Black Lives Mater


    Bob the Drag Queen in a yellow gown

    Bob the Drag Queen first rose to prominence as the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 and since that time, he has been using his huge platform to not only become a major name in standup comedy but also to become a powerful voice for LGBTQ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. His HBO series We’re Here features Bob alongside fellow Drag Race alums Shangela and Eureka traveling to small towns across America to help create support systems and communities for isolated queer folks by putting on drag shows. And during pride month, Bob organized a massive online event called the Black Queer Town Hall and made headlines by encouraging other members of the drag community to stand up as allies for the protest movement that emerged in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Bob’s HBO show and new comedy special Bob the Drag Queen: Live at Caroline’s, have been so uplifting to so many during quarantine and in this inspiring episode of BUST’s Poptarts Podcast, he talks about his rise to fame, fills us in on his activism, and advises us on how to relate to our Republican elders.

    Listen to Bob the Drag Queen's episode of BUST's Poptarts Podcast Here:

    More About BUST's Poptarts Podcast:

    BUST's Poptarts is a twice-monthly podcast hosted by magazine editors Emily Rems and Callie Watts that celebrates women in pop culture. The first half of each episode is devoted to a hot topic in entertainment, and in the second half, a segment called "Whatcha Watchin'?," Callie and Emily dig into all the shows, movies, books, music, videos, and podcasts they've enjoyed since the last episode, and either praise or pan each experience

    This podcast was produced for BUST by Logan del Fuego.

    Photo by Jacob Ritts

    Hey! Did you know that the Poptarts podcast has a swell new Patreon program with fab thank-you gifts for members? Well it does! Give it a look-see at !

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    When Jane Elliott walked into her classroom in 1968, she introduced an exercise about racism that is still repeated all over the world. We caught up with the ground-breaking educator to discuss teaching kids about race, how there’s no such thing as “white” people, and why Black women are her heroes

    In June, Black Lives Matter uprisings against racial violence and police brutality raged from New York to Minneapolis, following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Riah Milton, and more. In response, the Internet buzzed with viral anti-racist videos and bestselling-book lists about race. Rapper and activist Killer Mike followed suit by giving a homework assignment to white Americans while appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in the midst of global protests. “Google Jane Elliott and spend one hour” learning from her on YouTube, he advised.

    Killer Mike’s directive and the recirculation of Jane Elliott’s past conversations on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk series reignited interest in her notorious yet controversial “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” exercise. In the midst of this momentum, footage featuring Elliott—now a spirited 86-year-old Iowan schoolteacher-turned-diversity trainer and advocate—made the rounds on social media as headlines noted unprecedented white participation in Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

    On the upswing of protests worldwide, Elliott declares, “Young people are saying, ‘We cannot go along with this. We cannot call this a democracy and have 15 to 30 percent of our population being treated the way we treat people of color in this country.’”

    Elliott’s moment of inspiration came while watching TV on the evening of April 4, 1968. At that time a teacher in Riceville, IA, she had been ironing a teepee she planned to use in a classroom activity about empathy the next day. She rooted her lesson in the message from a prayer often attributed to the Sioux: “Oh great spirit, keep me from ever judging a man until I have walked in his moccasins.” While she prepared for the day ahead, the news tragically turned to the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rocking the nation and transforming Elliott’s classroom—and many others for years to come.

    When Elliott walked into her third-grade classroom in the aftermath of King’s death, her all-white students from a town of fewer than 1,000 people awaited her with questions about why someone would kill their “Hero of the Month.” In response, she devised a lesson to not just teach them about racism, but also what it feels like to be discriminated against. She has since repeated the exercise with thousands of people. Coverage by BBC, PBS, ABC, and other outlets has catapulted Elliott’s methods into classrooms and workplaces around the world from the United States to Saudi Arabia.

    While it has changed a bit over the years, the class basically runs the same way each time, as seen in a 1970 documentary. After discussing racism with her all-white students, she acknowledges that it would be difficult for them to know what it would feel like to be judged by the color of their skin. She then asks if they would like to find out. The students eagerly say “Yes!,” and Elliott’s experiment begins. “I’m the teacher, and I’m blue-eyed. In fact, the blue-eyed people are the better people in this room. They’re smarter than the brown-eyed people,” she proclaims, as a few students giggle. Without cracking a smile, she doubles down, letting the kids know she’s serious. Pointing out one student in the back of the classroom, she asks, “Is your dad brown-eyed?” When the boy answers in the affirmative, she continues. “One day you came to school and you told us that he kicked you. Do you think a blue-eyed father would kick his son?” Another student quickly raises his hand to respond. “My dad’s blue-eyed, he’s never kicked me!” he shouts. The game is on.

    Throughout the day, Elliott provides blue-eyed students special privileges, while sidelining brown-eyed students. “Blue-eyed people get five extra minutes of recess, while brown-eyed people have to stay in. Brown-eyed people do not get to use the drinking fountain; you have to use the paper cups. Brown-eyed people are not to play with blue-eyed people in the playground,” she commands, demanding that the brown-eyed kids put on ugly collars “so we can tell from a distance what color your eyes are.”

    Not surprisingly, and by design, the brown-eyed students grow frustrated and distressed after being singled out, repeatedly scolded for their mistakes, and segregated from their friends. At the same time, the so-called “superior” blue-eyed students begin mirroring the anti-brown-eyed narrative by mistreating, bossing around, and ignoring their “inferior” schoolmates.

    The next day, Elliott changes the rules. “Yesterday I told you that brown-eyed people weren’t as good as blue-eyed people,” she announces. “I lied to you yesterday. The truth is, brown-eyed people are better than blue-eyed people.” The lesson is now played in reverse, but the results are the similar: “superior students” behave more arrogantly and authoritatively towards their lower-status counterparts, while “inferior” students isolate themselves with increased reticence. Even students’ performance on educational tasks is impacted by their position in their classroom power structure, with kids performing worse when they are assigned to the “inferior” group, and performing better when “superior.”

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    Elliott teaching the “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” experiment to her students in 1970

    Oftentimes, when she runs this exercise with older students or adults, like on Oprah, someone from the “inferior” group will become so frustrated at how they are being treated, they’ll get up and leave. But Elliott has no patience for this type of “white fragility,” and uses it to illustrate her point. “When you get tired of being treated unfairly because of your eye color, you can just walk out that door!,” she’ll bark, heatedly. “But [people of color] can’t [do that], because there’s no place in this country where they aren’t going to be exposed to racism. They can’t even stay in their own homes and not be exposed to [it] if they turn on the television!”

    When I first call Jane Elliott to set up our interview, she gives me a friendly-but-firm note: “When you write this, make sure you don’t introduce me as an anti-racist educator, I prefer to be described as doing pro-human work.” She then clarifies her perspective in our follow-up conversation. “If we teach children to save their lives, then we had best teach children that we are all members of the same race,” she says. “Human beings come in different shades of brown, but we are all shades of brown. There are, however, no people who are white.”

    Reflecting on the upsurge of progressive kids’ literature and specifically best-selling books about race in recent months, Elliott suggests that “somebody use the Pantone color wheel in a children’s book,” to educate the next generation about racism and equality. “Put it in a book. And then say to the children, ‘Find the color of the back of your hand or your face on this color wheel. That’s the color of your skin. Your skin is that color because the first modern human beings that evolved on Earth were exposed to great amounts of sunlight, so their bodies produced a lot of melanin. Your great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother was one of those. But as those people moved farther from the equator, they were exposed to less sunlight, so their bodies produced less melanin. That’s [how] people came up with the name white.’” When asked about critics who today, many years after she taught kids about race in school, still disavow using children’s books to introduce youth to concepts like race and systemic power, she sharply retorts, “Do we teach three-year-olds to stay out of the road so they won’t be hit by a car?”

    “What’s happening now is the result of  Black mothers who refused to give up and refused to believe the 
nonsense that we’ve all been told all our lives.”

    Although Elliott is most well-known for her trailblazing solidarity work in racial justice spaces, she is also well-versed on the persistent forces barring equality for all people. While noting the Trump Administration’s threats to reproductive justice, Planned Parenthood, and immigrant rights, she rejects labeling herself as a humanist or feminist, saying, “I see myself as an individual. I won’t join a group. Because then I would have to take on the principles and the policies of that group. And invariably, there would be something where I would say, ‘There is no way I’m going to spout that nonsense.’ I won’t join groups that are calling themselves ‘allies’ of Black people. Because practically all of them have taken on words like ‘unconscious bias’ and ‘conscious bias.’ We would rather talk about [bias] in psychological terms, than say, ‘Here’s what you just said, and here’s what you just did. And here’s why I find it ugly, and I won’t tolerate it.’”

    Full of vigor and hope to continue her work, Elliott notes that once the threat of Coronavirus is behind us, she’s keen on reigniting in-person events, especially with her previous co-panelists Angela Davis and Willow Smith. Throughout our conversation, her insistence on centering the leadership and vision of Black women as a path to progress is clear. “I’m not taking credit, nor do I deserve credit, for anything positive that’s happening today,” she says. “The people [who deserve] credit are those Black women who refused to be kept down. My heroes are Black women. Make no mistake about this. They keep on keeping on. And they will overcome. No doubt about it. Because they have to. They have no choice. They have developed coping skills that I will never develop because I don’t have to. What’s happening now is the result of Black mothers who refused to give up and refused to believe the nonsense that we’ve all been told all our lives.”

    After inviting me to join her for a “cup of something hot” in Iowa to strategize about remaking the world for the present and future, Elliott chuckles. “Willow [Smith] said to me after I was done with the Red Table thing, ‘Can we go on the road together when this is over? I’d like to go on the road with you.’ I said, ‘When you’re ready to go, give me a call.’ And she laughed, and I laughed.” 

    By Jamia Wilson 
    Illustrated by Laura Freeman

    This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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    On Tuesday, San Francisco voted in favor of the Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, otherwise known as the CAREN Act. This legislation will give targets of racially biased 911 calls the right to sue the caller and is one of a few pioneering laws that have been passed in efforts to regulate the reporting of Black individuals for non-crimes including but not limited to barbequingbirdwatchingselling water, and more. 

    The CAREN Act is an obvious nod to the meme-ified “Karen,” a term popularized on Twitter to describe “a specific type of middle-aged white woman who exhibits behavior that stems from privilege, such as using the police to target people of color.” In recent months, we’ve seen many Karens: Amy Cooper“McMuffin Cop,” “Permit Patty,” and Lisa Alexander, among others.

    In an interview with the New York Times, Shamann Walton, the Democratic supervisor who proposed the CAREN Act, said, “We wanted to put something in place that’s going to stop these racist, prejudiced calls that weaponize police against Black people and people of color.”

    The legislation was drafted by Brittni Chicuata, the chief of staff at the city’s Human Rights Commission, after the Viktor Stevenson case came out, in which Stevenson was accused of breaking into a business while checking the security system of his own high-end lemonade stand. “When white people threaten to call the police on people of color, that is, to me, a very violent act,” said Chicuata to the New York Times.

    Under the CAREN Act, individuals who are subject to unwarranted 911 calls, and as a result, are harmed by the police, can sue the caller for at least $1,000. Hopefully, this will set a precedent for white people who continue to make racially charged reports to the police at the expense of Black lives.

    Top image courtesy of The Library of Congress via Flickr Commons

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    Just a few months ago, people of all ages and upbringings took to the streets to make a statement about systemic racism in the U.S. True racial reconciliation is yet to come. Still, the Movement for Black Lives did lead to some fundamental changes in businesses and media. This week, UPS announced that they would allow workers to have facial hair, natural, and protective Black hairstyles like afros and dreadlocks.

    In 2018, UPS settled a case for $4.9 million with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which states that the company neglected to hire Muslims, Sikhs, Rastafarians, and others whose religious practices conflicted with its appearance policy. The New York Times reported, "The commission said the company had for years segregated workers who wore beards or long hair in accordance with their religious beliefs into nonsupervisory, back-of-the-facility positions without customer contact."

    In a statement to the company, UPS stated, "These changes reflect our values and desire to have all UPS employees feel comfortable, genuine and authentic while providing service to our customers and interacting with the general public." The changes to company policy also include the lifting of gender-specific uniform regulations.

    This announcement comes after several other efforts to end discriminatory practices, including Walmart's statement earlier this year that they would no longer put "multicultural" hair and body care products in anti-theft locked cases in their stores and an ongoing push for large corporations to include at least 15 percent Black-owned products in their inventory.

    Dove's 2019 CROWN Research Study study has found that Black women are 80 percent more likely to change their natural hair to meet societal norms or expectations at work. This move by UPS is a much-needed step in the right direction, but like most movements for change, there is still a long way to go.

    Top Image: Flickr/ Mike Mozart

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