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Drag Race's Mariah: White Queens & Producers Must Fight Racism Harder

Drag Race's Mariah: White Queens & Producers Must Fight Racism Harder

Mariah Paris Balenciaga

Do more to address toxic fan culture, said the RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars contestant.

Mariah Paris Balenciaga returned to the world of Drag Race with a powerful statement against racism -- using poetry, paint, and her own clothes to depict America's painful history of discrimination.

That was just the first episode. After several weeks of fabulosity and ferocity, the season 3 alum left RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars Friday with her head held high. In an exit interview with The Advocate, the contestant discusses her feelings about the elimination as well as the racism that plagues the country and the Drag Race fan base alike.

The Advocate: How are you feeling?
Mariah: Not surprising to me, but it's surprising to a lot of people, I actually feel really good. I'm in a great space. [Filming] was a year ago, but I really didn't need that long to process and feel great about the results and what I delivered while I was there on Drag Race.

And you're an All Star!
Finally!

It was weird because the lip-synch was Lizzo -- and of course, you appeared with Lizzo in the Drag Race version of "Juice." I was thinking, Oh, no! I wonder how she feels about that!
I was over there cringing for that to be the song. For that to be the performance that was determining whether I might stay or might go, and it was going down like that? I was just like, just tap me in! Let me lip-synch for my own legacy! Let me lip-synch for my own life! I wanted to redeem myself from season 3 of getting sent home on my lip-synch. I wanted to go and show how I could nail a fucking song. And, oh, my God, this cannot be happening.

I'm sorry you didn't get that chance. But Monet was great!
[Laughs] Yes.

I thought it was very sweet that Michelle came in to check in on you after the elimination. What's your relationship like with her?
I love Michelle. I have nothing but love for her. She's very interactive, very hands-on with the girls. We've all worked together multiple times. I truly enjoy her as a friend and just as a person. I think she's amazing. And for her to come back and see me off was touching. It was touching. I enjoyed that moment.

You got a video message from Bianca Del Rio as well. What was your reaction to that? Have you had a chance to speak with her and spill the tea?
It was very sweet to see that, because she's known as being an insult comic extraordinaire and always had a quick comeback for everything. But she's a friend of mine, and to have her leave with me that type of message was amazing. We definitely have some catching up to do with how everything went down. We haven't had that talk yet. I think she'll definitely have some pointers and some critiques for me.

You come from the ballroom world. We're in this moment right now where ballroom is really going mainstream with shows like HBO Max's Legendary. What are your thoughts on that?
I think it's great that there's a spotlight, again, being shown on the ballroom scene to let the world know how creative the children of the ballroom scene are, whether it be out of necessity and survival, or just out of their natural creativity. That part is wonderful -- for the world to see and for the American nation to see. But the part that we have to be careful with is with mainstreaming. The control and the narrative is taken out of the hands of the ballroom people, the actual people who live it and create it and keep it going, keep it thriving. I just want to make sure that with this mainstreaming and this exposure, the right people are benefiting and profiting from it.

The New York Times wrote a piece last week on how voguing has always been a form of protest. Do you also feel that way?
Our existence is a form of protest. Outwardly displaying anything feminine, creative is a form of protest. Being who you are when it's not agreeable by the mainstream is a protest. And absolutely, voguing is one of those art forms that is completely in your face and defiant.

On the All Stars talent show, you gave this performance that was an artistic statement against racism -- spoken-word poetry and red paint on a canvas as well as a white dress to depict the "stains on the wall." What inspired it?
America is just the white canvas, or the blank wall, so to speak. ... The luxuries that this country has is because [of] ... the blood, sweat, and tears of disenfranchised and people of color: Latino, Black, and indigenous people. And they're not the ones benefiting from it. I wrote the poem six years ago, and I was just thinking about the fact that the painting that is so shiny, that is America, used oils and mediums that are really ugly. And that is the pain. That's the stain on the wall.

It was very powerful and also powerful to see how guest judge Ricky Martin was so impacted by it too.
It was amazing because coming from him -- he's such an icon for many reasons. But his activism and his work on speaking out about injustices to different communities is powerful in itself. And the fact that he uses his platform, which is way larger than mine, to say the same thing. It was awesome to have him as a judge for that talent show and for that moment.

For you, do you consider drag and activism as one and the same?
You know, I really don't think of it as activism. I think that it's just saying what needs to be said. ... People need to hear it. And it doesn't need to be glossed over.

What are your thoughts as the Black Lives Matter protests have swept the world?
It's about time. I think a lot of times, the system [that] is put in place will pacify a certain group at a certain time, because they don't want people to be tired of the foolishness all at once, because then we would really see some change. Unfortunately for people to stand up and say stuff, they have to be uncomfortable or they have to be involved, or they have to be immediately affected. It's time for everybody to be sick and tired of the system as it is. And I'm so proud that we finally are saying something. But it's long overdue.

We sometimes see this toxic, racist culture bubbling up among Drag Race fans. Have you ever experienced any kind of trolling?
I haven't experienced that from the fandom. But I've seen it. One example was shortly after our season during season 3, tagged me as Alexis [Mateo]. One of the fans came to my Facebook page thinking I was Alexis based off the picture, and just went on this racist tirade ... just every slur you could imagine for a Latin person. ...

I was like, wow, if that was just one of the emails or the comments these girls are getting, it's just disgusting. But just because I don't get it doesn't mean I'm not going to speak out about it.

Do you think there needs to be a reckoning in the Drag Race community about this kind of abuse?
Yes, absolutely. And you know, Vixen was vilified for that. Vixen spoke out years ago about the treatment of girls by the toxic fans. It's obvious, from the social media numbers to the types of bookings and the endorsements that the girls get. It's right there, plain as day, and nobody addresses it. And when she did, [it] was like, "Oh, calm down. Why is she so angry?" Just her expressing her outrage at the obvious racism made her angry and further illustrated what the problem was. Because when a white queen stands up for herself, she's being fierce. ... But when a person of color speaks out about something relevant, they say, "Calm down. Now's not the moment of being angry." Completely different reactions from the toxic fan base.

What do you think needs to change? Do we need to see more of the white queens and producers speaking out?
Absolutely. I think everybody who's in a place of privilege ... should absolutely speak up. Hold each other accountable. White queens, hold white fans accountable for what they say. Don't just act like you didn't see it -- because you see everything else on your social media, somehow you're not seeing the racism that's happening, or you're blissfully unaware? No, hold your white counterparts accountable. World of Wonder finally made a public statement about the toxic fandom and the racism and the death threats the girls are getting, but that is long overdue. That should have come out years ago. They should have taken a stance years ago about that particular issue. And that would have nipped it in the bud a lot sooner.

Well, thank you for being you, being on the show, being an All Star. What's next for you and your career?
First I want to get back on the road. I want to start traveling internationally again and get my coins! But other than that, I can't speak on it now, but I'm working on a little venture in a partnership. So you guys keep an eye out for that. It should be coming soon.

RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars airs Fridays at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on VH1. See the statement against racism from World of Wonder and Drag Race queens below.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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