In the act, titled “Shirley Q Liquor,” a white man named Chuck Knipp dresses in drag and blackface. His standup comedy routine caricatures several minority groups, focusing on blacks, and black lesbians in particular.
Knipp was scheduled to perform at the Boston Machine on Oct. 18.
Opposition to Knipp’s act began in New York three weeks ago, according to Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Sue Hyde.
“A black gay man in the bar that night became upset about the content of the show and left minutes into it, and contacted some organizations in the New York area that are run by and for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] people of color,” Hyde said.
Advocacy groups organized a street demonstration the next day that shut down the bar for the evening.
Following the demonstration, Knipp posted dates for engagements in Boston, Toronto and Pittsburgh on his website, prompting activists in New York to contact similar groups in these areas.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was among the organizations that disseminated information about the act to student groups.
When the news reached the BSA, members contacted the rest of the Boston Black Students Network, a loose coalition of college and university organizations.
BSA President Charles M. Moore ’04 then prepared a formal letter of opposition and circulated it briefly before sending it last Tuesday to the owner of the Boston Machine, Henry Vara.
“We just wanted to get the letter out to the owner,” Moore said. “Had they not cancelled the act we probably would have pursued faculty and more broad-reaching support from the University and Boston.”
In his letter to Vara, Moore wrote that the concerned student groups considered the act “no different from historical forms of blackface, minstrel shows, and other acts featuring disparaging characterizations of black people.”
It went on to say that if the club were to allow Knipp to perform it would effectively be sanctioning racist sentiment.
Other groups including Gay and Lesbian Labor Activist Network, Boston NOW, and the City of Boston Mayoral Liaison to the LGBT Comunity, also let Vara know they opposed the act through phone calls and visits to the club. Cambridge City Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 was among the individuals to voice their opposition.
Boston Machine management told the complainants that the club had not realized the act was offensive and took action when that concern was brought to its attention.
“We had a lot of calls from student groups and other groups,” said Operations Manager of the Boston Machine Bob Pitko. “Shortly thereafter we started to rethink the whole show. We just felt there’s enough racism in Boston and we didn’t want to facilitate that kind of show.”