Orange, Texas to Debut Blackface Billboard
Radio station uses Shirley Q. Liquor as welcome mat
By Brandon Watson, 4:00PM, Fri. Dec. 6, 2013
When looking for famous faces to grace a billboard welcoming folks into town, AM radio station KLVI ran into a few problems. Everyone knows the town gave birth to coaching great Bum Phillips and "provocative" radio host Michael Berry. But it seemed best to show some diversity.
After all, African-Americans make up a third of Orange's population. Maybe the third face should reflect that fact. Surely, the billboard creative team would have to give it great thought.
Perhaps there was vigorous debate. Kevin Smith and Earl Thomas are both from Orange, but they play for teams in Democratic strongholds. You just can't have that on AM radio. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown is a blues legend, but legends don't play with the all-important 18-25 demographic. And sadly for Bubba Smith, the Police Academy movies were tiresome by the time of his Assignment Miami Beach. It seemed no one could capture the spirit of a station that airs both Hannity and Limbaugh.
But then a lightbulb went on. Eureka! They had the perfect black woman to represent the welcoming spirit of Orange. She may neither be a woman nor black, but let's not get lost in the details.
The billboard in question features Shirley Q. Liquor, the creation of white performer Charles Knipp. A frequent headliner at gay "Mardi Gras" Southern Decadence, Knipp plays Liquor in blackface as a welfare-collecting mother of multiple children. The act trades heavily on stereotype. Liquor frequently speaks in malapropisms about her love of menthol cigarettes and malt liquor. Her children have names like "Orangejello," "Chlamydia," "Shithead," and "Gingivitis." It's the kind of caricature that would have been stale on the Amos 'n' Andy show.
In recent years, Liquor's shows have been met with rightful derision. Most recently, a booking at Portland bar The Eagle was cancelled after widespread protest. Granted, gay bar controversies hardly register as a blip at a Texas conservative radio station, but even the furthest outposts should not be able to claim ignorance of blackface's harmful history. Even if that outpost is owned by Clear Channel.
Despite some community grumbling, it appears the billboard is still scheduled to debut next week, When asked by Beaumont's KBMT ABC affiliate why another personality was not chosen for the billboard, a spokesperson said the billboard was intended to prioritize Clear Channel personalities. Seems the heart in "I Heart Radio" only extends so far.
Welcome to KLVI's Orange. Come for the hometown charm, stay for the minstrel show.