Before you read this, please consider taking a moment to see what has already been hashed out here and there on Race Play. I have gathered a list of links that should help you get some bearings on my previous forays into this topic!
Back in 2009, in the throes of a sticky Twitter frenzy over Ciara writhing around with JT while occasionally wearing a collar and leash, I was hit up by Andrea Plaid, writer from the most excellent Racialicious. Of course there were obvious issues. Yet again, a white man being catered to by a hypersexualised and objectified Black woman. And the obvious humiliation of being treated like an animal, on a leash. Plenty of fodder for ire. And I get it. On the other hand, as someone who identifies as sexually submissive, and a fetishist when it comes to unequal power dynamics, my take on it is different.
I watched the video from the perspective of fluffy entertainment. It was nothing groundbreaking. Then I considered the fact that we, as Black women, are often expected to carry the weight of history such that even expressing our sexuality must be an act scrubbed clean of anything that might resemble non-consensuality. Furthermore, the idea that we are aware of and deliberately choosing to express ourselves as sexually liberated is fraught because we can’t possibly escape the crushing jaws of institutionalised racism. Any Black Woman who would agree to submit, as fantasy or even for a few minutes in a music video, must be a self-hating Negro who needs to have her Mama sit her down right now and talk some damn sense into her.
I watched the video a few times and from where I sat, she remained in control the whole time. Yes, she dances on a stripper pole. However in the position of a performer in a strip club, in the immediate moment, the people dancing are in control of their act, and are absolutely off limits for physical contact. Throughout the video, she is clearly enjoying being the center of attention, and the lip-licking focus of Mr. Timberlake. I think it is rather a shame that we are proscribed from enjoying particular flavors of sexuality because of our racial heritage, ethnicity, skin color, what have you.
I understand why. I absolutely understand that people perceive this as a dangerous slippery slope. I cannot help but wonder at how much more slippery it is for us to step out of authenticity. Is it preferable that we deny our core sexual desires for the sole reason that it “looks bad?” How slippery is it when we, the casual observer, make assumptions about the self-esteem of the players involved in the exchanges we witness?
I have worked for many years to center myself and focus on creating a positive, grounded basis for my submission. This has not been easy. I struggled for years with the idea that my submission was an insult to my ancestors and an affront to other Black women in particular. I realised, though, that living my life in a way that is truly authentic to myself and doing so from a place of honesty, humility, and self-respect is more critical than covering my singular light under a bushel basket of fear. I absolutely believe it is a far worse fate to spend my life wondering “what if I’d just…?” than to wade in, heart and arms open, damn the torpedoes slings and arrows and experience the damn thing.
The thing is, playing with race is not something I – as an American descendant of chattel slaves who is ALSO a kinky person who gets off on the idea of being consensually owned by another person – can comprehensively avoid. My very identity defies logic, labels and restrictions. It would be futile to be involved in kink and try to deny the history that it echoes, however distantly.
Whenever I hear POC (particularly Black folks in the BDSM or kink community) insist that race “is not an issue” and that they have no conflict or second-thoughts about engaging in kink as it pertains to Blackness, I am absolutely gobsmacked. From the stories I hear of unsolicited skin fetishism, to the “Big Black Cock” obsession, to the incredibly inappropriate assumptions about people’s roles in the dungeon or bedroom based on race, this shit is rampant. Unless, of course you are extremely lucky or deep in denial.
I have maybe once – once – in over 2 decades, had someone step to me to try to hook up and open with some race-based over-the-top offensive shit. I knew my low rate of exposure to this brand of fooliganism was unusual. I didn’t realise HOW unusual until a conversation with other Black women revealed not only was it common for them to have white men in particular approach them all crazy, but they were surprised when someone actually was respectful and polite. I made a little video for YouTube in an effort to give a voice to why this is some bullshit.
People of color are becoming more visible in spaces of alternative sexuality. But this is a slow process, and one that is only made more complicated by the Gordian Knot of race vs. “Race Play.”
And the thing is this: I am really tired of explaining – over and over ad nauseum – why these things are different. Mostly because the answer is so piping-hot OBVIOUS. SO often, experienced kinksters willfully slam me from oblique angles because I openly discuss this issue and make it clear that one has very little to do with the other. As someone who talks a great deal about racism, haters continue to get up in my grill trying to slap me with the label of HYPOCRITE because…well…because I can tell the difference, and they cannot. Or will not. Then, once I explain it, they double down by refusing to acknowledge logic and rational thought.
A few years back, a Leather bar in Portland booked Chuck Knipp: a racist draq queen who makes six-figures a year travelling all over the USA doing a Blackface act that is plucked straight out of the crudest minstrel show. To my shock, hundreds of gay Leathermen saw no problem with this. The ensuing flame war decimated my friend lists, both online and in meat life. A formidable wave of white folks saw fit to condescendingly explain to me why this was funny and why I should lighten up. My pleas to prominent members of the Leather Community to speak out against this were met with silence, unfriendings, and the occasional beacon of light amidst the shrieking cruelty. (Big Props to Mr. Patrick Mulcahey, who lead the fight from that side from jump.) The editorial staff of Leatherati, a prominent online Leather news website, denied me the opportunity to post an editorial condemning the performance. Their reason was that they wanted a “fair and balanced” editorial on the topic. Leatherati immediately promoted the calendar editor to the position of staff writer and posted an article that failed to decry the inherent racism of Knipp’s performance. In the course of the subsequent discussion in the “Replies” section, my position was misrepresented. When I called that out, a correction (sans apology) was made. You can read the whole thing here, if you’d like. Be advised, it is quite aggravating.
In the midst of the Leatherati-organised online “Town Hall” style discussion about the racism of Blackface, someone from the staff blew me away by asking – twice – how I could be anti-Blackface when I bleach my hair blonde.
Marinate on that for a second.
As if hair color has anything to do with over a century of hate-speech disguised as “entertainment.”
How, one may ask, can you say you abhor racist behaviours yet play with the elemental fire of racism? How do we, as practitioners of consensual kink, justify MOST of what we do when it has roots in behaviours and practices that, in the Default World, are absolutely considered abuse…and rightfully so?
Consent. Consent is the defining difference. Consent with intent and compassion.
I CONSENT to a spanking, or a whipping. The INTENTION is pleasure for all parties involved. I am treated with COMPASSION in the aftermath.
I CONSENT to be a part of any scene in which I participate. The INTENTION is pleasure for all parties involved. All parties are honoured with COMPASSION and respect.
I CONSENT to my Power Exchange relationship. The INTENTION is emotional, physical and spiritual fulfillment for all parties involved. The goal of the exchange is to explore these dynamics with COMPASSION at the fore and at the core.
I DO NOT CONSENT to be portrayed as an ignorant, inept, lazy welfare queen by a racist drag queen in Blackface. The INTENT there is to obtain pleasure regardless of how it impacts the people victimised by this violent brand of “comedy.” There is NO COMPASSION demonstrated.
That people in the Leather, BDSM and Kink communities fail to see this difference as a blazing red flag is profoundly troubling to me. We play within the sacred bounds of consent ALL. THE. BLOODY. TIME. If you don’t get the difference between consensual BDSM play and the cruel manifestation of privilege and institutionalised racism, you’re probably missing out on a lot of other very critical issues, friend.
Consent, control and compassion rule the day in healthy, humane sexual play.
Let me ask you:
Would you ever assume that the person with a ravishment and rape fantasy actually REALLY desires to be abducted and sexually assaulted at the whim and mercy of another human with no consideration for their desires?
No, you wouldn’t.
It is statistically likely that you have had these fantasies yourself and of course you know you aren’t actually rubbing one out at the thought of strangers breaking into your secret wank cave, beating you with no regard for your actual real long-term health, safety or welfare and doing what they want with you. What a rape fantasy really is is about an ultimately CONSENSUAL, choreographed and metered tango of violence carefully calibrated with the INTENTION to get you off, or to NOT get you off if your fantasy includes tease & denial.
The point is that, in your fantasy, it is all about YOU. In real life, rape is about violence, power and control and those ephemeral capacities only flow one way. The attacker has all of the power, reaps all the benefit, dehumanises the victim, damages their self-esteem, removes all agency, uses and abuses the body, mind, spirit and soul of their prey. All of that is exactly what healthy BDSM, kink and power-exchange are not.
When I engage in race play, walking upon this dangerous edge, I do so with explicit consent from myself and all involved parties. I am ultimately in control. I decide who is involved, to what capacity, for how long, and how we will provide compassionate care for one another in the aftermath of this exploration. I am the alpha and omega of this sexually charged psychodrama and regardless of what twists and turns I endure, I win. I win by surviving. I win by returning from the depths to share the story of my journey. I win.