe over. Maybe I went a little too far. I didn’t think I went too far.

“The question of when is it art and when is it crossing the line can never be answered because art is all self-expression and all based on opinion. It’s a question that can never be answered.”

Walcott says that calling something art doesn’t take away accountability and responsibility. “Art can absolutely shock, but the viewers and the critics have a responsibility to say if it’s good art, bad art or art that is forcing stereotypes and forms of discrimination,” he says. “Calling it art doesn’t take away the ethical and moral requirements of the work.”

Alphonso King, who is a DJ at Crews & Tangos and performs in drag as Jade Elektra, says he sees a lot of racism in drag culture, as well as the wider queer community.

Last year, local drag artist Donnarama was criticized for a performance some called Islamophobic. In the show, Donnarama danced to songs by the Pussycat Dolls and Katy Perry wearing a burka and a bindi spot on her forehead, with a "corset made of dynamite sticks” strapped to her stomach.

“There’s a whole history of this going on in the gay community; not just in Toronto, but all over,” King says. “When I saw the picture of Daytona, I wasn’t really surprised, because I know Daytona’s character. But then I saw the hashtag, which actually said ‘racist.’”

King says a photo shared by Bitch tagged “#racist” indicates that she is well aware that what she did is racist. “That was the most offensive part for me,” he says. “For her to say it’s just art is simply not true. She took it one step further and actually acknowledged the racism.”

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Comments

Blackface
Due to the racist origins of whites in blackface, it is ALWAYS racist, it was invented by whites to demonize Black people and to lend support to racism/white supremacy. Were it not for those hateful origins, then it would be fine for whites to wear BF.
Lately you will notice that when the white person dons BF, he/she will make themselves up to look more or less like a normal Black person falsely thinking that that will somehow give them a pass...wrong, it is still BF.

There is no such thing as 'prettier' BF, there is no such thing as 'NOBLE' blackface.

When the white person does BF, he/she may not have a racist bone in their body, but they are STILL partaking in a racist act.
perspective
From what I understand there were a lot of Jamaicans and others in the audience who thought her show was fantastic.
More to the point - in answer to someone who called her "Daytona Jolson"... a history lesson might be germane here. Blackface was not just an acceptable form of show biz at the time Jolson was doing it, but Al Jolson went out of his way and actually did a lot to find work for Black musicians (whom he respected enormously) and opened up previously all-white venues to Blacks who recognized a real friend in him. He was not put down by the Black population for doing Blackface - he was welcomed by Blacks wherever he went. That people today try to make this into a "racist" issue just shows that they don't know their history. As for Daytona... presenting herself as Black is not racist in itself. Context matters... and from the positive reactions of the majority of the people at her show, it would appear that there was no racist intent on her part. She should tell everyone to Fuck off. And to all the QuAIA "racists" who were screaming "free speech", where are you now, hypocrites?
Like most white people, you just don't get it, do you?
If I, as a black male, did anything offensive to whites, I'd get my ass fried quicker than you can say 'Chris Brown'. Yet, you feel that Daytona Bitch shouldn't suffer for doing this because 'Al Jolson was good to black performers'? Sorry, but what Al Jolson did was okay a half century ago; today, it isn't okay, and you have to come to terms with that, rather insist that what she did was okay and that 'context matters' As for the QuAIA kerfuffle, please stop beating a dead horse; activism like this has been a part of Pride since its beginning.

I think that you need to find out about folks of color more, and be open to other cultural things besides Al Jolson.
Where is the legion of free speech fundamentalists?
The ones who came out in groves a couple of years back, handing back their Nobel Prizes or whatever, all to establish that the debate about QuAIA was not about whether what Israel does is "apartheid" but who framed this as an earnest defense of charter rights and freedom of speech? They are seemingly absent from this particular expression of dissent from the norm, but seem much less enthusiastic about this issue in which the 'views' being expressed are less politically correct. Thought so.
To the editors and other geniuses at Xtra
Hi, I really preferred the old format where one could belch and fart contentedly in the Comments section with minimal formalities
and then be on my way. Now we need to register and log in with passwords etc which makes it less fun. However I do like the little voting feature next to each comment because I can just keep self-voting for my own comments and become insanely popular and feel really good with this new form of online masturbation. What will you think of next?!
Where do you get your hash?
Trini2DBone and nick.dv.37 you are obviousy smoking a better and more mellow brand of hash which truly enhances your native intelligence.
Where do you get it because I would like some too!
Much ado about nothing
All Daytona did was to portray a well-known fictional Afro-American character and obviously a white girl needs to put on some dark colored foundation to get it right just like a guy needs some foundation to look like a girl. However all it takes is one edgy self-aggrieved Jamaican spaced out on hash and whatever else to scream "Blackface!" and away we go into politically-correct cloud-cuckoo land. Daytona, you're alright and you did nothing wrong but please try to be a bit more brave like Ivory and tell the twits to FO!. So-called "black" drag queens get a disproportionate amount of stage time on Church St as it is while there are virtually no ethnic drag queens out there except for the Latinas who seem to be confined to El Convento Rico. We know they exist but they seem to be stuck in their various ethnic closets so perhaps the best revenge would be to just give your critics what they want and completely ignore "black" characters in the future and instead portray all the other ethnic groups out there and coax some of those very closeted ethnic drag queens out where we can all see them and enjoy them without any stupid political correctness dragging us down. As Zelda used to say:- The best revenge is living well! so Daytona and Ivory just go for it!
Next year's Pride Guide should list when being offended matters
I'm not interested in joining the debate on whether the act was racist or tasteless - It speaks for itself, really. However, the really interesting part in this would be finding out how Pride Toronto picks their battles. How is it that an act in a bar, at a non - Pride Toronto event, where no one complained to management, has PT's Ben Freeman directly seeking the termination of someones employment; but when other groups place Pride's funding in jeopardy, or others break actual laws while marching in the parade, year after year they are welcomed with approved permits under the guise of free speech / expression, regardless of who is offended? Why are there more consequences to actions taking place outside the boundaries of Pride Toronto's 'jurisdiction' than within it?
Oh, snap!
JCarr (may I call you J’ai Carr?) is my new favourite commenter. +1
Cue world's smallest violin...
Perhaps this oh-so-predictable alliance of passionate yet misguided fans, advocates and perpetrators of racist buffoonery who find themselves hysterically upset and vehemently outraged over the end result of the Church Street's latest #Minstrelgate scandal should heed the same advice they so patronizingly and dismissively offered to those of us who immediately stood up against the ugly legacy of blackface: "Relax. Breathe. Let it go. It's only drag. Take a chill pill. It's not a big deal."

Clearly blackface was, is, and will always be "a big deal". In 50 years time, do you really want to look back to find yourself on the wrong side of history with your embarrassingly sad, misinformed, reactionary and extremely prejudiced position on this issue?

Those defending Daytona Jolson I mean Bitch have unwittingly exposed a myriad of systematic racist systems and practices that lay festering just beneath the surface of the Toronto's LGBTQQIAAP so-called "community".

Shame on all of you.

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