I used to become so upset when I wouldn’t get these opportunities.
You know the ones, the opportunities that my white counterparts always seemed to get. I’d fill myself up with doubt and so many other ugly thoughts thinking that I wasn’t good enough. I even beat myself up, thinking my skin was too dark. I never knew if my work would be understood so I would succumb to the pressures of trying to be more palatable for the white bar managers and producers. When they would say, “Well you’re just too this” or “too that”, they really meant I was too black. Black performers are often told things like “We just don’t have room on our schedule” or “it’s not in our budget” and yet you praise us for being so “talented” and “incredible” at what we do and tell us how much you wanna work with us!
The problem with only casting white performers in your shows and parties at the venues that are supposed to be safe places for our community, is that it’s disrespectful to queer culture, a culture built by black queer individuals, a culture that we all have and benefit from because of us! I see so many big name drag queens and DJ’s playing and performing black music, and using that music to give commentary on black and POC issues through a white lens. So many white queer artists, who haven’t put in half the work that POC put in, manage to get all the successes, we never see! Meanwhile we have to beg for scraps, in order for our art to survive and it’s exhausting which separates us and turns us against one other. When we do get hired, it’s rarely because of our talent or skills. Usually you either wanna fuck us, get fucked by us, or use us as a token.Our concerns get called small and on top of that, they throw colorism into the mix, hiring only the POC artist of a lighter skin color. Oh yeah, we notice. The continued invalidation of our ideas, aesthetics and artistic choices by comparing us to other performers and mainstream artists of color, undercuts our tireless work to make ourselves seen as individuals rather than the token POC queen. While our white counterparts manage to float by without changing things up and still get told how “innovative” they are. Achieving this level of success in a performing art that we originated is a huge part of disenfranchisement of POC nightlife performers. Artists of color go through on a daily basis. It’s normalized, dare I even say, fetishized?
Now we are seeing more and more of these racist actions get called out across all types of media that I have so desperately tried to get into to no avail. And while I’m glad it’s finally being called out, it almost feels like a slap in the face considering the backlash that I received. It tore me up inside. I got turned down for so many things either because my skin was dark or I was “too black”. At first, I told myself all those micro aggressions I faced weren’t real, and replaced them with self-hate. These words really fucked with me and as a direct result, muted my work. Even the opportunities did come (like when I was cast by ELLE for a project that never came out due to micro aggressions and when I got a show spot at Phoenix Bar), it made me feel like I was being tokenized. I had no say in my art again, because it came across as “too black”.
I’m so grateful I never truly changed who I was. My art doesn’t deserve to be micromanaged by racism, not for any fucking editorial, and certainly not for five minutes of stage time for a queen who asks “Can you do Nicki Minaj?” or “I think you need to do something less hip-hop”, as opposed to the number I had planned. I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’ve done a lot of “ain’t shit” things, as we all have. but I want to have hope for a better future and a better place so I can exist fully as me. Doing the thing that feels the most natural to us means we should never have to compromise our blackness. That compromise should not be the norm. It is flat out racism.
I leave the community with this simple message. DJ’S, Producers, Queens, Kings, Venues, Bars, Staff, Bartenders, Bouncers, Managers…..DO BETTER!
Dévo Monique moved from Richmond, Virginia, to Brooklyn in 2017. Devo brings her extensive dance training to every performance and is a host with an irreverent sense of humor. Devo campaigns for inclusivity and sexual liberation through her expressive and challenging routines. The club kid in a pageant wig – she regularly performs at beloved venues like The Rosemont, Pieces, and Metropolitan. Follow Dévo Monique on Instagram here and on Facebook here!