WARNING…WARNING!!! I’m going to talk about race and I’m likely to say a few things some of you may not want to hear. As much as American society likes to claim we’re moving or have already moved into a post-racial era (we have a Black President after all), the fact remains that many of our social interactions continue to take the racial identification of the participants into consideration and often in ways that are extremely uncomfortable and upsetting for the minority member while allowing their (typically) White counterpart to feel relaxed and unthreatened in their dominant racial position.
On more than a few occasions, I’ve heard BDSM and alternative sexuality communities touted as some kind of more enlightened “promise land” where the inhabitants have risen up and learned to accept one another regardless of race, class, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or political affiliation; “Your kink is not my kink, but that’s ok” is practiced far and wide; and we’ve advanced so far beyond mainstream society that we have the ability to play with taboo and sensitive issues like incest, rape, and gender presentation freely. It sounds wonderful doesn’t it. There’s just one problem…it’s not true! The kink community has its own share of misogyny, classism, homophobia, transphobia, political fundamentalism, and a whole host of other biases. But my focus du jour is issues of race and racism.
As a Black woman navigating the realm of kink I’ve run into my fair share of race-based questions and assumptions. Some are mundane, some are borderline insulting, and some are just down right strange. However, one that seems to emerge over and over again when I confide in vanilla friends of color is “You’re kinky? Isn’t that a white people thing?” From the outside looking in, it would certainly seem that way. Most mainstream representations of BDSM practitioners feature a sea of white faces. The casual glimpse of BDSM we catch through marketing campaigns, television dramas, romance novels, and the like rarely include major characters of color. However, the view from the inside isn’t much better.
Although I’ve been blessed to go to a variety of events throughout the United States, I still find a disturbing lack of presenters and educators that look like me even when large portions of the attendees do. I’m not saying presenters of color don’t exist. Quite the contrary, I know several who are phenomenal at what they do and are typically in high demand. Mollena, Murphy Blue, Midori, Orpheus Black, Vi Johnson, Master Obsidian, slave Namaste, MasterSoandSo, Master Malik, Madame Butterfly, and many others have been holding their own in the realm of kink and leather for years. Yet, proportionately, kinksters of color are underrepresented as presenters. Is this due to some form of bias? A lack of willing presenters of color? Perhaps the socioeconomic hardships of being a presenter are more difficult to overcome for people of color who traditionally suffer greater financial hardship than their White counterparts? Whether the problem continues due to bias, self-elimination, or systematic difficulties, the fact remains such a disparity exists.
While I can appreciate that some individuals are aware of this divide and actively seek to recruit talented people of color to present, organize events, and sit on boards in order to make sure minority voices and views are heard, occasionally their well-meaning pursuits dissolve into blatant tokenism. It’s wonderful when individuals and organizations choose to make efforts to be inclusive, but we have to be careful that we’re not looking to one or two minority members of an organization to represent the entirety of their race. Too often I’ve found myself being tasked with speaking for the whole collective of kinky Black people on the planet because I happened to be willing to speak up about my view on a matter. The assumption becomes if I say it doesn’t bother me, it should certainly be ok with all Black people and quite possibly ALL people of color. My inclusion, my voice somehow negates the need for other minorities’ voices and opinions. One is enough, one can represent all. While several people I share a racial profile with may agree with my views and assertions about life, love, and kink, I’m sure there will be just as many who’d dispute my point of view.
As much as I hate being the token, I hate being the assumed exception to the rule just as much. The color of my skin doesn’t make my kink magically different. I find it offensive to have a straight-forward rough body play scene or rope exchange is magically transformed into “intense race play” just because my partner’s skin tone doesn’t match my own. Shortly after entering my local scene, I was doing a bit of rough body play with a (White male) friend at the dungeon. The “goal” was to wrestle the other person to the ground and get a pair of handcuffs on them. We started with our usual smack talk and posturing, not really paying attention to the people around us. After about 20-30 minutes of high energy shenanigans, we declared the match a tie. He’d captured one of my wrists, I’d captured one of his – in essence, managing to handcuff ourselves together. We lay on the mat chatting for a bit as we recovered from our little game, then collected ourselves and went on with our respective evenings. At some point, a stranger approached me to discuss the “intense race play” I’d done earlier in the evening. I was baffled as to what she meant until she started describing what I’d taken as fun and silly rough body play with a friend. Through her eyes, my friend and I were reenacting something akin to the slave masters of old asserting dominance over their Black property. I had to choke down laughter as I explained I was simply enjoying a bit of rough-housing with a dear friend, no racial undertones intended. Sometimes play is just play.
Kink has provided me with a wonderful outlet to discover new things about myself and others, but it hasn’t allowed me to shrug off my Blackness and experience a color-blind society where all people are treated the same regardless of the color of their skin. So the next time you feel the need to explain how race doesn’t really matter that much – stop, take a look around, count the number of people of color you see presenting, organizing, and acting as community leaders, listen to the assumptions your fellow kinksters make about scenes featuring interracial play partners, take a hard look at your own habits regarding race, then come talk to me.