I originally chose to look at RuPaul’s Drag Race because it’s my favorite reality TV show, but upon a closer look, the show highlights several different intersections between race, gender, and sexuality in both positive and negative ways.
To start with the positives, Drag Race showcases almost exclusively gay men who bend ideals of gender by performing as drag queens. Drag queens are often shown as a “token” characters who represent the majority of the LGBTQ+ community, so by having twelve drag queens competing, there is a more diverse representation of gay men. There are 12 drag queens who start out the season 8 competition- 5 White men, 4 Black men, 2 Hispanic men, and 1 Asian man- creating a racially diverse cast, including the first drag queen from South Korea, Kim Chi.
The fifth episode starts off almost immediately with an argument between Derrick Barry and Bob the Drag Queen. Derrick insulted Bob for talking too much, and when Bob responded pointing out the hypocrisy in what Derrick said, Derrick left the table. Later, Derrick threw “shade” at Bob by saying “Hey Bob, if I want to do ratchet drag next week can you give me any tips?” There are several instances of blatant racism in this episode especially because the queens are participating in the “snatch game” competition where they dress up as celebrities or characters to play a game show set up by RuPaul.
The “snatch game” is in no way racist by itself, but some drag queens rely on racism for their humor. Kim Chi decides to dress up as “Kimmy Jong-Un,” the drag version of Kim Jong-Un, and she uses several phrases and hand gestures that stereotype North Korean people as being violent, uncaring individuals. In addition, Derrick Barry suggests that she should play a character that involves being “a black woman trapped in a white woman’s body.” She proceeds to then speak in a poorly executed African American Vernacular English accent, which results in several shocked looks from Black contestants.
Later in the episode, two of the Black contestants, Naomi Smalls and Bob the Drag Queen, discuss the racism they have experienced as Black, gay men. While the show and contestants had an opportunity to discuss potential ways to combat racism within the LGBTQ+ community, the conversation quickly ends when the two drag queens agree that they have both experienced specific micro aggressions.
The show has the opportunity to give an in depth look at the drag culture and race, similarly to how Paris is Burning showed the balls in the 80’s, but instead the show keeps the focus tied to the petty drama that occurs between the contestants. While this can be incredibly entertaining, RuPaul’s Drag Race is not living up to the full capacity it could to help people of color in the LGBTQ+ community.