The Queer Eye lottery and reparations

President* Trump,

I seriously doubt it, but it’s possible you’re a closet Queer Eye fan. If you are, then you’ve probably seen Season 5, Episode 2 featuring Rahanna Gray, a dear 27-year old African American Philadelphian who owns a dog grooming business. Just so you know, I’m pretty much going to explain how the show went, so if you’re a fan and haven’t watched this episode, you should do so before you read (ha!) this letter.

Ok, so Rahanna’s parents nominated her for the show because they’ve watched her work incredibly hard to keep her business afloat despite set back after set back and she’s still struggling. When Rahanna started her business 3 & ½ years ago it centered on an old RV that had been refitted as a dog-grooming space so she could be mobile. However, the RV pretty quickly started having problems that stacked up to where Rahanna couldn’t afford to fix them. When we meet her, the RV’s been parked in front of her parents’ house for 2 years with an extension cord going from their house to the RV so that Rahanna can sort of do her thing. With the immobile, increasingly decrepit RV, Rahanna’s business is not thriving and she’s barely making it.

On top of this, she’s moved in fairly recently with her partner of 10 years to an apartment where they’re living out of plastic tubs and have only two camping chairs and an air mattress for furniture. It’s really dismal. Plus….. we learn that her partner cheated on her not too long ago so things are tense and tenuous between them; solid communication is not happening and they’re both pretty miserable.

There are some other important things about Rahanna, like the fact that she’s 6’3” and very self-conscious about her height and size, but the main reasons for bringing up this Queer Eye episode are as follows:

  1. With the exception of two passing references (one by Karamo about Black people drinking tea and one by Jonathan about her hair), there’s no mention that Rahanna is African American.
  2. However, Rahanna’s race is actually very important because of the role it must have played in her not having access to the capital that would’ve allowed her to really fix up the RV. Her parents were doing the best they could with the electricity help, but they didn’t have funds to help her out with such major expenses the way many white parents are able to do for their young adult kids as they’re starting out.
  3. When the Fab Five do their various things to help Rahanna we get to see a transformed Rahanna (clothes, hair, make-up, confidence), a transformed business (with a plan, cute new advertising and product), a transformed relationship (commitment to open, honest communication and fidelity), a transformed apartment (gorgeously painted, furnished, tricked out), and a brand new mobile dog-grooming van ready to go.
  4. At the point when it all came together, I shakily told Laura that I wished they could do this for everyone who needs it or that the US would hurry up and get it together with reparations. Obviously money doesn’t prevent things from breaking down or relationship struggles, but if Rahanna’s family had the wealth that the modal white family has she would’ve been able to nip the downward slide in the bud and fix the damn RV (or start out with a much better one) before it became an immobile albatross.
  5. Finally, when the TV audience is shown the interior of the new van there’s a voice-over that says something like “Sure, the van was extra, more than we usually do, but Rahanna is so worth it.”

Absolutely, Rahanna is so worth it. And so are the millions of other African American people who the US has systematically robbed of their fair share of the wealth and financial security pie. It shouldn’t take winning the Queer Eye lottery to be able to afford to deal with setbacks.

May we all be safe in the face of setbacks.
May we be willing to rethink and redo our systems so they’re antiracist.
May we celebrate strong, resilient women.
May we accept that the current system needs a radical overhaul.

Tracy Simpson

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