Ending unspoken racial quotas; enforcing equal and fair auditions; better protections across all workplaces; and providing access to the best-paying shifts are just these are some of the things that the Portland-based “stripper strike” is demanding.
While Black and Latinx dancers have been calling attention to racial discrimination and unfair and unsafe labor practices in the nation’s strip clubs for years, the Black Lives Matter movement—which has recently brought unprecedented attention to systemic inequality in the nation’s workplaces—has created new energy around this push for equal rights.
As Rolling Stone reports, the strike is more of a campaign—a series of protests organized by Haymarket Pole Collective, since strippers are hired as independent contractors and can’t afford to give up what is, for many, their sole source of income. In Portland, the movement was started by Black dancers who wanted to push back against performative allyship from local strip clubs, who would post online about supporting Black Lives Matter, but not actually hire Black strippers.
From Rolling Stone:
Though many dancers have refused to work for clubs that do not agree to the collective’s demands, the strippers’ strike isn’t exactly a strike in the traditional sense. … It’s more of a grassroots effort targeting an often overlooked industry to revise its business practices, many of which, black dancers say, are outdated and racist.
Some of these practices are subtle, ranging from clubs telling performers to straighten their natural hair to banning hip-hop music during their sets. Others are more egregious. Many clubs have informal quotas for how many black dancers are permitted to work per shift, say Hollis and Cistrunk, making it difficult for black dancers to get work, particularly in the prime money-making shifts in the evenings and on weekends. “On the phone when you’re setting up an audition, you can use your little white phone voice and they’re super down,” says Hollis. “And then you get there and they’re like, the manager’s not here, we’re not contracting, x-y-z.”
There have been various iterations of stripper strikes around the country, including in New York City, where, in 2017, Black and Latinx dancers called out many of the same issues: racial discrimination in the form of unspoken race quotas, colorism at “upscale” clubs, and “urban” clubs that pay lower rates and do not do enough to protect their dancers.
While the 2017 and 2018 #NYCStripperStrike always foregrounded racism and unfair labor practices, that protest was tied more directly to the #MeTooMovement. What’s different about 2020 is that now, these ongoing battles are being harnessed to the Black Lives Matter movement. While the battle against police brutality and state-enabled violence is the fulcrum of many of the nationwide BLM protests, organizers across the country have also emphasized that the movement must create space to better the lives of the most marginalized Black folks—the black trans community, for instance, and Black women and femmes whose relationship to state violence is ignored or viewed as secondary.
This push—to make Black labor, Black liberation, Black femmes, Black workers’ rights matter—requires far more than the superficial support of window signs, frilly statements, or black Instagram squares, says dancer Brianna Cistrunk, who helped organize the Portland protests.
“Now there’s this incredible social pressure [on club owners] to play the part, where they would have ignored us before,” she told Rolling Stone. “But that’s not what I’m asking for. I’m asking for them to give us our basic human rights.”