Josh Schonewolf Presents “Once You Go Black,” Local Bloggers Call It Racist

once you go blackJosh Schonewolf presents … racism?!

That’s what a pair of local bloggers are claiming after marketing materials for his upcoming event “Once You Go Black” recall images from the American minstrel show era, and include a few questionable choice of words. (We obtained the original promotional poster—since removed due to the public’s reaction—pictured left.)

Besides the obvious artistic styling of the poster, what seems to have caught the attention of critics are the phrases “Feat. some of Philly’s most innovative sparkly black performers,” and “You know, the girl you see on the street corner talking about, ‘Yo man, I saw one them thangs walking down the street.'” The title of the event alone, “Once You Go Black,” is a direct reference to the hyper-sexualization of men and women of color.




The writers over at 2 Queer Brown Jawns wasted no time vocalizing their outrage over the event. In a post titled "Culture is NOT Couture," the ladies took on Schonewolf's event, first asking, "WTF. Is.This. SH*T?," and later expanding on their critique:

This summer when you are looking for a good time to celebrate being brown and qweer, don't flock to L'Etage so you can watch modern-day white voyeurism toward communities of color through "sparkly" blackness performances. ... Josh Schonewolf has clearly spent far too many evenings watching Paula Deen recall fondly the benefits of the Antebellum South, then (after following a few of her cobbler recipes to success) decided to mix together this batch of disastrous identity dessert. (We call it Poor Choice Privilege Pie ... a little too sweet, not enough substance for us.)

That didn't rest too well with Schonewolf, who sent a private message to the bloggers that was published on a follow-up post from 2 Queer Brown Jawns. He wrote:

So is it safe to say that you won't be coming to Once You Go Black?  Haha. I just wanted to reach out. I'm not a bad person. I'm actually the opposite. I champion people of all backgrounds, and being an event producer for two years … (never saw you at anything of mine) I'm always finding new and innovative ways to rase our community up. I don't view people as color. I view them as people. […] I grew up in the hood, and when I was a kid I didn't know any white people, aside from my family. So I've done my homework. So please don't try and paint me as anything but an ally.

That didn't help. The ladies at 2 Queer Brown Jawns rebutted, claiming Schonewolf's "I'm not a bad person" line is the type of response an "8-year-old" would make. They called his response "pearl-clasping, gasping, open-mouth, offended squealing," and panned his claim that he doesn't "see color":

Not "seeing" color feels affirming to say, but is not affirming to hear. We want you to see color. We want you to see when we get ignored by a hostess at an expensive restaurant, or get followed in an upscale store. We aren't paranoid; we see color and the effect of color. But not seeing it means we are making shit up, and that's denying our experience. Plus, it is in itself a privilege to not see color."

I reached out to Schonewolf for a response to the commentaries posted by 2 Queer Brown Jawns:

"When we put out that initial poster for 'Once You Go Black' my co-producers, Gemini Rose and Icon Ebony Fierce, and I didn't recognize that the imagery would reflect back on an unfortunate time in African American history. While we are mindful of the painful history of racism, we never imagined this poster would evoke a connection to that legacy.  I issued a public apology immediately and had the flyer redesigned, although the original image was featured on the blog of 2qbjawns.com. I would like to apologize again, as that image is not reflective of the heart of this event. I am however glad that the 'Once You Go Black' event has been able to generate such passionate conversation, around race, culture, gender, and above all an honest-look at African American history. The articles on 2qbjawns.com are really quite amazing and filled with a history lesson that many of us need to hear. Myself, Gemini, and Icon are so excited to present this event on August 2nd at L'Etage, and all of the phenomenal artists that are associated with it. As the cast performs pieces chosen to express themselves, it is my hope that we see you all in the audience, including my new friends at 2qbjawns. For the evening is bound to be a celebration, and far from anything controversial."

Although I'm not sure the ladies at 2 Queer Brown Jawns would go so far as to call Schonewolf a "friend" (even though they did sarcastically invite him over for tea in one post), this entire conversation opens up quite a dialogue about the fine lines between what's appropriate and what can deeply offend. Ironically, we can take a page from an article posted yesterday in Time Magazine titled "Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture" by Sierra Mannie: "So, you aren’t a strong black woman, or a ghetto girl, or any of that other foolery that some of you with trash Vine accounts try to be. It’s okay. You don’t have to be. No one asked you to be. You weren’t ever meant to be. What you can be, however, is part of the solution. Check your privilege. Try to strengthen the people around you."

UPDATE [7/14/2014, 2:39 p.m.]: Josh Schonewolf cancels "Once You Go Black," opens up about his mistakes. More here.

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  • Brian Martenis

    Racist in the sense that the performers are “sparkly black” and in my opinion means very talented/awesome. I honestly don’t think it was intended in a negative racist way.

    • Andrew

      COMPLETEY AGREE

  • Drew

    Since my last comment was deleted it seems, I’ll say it again: Why are we making this such a big issue? Josh didnt choose the name. Josh apologized immediately when people took offense. Josh reached out personally to those offended parties. What more do we want from him? Blood?

  • Warren

    I feel like I’m missing something here. Where is the “racism” of minstrelsy in this ad? God knows there are some HORRIBLE minstrel images out there (e.g. blackface) but this is a picture of an old victrola. How is that racist? I wonder, and this is actually a different issue, but one no less fraught, is the real issue that this is an event celebrating black culture and artists but being presented by a white producer/promoter? I’m not going to enter into the fray of cultural appropriation here, but that to me is different from blatant racism and minstrelsy.

  • Marcello Brening Barrera

    People in this city (and most in this country) should get a life….

    • ShutUPStupid.

      And the first person that should start the get a life movement should be you…. If you are going to be dismissive and not contribute in any way other than to deny someone else’s experience, then pack your stuff up and go find that life you’re asking everyone else to get. You are the lifeless, because you chose a life of perpetual blasé response and opinion.

  • Mother

    If Mother may have a word, I first wanted to applaud Josh for doing the basic thing of providing a space for people of color to perform. Believing in the core of what has been done; I find it important to recognize him for that. Its important for stakeholders, Brown or Pink Toned, to provide spaces and time. We deserve that.

    What people are finding upsetting and has further analyzed into a conflict of racial & social equity is NOT Josh as a white man, gay man, or a person of privilege. YET, how the framed imagery of the “Once You Go Black” triggered for responses such as insensitivity and censorship of racial disparity that furthers obscured embedded disadvantages associated with people of color in the community.

    In his defense, Josh did not come up with the theme of this event yet only plays a role as promoter the title was to explain the talent that you more than likely would love to come and see again. It one of those thing about his event and personalities.. You want more. YET let’s stop using that as a point to justify the stereotypes displayed in the marketing that plays at default ,cultural representation that inform discourse and widespread attitudes of people of color as a Mockery of a Race.

    Given that the framing was produced by people of color..it leads to the question :what is the perception of the stereotypes as it related to you personal attitudes? If it is celebratory is our respect, then why turn it into a gimmick to promote an event? To pay homage?? I felt that the framing of the event mocked the historical disadvantages people of color had in the time of racial disparities. Speakeasies were actual places of structural racism that was embedded to the point we were tolerated and never equal in a space that we considered to be our own.

    Sadly this social and racial hierarchy manifest today and by accident, is outlined in the marketing in this event. I support the dialogue but this has turned into gossip when we should be exploring intersectionality between races, and what’s appropriate for sustainable development in Philly’s LBGTQ community….

  • Eric

    Josh brings the community together. He’s a great guy and I said this as a QPOC

    • nope

      What does you being QPOC matter? Doesn’t mean you are more valid or informed. It just means you falsely affirm foolish decisions made out of privileged minds.

  • Matt

    STOP PILING ONTO JOSH AND USING HIM AS A SCAPEGOAT TO GET YOUR JAWN BLOG SOME HITS!

  • Charliefoxtrot

    By this standard, Lenny Bruce’s critics were right to haul him off to jail.

    So sick of everyone getting fauxraged over every little damn thing.

    It’s as if these killjoys sit stone faced I n the front row of a Chris Rock show, running every riff he does through racial and sexual prisms. Laugh a little, people. Every race and culture has funny attributes.

    • ChuckFoolTrot

      You know what’s the least funny attribute of white people? THEIR ABILITY TO DENY EVERYONE ELSE’S EXPERIENCE BECAUSE IT MAKES THEM UNCOMFORTABLE. Why don’t you STOP laughing for a little?

      • Charliefoxtrot

        WELL, SINCE YOURE ROLLING ALL CAPS LOCK ON ME, ILL JUST DEFER TO YOUR OBVIOUS DEEP WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING OF RACE RELATIONS AND THE STATE OF AMERICAN COMEDY.

  • Charlie Gill

    I am honestly most alarmed by the fact that the voices I have seen most overlooked in this dialogue are those of the creators of the event, Icon-Ebony Fierce and Gemini Rose, two incredibly talented, driven and boundary-crossing black performers in this city who conceptualized and put this together with Josh’s promotional heft used as support. Josh has been called upon to apologize for the unfortunately evocative imagery used in the initial flier, but BOTH Gemini and Icon have expressed their support for and ownership of the event, and until THEIR voices as black performers and creators are the ones we are heeding as we try to engage in dialogues about the complicated issues of representation vs exploitation that the event has stirred up, then what are the critics doing but silencing black and queer voices even as they profess to represent them?

  • Hrh Mortimer

    Seems to me that if you go looking for monsters, you’re sure to find them. And these overwrought bloggers seem to want to find monsters wherever and whenever they can. Based on the language used in their initial complaints, they both race-bait and chastise with the same hand. You can’t condemn a practice by using the same tactics, that’s disingenuous and sloppy, no matter how clever they couch it with the unfortunately spelled ‘qween’ and the (too) precious phrasings like ‘Poor Choice Privilege Pie’.
    They seem to be honing in on Mr. Schonewolf exclusively, who’s efforts on behalf of the drag/entertainment community have been exemplary and legion in his few short years as a promoter. Looks to me as if these bloggers are far too interested in dividing the community instead of bringing it together as Mr. Shonewolf has been successfully attempting to do.
    Unlike the eye-catching advertisement, that’s the real problem here.

  • Sashay

    I think the girl who wrote that TIME article just needs to get some. She’s obviously racist and homophobic.

    • SashayAWAY

      Anyone who uses the title “Sashay” to respond to anything that requires a modicum of thought should immediately be disqualified as having any relevance whatsoever.

    • JF

      I’m surprised TIME printed that article. She said white people steal black people’s clothing and hairstyles. Last time I checked, Beyonce wasn’t wearing House of Dereon anymore, more like Tom Ford, Dolce and Gabbana, Valentino, Marc Jacobs (ya know, GAY designers). And doesn’t the hair come from Korea? The things she was complaining about white gays doing, 1) I don’t think most white gays do and 2) I don’t think most black people do.

  • Joan

    I think the black people and racist white people should stop fighting (black people – stop making the white people apologize for slavery and I have been ignored by a hostess so don’t always think it is a black thing and white people who are racist – stop being so ignorant). I am white and when I go into a black neighborhood you better believe that racism occurs towards me. I get called all kinds of names – so it goes both ways!!!!!

    • whatBISH

      I’m pretty sure this is the stupidest series of things ever said. #TryReadingSOMETHING. Racism is based in SYSTEMIC oppression. Maybe you experience prejudice, but I can assure you at the end of the day you those people of color (because there are more than just black and white people who participate in racial tensions) have little to no power in most arenas that affect your life. As soon as you get off that block you return to a dominant place in society at large.

      I do hope you don’t make it off that block however.

  • TS Hawkins

    I pondered deeply on how to respond to this post. An array of bubbles floated and burst above my head, none of which was satisfying. So in lue of of coloring my words (pun intended), I’ll just rail forward an allow the chips to fall where they may.

    As technology beings, we rely heavily on sound-bytes; things that will titillate instead of stimulate. That being said, I read and re-read both articles (along with the comments below) and assessed that the point of 2QBJ was missed. There was no attack on the event coordinator nor his selection of talented talent. The point raised was that as a nation we all are ignorant to an array of subject matters. We are humans, it’s fine…inform yourself and move forward instead of being wrapped in ones feelings and claim being “attacked”. Posters, flyers, tweets and/or ads do not give the general public a backstory of who you are personally. Josh being an event planner/promoter should know that he only has a 140-character moment to put a best foot forward. Honestly, he did not succeed but hopefully his event will prove otherwise. Based on Josh’s response, he was deep in emotions. 2QBJ was seeking to enlighten him on a subject matter that he admitted not knowing fully when questioned by GPhilly. Whether he meant to or not, his responses where dripping with privilege and an empathy that can be absorbed as a backhanded compliment. Yes, the community he is attempting to serve with this event should not go without gratitude but I believe what’s in question is the method and lack of actual effort afforded to the marketing and preparation. Just by placing colloquial phrases used by said community, hot button power titles like “speak easy”, and hiring brown talent doesn’t mean you are serving that community with reverence. If the latter was completely true, Hallie Berry would still credit “B.A.P.s” on her resume…but, I digress. Reversely, as a community of color, you do not have to accept every opportunity by others thrown your way especially if you haven’t done the research on the sound-bytes being used to generate an audience.

    This ideology of a “post-racial” society has individuals believing that anything off the cuff can be uttered and categorized as “tongue & cheek”. NOT TRUE. Josh should have just LISTENED to what the 2QBJ were trying to articulate instead of pleading about being “under siege”. He should accept accountability for choosing to be ill-informed based off of his own perceived notations. When creating an event outside of ones culture, there is always a line in the alchemy that is leery; it’s the ones that tow the line with class, that garner respect.

    • philman

      I think you’re mistaken in your assumption that Josh “hired brown talent” for the event. From everything I’ve heard, two African-American performers originated the event (including the speakeasy theme) and came to Josh to ask him to help promote it because they knew and trusted him. They’re not his employees, and he didn’t think of this event. Why don’t you give THEM the credit for being performers of color who have the talent and originality to conceive an event rather than just being “hired hands”?

      • TS Hawkins

        If they also neglected to do the research on the topic at hand in which they are trying to jazz up with “glitter”, then they are acting as the “hired hands” you prefaced above. The knowledge presented by the 2QBJ was for all e.g general readers, future audience members, promoters, vendors, talent, etc. Josh is receiving blacklash mainly due to his victim ladled initial response following his under-siege pillory when questioned by GPhilly. As someone who is not familiar with their [the talent] work, I will not ascribe to just lending out credits as that is akin to voting for President Obama because our hues happen to favor. The latter is not how I operate and this event doesn’t seem to be the place to catapult that particular mindset. Adding glitter to a concept [speakeasy] that existed way before their birthright doesn’t make it “original”, it just makes it shiny. Thus, if event is shining for no other reason than to be a hot button sound-byte, then all involved are responsible for shaming a legacy.

  • queertruth

    I’ve been to Josh’s events before, and there are always people of all backgrounds repped…..and he’s actually extremely nice and warm to talk to. I’m a trans guy, and I honestly feel like Josh and Tabu have built safe spaces for me (trans poc) and so what that he’s white? Josh is a really cool guy, who builds the bridges for the community to raise up together. I never went to Tabu before Josh started having events there, and now it’s simply my Home Base for queerness.