Can We Have a Black ‘Drag Race’ All Star, Please?

· Updated on May 28, 2018

Another RuPaul’s Drag Race All Starshas come and gone and with it, another winner has been crowned. The third All Star to join the Hall of Fame is the beloved Trixie Mattel, whose career as a star ofYouTube’sUNHhhhand of Viceland’s The Trixie and Katya Show bested nine other queens for this season’s title in a controversial finale that saw statistical winner and two-time contestant Shangela go home empty-handed.

After the show aired and social media had its time to argue and deconstruct what they had just seen, one question remained: Was race a factor in the way the chips fell? After three seasons of All Stars, the Hall of Fame still lacks a black or Latinx all star. This season alone, three of the top four contestants were black, and Trixie Mattel triumphed over them all.

A quick disclaimer: Trixie is half Native American, but she has also described herself as “white-presenting.” As such, each All Star currently in the “Hall of Fame” is either white or white-presenting. She’s also a stunning contestant who is one of the great working drag queens right now, and none of this is shade to her.

For the second season in a row, the odds-on, statistically sound winner lost after a last-minute rule change. In Season 9, after winning four challengesand tying the previous records held by Alaska and Sharon NeedlesShea Coulee left Drag Race tied for third place with Trinity Taylor, both of whom lost their lip syncs during the live finale.

Shangela fell victim to the same narrative in All Stars 3. With the best record of the top four, Shangela seemed ready to get her own Hall of Fame portrait but was instead subject to a queer peer jury that chose to keep her out of the top two.

It’s hard to tell where Shangela went wrong and why exactly this last-minute change was adopted or allowed to keep Shangela from winning. Her loss is a reminder of the many troubles that queens of color have had while competing on the show. Recently, Slate took a deep dive into the unequal way fans treat white queens and queens of color.

Fan favorite Katya has said, “There is a significant racial component to the ways Jasmine [Masters] and Acid [Betty] were both treated during the show, and more specifically, after the elimination.”

Tyra Sanchez, winner of Drag Race’s second season, also chimed in:“White queens are always the favorite. Black queens deserve hateful tweets.” Sanchez has also said that any time a black queen is “a major powerhouse, they tear her down.”

As usual, RuPaul included social media votes as a factor in determining this season’s winner. The official Drag Race Twitter accounts issued tweets that fans could use to indicate who they wanted to win. Trixie’s tweet garnered 18,000 likes, about 7,000 more than Shangela. Both Kennedy Davenport and Bebe Zahara Benet got less than 1,000 votes for the win.

If the showhas a race problem, wins that reflect the often deeply racist fandom will also come off askew. Queens like Trixie Mattel have huge built-in audiences that queens of color often don’t enjoy.

Look no further than a queen like Jasmine Masterswho is an alum of Drag Race’s seventh season, just like All Stars 3‘stop two, Kennedy Davenport and Trixie Mattel. Katya has been effusive about Jasmine Masters since their time on the show, and while Masters enjoys a level of popularity among Drag Race superfans for his viral videos, he never garnered the level of popularity that Katya or Trixie Mattel have received.

One can’t help think of Rowan Pope’s words on Scandal when pondering the struggle of Drag Race queens of color. On the third season premiere of Shonda Rhimes’ hit show, Olivia’s father infamously told her: “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have!”

For people of color, it’s business as usual to see white or white-presenting people succeed, even when people of color have passed the tests to success. It probably hurts even more given the central role of black and Latinx queer and trans people in crafting the art form that Drag Race celebrates.

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