In her early public performances, O’Grady appeared as Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (Miss Black Middleclass), most famously at a predominantly Black gallery called Just Above Midtown (JAM) in 1980 and at the New Museum, a largely White institution, in 1981. Designed to directly confront the racial segregation of the art world, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire was a debutante turned racial-justice revolutionary and equal-opportunity critic, ready to take both the White and Black art worlds to task for their shortcomings. Her JAM appearance, at the opening of the exhibition Outlaw Aesthetics, challenged her Black artist peers to take more risks by demanding their place in the mainstream art world. At the opening of the New Museum’s show Persona—featuring an all-White roster of performance artists who, like O’Grady, created characters in their art—she called out the smugness of the White and privileged gatekeepers of artistic culture. At the same time, wearing a gown composed of the white gloves of the polite Black society of her youth and carrying a cat-o’-nine-tails (the “Whip-That-Made-Plantations-Move”), Mlle Bourgeoise Noire comments on both the internalized rules of “respectability” and the externally imposed acts of violence that have kept Black people from achieving freedom.