Coop les Récoltes, a “solidarity co-op” restaurant, bar, and performance space created by the Public Interest Research Group of the Université du Québec à Montréal recently denied a time slot to a white comedian because of his dreadlocks.
On January 11, the Snowflake Comedy Club (SCC) was to perform a set at Coop les Récoltes.
According to its official website, Snowflake Comedy Club offers “safe” laughs with “no transphobia, misogyny, racism, sexism, homophobia or … fatshaming.” The group is also committed to featuring more female performers than male performers.
When comedian Zach Poitras asked his friend Mathieu Sale (one of Snowflake Comedy Club’s organizers) if he could perform a piece regarding his own gender fluidity during the January 11 set, Sale spoke to the co-op, which came to the conclusion that Poitras wouldn’t be allowed to perform because of his hair.
On Sunday, the co-op posted a message on Facebook, which reads in part (translated from French and edited for clarity):
The co-op harvest is a safe space, free from oppression reports. We do not tolerate any discrimination or harassment within our spaces. In view of some recent events, the co-op would like to explain its positions [regarding why a white male with dreadlocks was denied a performance].
…cultural ownership is the fact that a person from a dominant culture is suitable for symbols, clothing, or hairstyles of people from historically dominated cultures. It is a privilege to be able to wear dreads as a white person, and that this is seen … as being edgy, while a black person will be denied access to job opportunities or spaces (accommodation, schools, evenings, sports competitions, etc). In fact, black people too often face the need to change their hair and deny their culture if they want to be employable and be able to survive.
The post goes on to say that after “decades of colonialism, slavery, and cultural genocide” in which people of color were not allowed to style their hair in certain ways and dress as they wanted, “it is a slap in the face” that “another group can take [those styles] without problems or consequences.”
They further claim that while “a person’s intention may not be racist … cultural ownership is a vehicle for racism,” and that anyone who displays such “cultural ownership” shouldn’t have the spotlight at the co-op.
Despite the seeming madness of denying a gender fluid comedian a venue to perform because of his hairstyle, Poitras actually defended the co-op in his own Facebook post, saying that he and the establishment are “allies in terms of inclusiveness,” and that it’s not up to “white [people] to decide” what is or is not an appropriation of culture.
Poitras did note, however, that charges of racism based solely on his hairstyle are “a little absurd.”