Those who have loved and dated across the color line have to negotiate the realities of race in our society, and by extension, its impact on their relationships. For many, this is done through explicit conversations. For others, these dialogues come implicitly, through gestures, and taken for granted shared assumptions.
But how many folks actually talk about how race impacts their own sexuality, attraction, physicality, or notions of the erotic?
We live in a society that is structured around many different hierarchies of power, authority, and difference. As Foucault brilliantly observed, Power is not sitting out there in the ether, an abstraction that we just talk about in philosophy classes. Power acts through and upon bodies. Certain people are racialized in American society for example. Their bodies are locations of power--and yes resistance. Likewise, certain types of bodies are marked as "normal," while others are deemed "different" or "abnormal."
The "popular" imagination holds many assumptions about particular types of bodies. The black male body is something to be policed, controlled, and feared. It is both envied and despised. The Asian female body is "erotic" and "submissive." The black female body alternates between being fecund, always available, and out of control, while simultaneously being marked as "masculine," asexual, and unattractive. Latinas are "hot" and "sexy." White bodies of a certain type are taken as the baseline for what is considered "beautiful" or "normal."
Ironically, the bodies of black and brown people which are considered beautiful or attractive by the white gaze are judged as such either by how "different" they are from white norms (the exotic or savage) or how close these racialized bodies--almost like impostors or stand-ins--are to the normalized white body.
The very language we use to discuss race, the physical, and the sexual, is a quotidian example of Power in action. But, how are matters complicated when a significant part of a given person's sexuality, and sense of the erotic, is centered on playing with the dynamics of dominance and submission?
Consider the following passage from the Colorlines article "Playing with Race":
Contrary to popular notions, BDSM is not about abuse. It’s consensual and trusting and people refer to it as “play” (as in “I want to play with you”). The point of BDSM is not sexual intercourse. In fact, when Williams recalls her first experience as a masochist seven years ago, she says she met her partner, a white man, at a bar and “fell in love at first sight.” They made their way back to his hotel. “For the first time I felt someone could see who I really was.” And that was someone who found it erotic to be a submissive to her partner.
In recent years, Williams has added another element to her repertoire as a masochist. She’s begun to engage in what is called “race play” or “racial play”—that is getting aroused by intentionally using racial epithets like the word “nigger” or racist scenarios like a slave auction.
Race play is being enjoyed in the privacy of bedrooms and publicly at BDSM parties, and it’s far from just black and white. It also includes “playing out” Nazi interrogations of Jews or Latino-on-black racism, and the players can be of any racial background and paired up in a number of ways (including a black man calling his black girlfriend a “nigger bitch”).
White master seeking black slave, however, seems the more popular of the combinations.
I could not engage is such types of role-playing. My personal politics would not allow it; my libido would not respond.
That is my choice. I do not deny others their pleasure.
However, as someone interested in the relationship between race, politics, and racial ideologies, I am fascinated by how individuals negotiate white supremacy and Power.
Are people like Williams or Mollena more "evolved" and "progressive" than those of us who cannot decouple the realities and burdens of race from their bodies and psyches in the present? Alternatively, could this deep sense of both owning and living in a racialized body, be turned into a location for pleasure and catharsis:
Vi Johnson, the black matriarch of BDSM, has presented on race play at kinky conferences and she believes the appeal is different for each person. “When you’re being sexually stimulated, you’re not thinking that what’s stimulating you is a racist image, ” she says. “You’re just getting turned on.”
So, for some, she says, race play is about playing with authority and for others, it might be humiliation.
Well-known sexuality and SM educator Midori, who is Japanese and German, often presents her theory that humiliation in BDSM is linked to self-esteem. Take the woman who likes it when her boyfriend calls her a “slut,” Midori says. Perhaps the woman internalized the idea that “good girls don’t,” but she enjoys her sexuality. Because the boyfriend sees her in all her complexity, Midori says, when he calls her a slut, “he is freeing her of the social expectations of having to be modest.”
That’s different than having some stranger (and jerk) calling you a slut. The stranger doesn’t see the full woman. It’s similar with race play, Midori says. By focusing, for example, on a black man’s body, while he’s bound as a slave, she’s bolstering his own perception of himself as strong and powerful...
Her workshop demonstrations have included full auction scenes mimicking those of the Old South. In them, she is the plantation mistress inspecting a black man for “purchase.” He’s in shackles and “I slap him on his face and push him down on the ground, make him lick my shoes,” she says, emphasizing that she only does the demonstration after the “psychological” talk.
In the interest of transparency, I am a sex positive person (at least according to the survey on yourmorals.org
). In many ways, I am also a bit of a libertine and a hedonist who is comfortable in both exclusive and open relationships. I also have certain predilections and tastes that more "vanilla" folks could find "kinky" or "different." Ultimately, I am just myself, and do not know how to pretend to be anyone else.
I am also full of contradictions and complications as sexuality and the erotic are not neatly bounded constructs (for example, I do not like watching interracial porn where white men have aggressive sex with black women as chattel slavery looms too large in my mind; however, I have no problems watching black men have aggressive sex with white women). I have also dated many women from a range of racial backgrounds: I love women; I love variety.
I share those details not to titillate; rather, because while I am rendering a judgement of sorts, I would not want to sound "judgmental." The difference is a subtle, but nonetheless, an important one.
One of the questions I will be asking Viola Johnson from the Carter Johnson Leather Library when I interview her in the next few weeks (fingers crossed) is how do we separate more "healthy" types of race play from those encounters that are rooted in disdain for the Other and white supremacy. Are these just inter-personal contracts or do these types of sexual relationships gain power (and are made erotic) precisely because of how they signal to larger societal taboos?
If the website Fetlife is any indication, there is apparently a not insubstantial number of people who engage in sexual roleplaying and BDSM using the motif of chattel slavery in the antebellum South. A cursory review of the member profiles suggests that many of these people are white supremacists. This is apparently not a deterrent to the black men and women who want to "serve" these white masters.
Here a white "slave owning" master offers some insight on race play and "plantation retreats":
My major kink-interest is in chattel slave-ownership in today's world but following the historical models of 8,000 years of historical slave-ownership tradition (from Greek-Roman through modern day)...along with everything that might relate to it (which sometimes can go pretty far into the realm of BDSM activities, depending on the partner). I'm very knowlegable in the field of historical slavery.
Some of my other non-kink interests include history and philosophy, classic cars, music, science, singing and writing lyrics, architecture, comparative culture, language, reading and counseling..
I get a lot of questions about "Plantation Retreat"...so here are some basic facts:
My goal in creating and hosting Plantation Retreat is to provide a safe and welcoming, private place (and opportunity) for White Masters and plantation slaves/niggers to meet and explore their mutual fantasies. I get a lot of questions and answer many individual questions. To simplify things...here is some general basic information:
The gathering lasts for up to 2 weeks this year, with the main gathering around the 4th of July...folks can stay as long or as short a time as they want (some stay even longer). Masters can stay at the compound here or in a hotel if they want to (as can any personal slaves that they bring with them or any other slave that is ordered to do so).
Slaves arriving on their own stay here and are considered (and protected) as property of the plantation or my personal property.
Slaves sign up for a specific length of service. Slaves can specify what their limits are or that they will serve in any way the Master/guests desire. Sex is not required, but depends on individual choice (as do other activities). Most Masters desire to use slaves sexually in addition to normal domestic services. Some slaves are used only for hard labor. A slave's assignments and duties are based on its experience and ability-level (some require whipping or punishment). Masters have their own king or queen bed (up to 5 available); slaves sleep where they are told to sleep (unless they are ordered into a Master's bed and allowed to sleep there). Normally a slave sleeps at the foot of a Master's bed, but some can be chained or caged elsewhere.
The minimum requirement for slaves is that they be obedient and respectful of all Masters and work to give the Masters and enjoyable time. This can be anything from preparing and serving drinks and meals, doing housework or yard work, to providing sexual relief on demand, to hard labor in the compound (depending on the slave's previously-stated limitations). Slaves should expect Masters to be totally comfortable and free in using humiliating or degrading racist speech in referring to or speaking to mud-slaves. It's not all punishment and misery for slaves...there is plenty of time for camaraderie and playful fun also. Some slaves even form a brotherly bond with the other slaves that serve with them. Masters also form lasting bonds and friendships based on their mutual interests and sharing slaves.
It's just a small friendly gathering of White Masters at my house/compound....being served by mud-slaves as might have been in a modern version of slave-days. one might call it a situation of consensual non-consent/slavery. Slaves can set their limits and the time they will be in service as slaves in advance.... and also what they expect to learn and experience from the experience. The more that a slave lets me know about itself in advance, the better I can guide its growth from the experience.
Backstage racism mates with BDSM, the eroticization of the black body, and finds a place online through a variant of cyber-racism. Amazing. We do in fact live in interesting times.
White supremacy is a mental illness. Western (and global) society is sick with it. All of us, across the color line, have been impacted by white supremacy and white racism. But who are we to judge how adults in a consensual relationship decide to work through its pain and ugliness?
As is per my tradition, here are some concluding questions.
Have any of you engaged in race play? For those of you in inter-racial relationships, how do you negotiate these bigger questions of race and the erotic? If our kinks and sexual predilections are in some way a function of life experience, trauma, early childhood experiences, etc. what happened in the life of a black person who is willing to play a slave for the pleasures of white racists?