Luxx Noir London (she/they) was the second queen to sashay into the Werk Room of season 15 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” A young, self-assured, fashionable Black queen, Luxx is an artist who fully knows who she is and what she is capable of. That confidence translated on screen almost immediately, and just as immediately, so did the backlash from the RuPaul fan base. On social media, fans have labeled Luxx as “delusional” for their confidence. Others have said she “loves herself too much.” While these comments were off-putting and probably stem from a place of insecurity, they didn’t surprise me. This response happens far too often in our society.
There’s this thing that happens with Black women and femmes when they exude a certain kind of confidence. It’s hard to name, but easy to confirm. It’s a courageous strut in her walk. A determined glimmer in his eye. An assured manner in their speech. It’s a boldness that can only come when the limitations placed on them by the dominant culture are stripped away. It’s an abided freedom. But in such an oppressive society as this one, that freedom is routinely met with overwhelming resistance. The desire to belittle, criticize and meeken Black femmes is direct and immediate. Your favorite “conscious” rapper put it best in his 2017 hit single, “sit down, be humble.”
The humbling of Black women and femmes is an underexamined tool of oppression that remains ever-present in our society. It’s so prevalent and persistent, while also quiet and covert, that people of all races and genders play into or encourage it, sometimes without even knowing it. This remains the ever-present danger of a white supremacist culture. It’s not just the Majorie Taylor Greenes and Tory Lanezes of the world spreading overt violence and hateful speech: it’s the surreptitious messaging spread through propaganda, media, and lyrics from your favortie rappers that perpetuate all manner of violence aimed at the most marginalized. From Luxx Noir London to Megan The Stallion to Sha’carri Richardson, being THAT girl in a chauvinist society has its consequences.
The need for folks to humble Black women and femmes, I believe, is a direct tool of the patriarchy. It’s a tool that’s deployed to remind women and femmes where they fall in the social hierarchy and as a reminder never to dare not to disrupt the social order. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie names this plainly in her acclaimed TED Talk, which was also famously sampled by THE Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter in “Flawless.” In Adichie’s talk titled “We Should All Be Feminists” she states, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.” Adichie is speaking truth to a patriarchal system that consistently reminds women and girls that they can only passively participate in it rather than challenge it.
But it is also not that simple; patriarchy hardly ever works alone. It usually brings along its friends, racism, colorism, and queerphobia to name a few (evidenced by the controversy surrounding Adichie and Lamar for their lack of respective intersectional analysis concerning transness, womanhood, colorism, texturism, and more.) The intersection of being Black, woman, queer, dark skin, and/or femme exacerbates the urgent need for the humbling. From Drag Race Werk Room to Twitter, and even the everyday workplace, the humbling of Black women, queer folk, and/or femmes is instrumental in preserving archaic and unhealthy power dynamics at best, and upholding a patriarchial society at worst.
The act of humbling and punishing Black women and femmes has real-life consequences. In 2020, writer Erika Stallings describes how Black women for from “office pet to office threat” when they succeed in the workplace. “This happens when women, typically Black women, are embraced and groomed by organizations until they start demonstrating high levels of confidence and excel in their role,” she writes, “a transition that may be perceived as threatening by employers.” The misogynoir is two-fold here, the infantilization of viewing Black women as “less than” (i.g the “pet”) and then the punishment when they excel and demand more; i.g the “threat”.
Luxx Noir London isn’t the first Black queen to experience this humbling among the Drag Race collective. While one of the most beloved Drag Race alum now, I’m old enough to remember Season 8 when Bob The Drag Queen sashay’d into the Werk Queen with the crown ostensibly already on her head. I’m old enough to remember this unwavering boldness that inspired me, intimidated her contestants, and provoked a backlash from the fandom. I’d venture to say that Michelle Visage’s comment that Bob was doing “ratchet drag” was in response to her Black boldness more than anything else.
On its face, humility isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It isn’t inherently a pure or principled attribute, either. But when the desire to humble some of the most marginalized in our society for simply being excellent and confident, it becomes a gaslighting weapon of oppression. Humbling someone says more about you and your commitment to an oppressive society than it says about the person you’re attempting to humble and even humiliate.
Nothing happens in a vacuum; it’s important to acknowledge that and actively combat harmful modes of thinking and behaviors, no matter what stage it presents itself on.♦