Monday, March 19, 2012

Can Race Play Really Be Classified as a Kink?

'No Slavery Vector Illustration' photo (c) 2011, Vectorportal - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When it comes to sex what gets a person off varies and normally I am not one to judge, but raced based S&M doesn't just irk me, it disgusts me to my very core.  I believe that what happens between two consenting adult partners should not be an issue for the outside world, but at the same time, I refuse to pretend that race is something that we can play at, when it continues to negatively impact the lives of people of colour across the globe.

Jezebel recently put up a piece entitled, When Prejudice Is Sexy: Inside The Kinky World of Race - Play.  After reading the entire article and the comments, I found myself saying please erase us I beg you.  Jezebel's audience is largely White and so are it's writers.  I don't understand for one moment how they believed they had the inside track to even attempt to discuss this. This appears to be yet another instance of Jezebel trolling for hits, no matter who they manage to trigger or offend in the process.
Mollena Williams, who blogs at The Perverted Negress, has done race-play both for her own pleasure and as a demonstration at kink conventions. She's also currently in a relationship with a "sort of white" man (he's also part Native American), where she's the slave and he's the master. Williams told me her interest in slavery started early. She remembers seeing Roots on TV at age eight and thinking to herself, "wow, I have fantasies about really bad things." When she became involved in the kink community as an adult, many other kinky black people were critical of master/slave relationships — some threatened violence toward anyone they saw treating a person of color as a slave. She describes this time in her life as "really difficult," but she ultimately said to herself, "I will not, after so many years of struggling, have someone who doesn't know me dictate my sexuality." She adds, "if you go back and look at what feminism is about, it's about us taking charge of our bodies and our destinies." And she sees her ability to choose a master/slave relationship "with intent" as "a mark of how far feminism has come." [source]
Agency my sweet ass, this entire article screams internalized racism to me.  "But in a 2009 interview with Racialicious's Andrea Plaid, she said she thought her ancestors would be "delighted that I can FUCKING CHOOSE to do this for a few bloody hours." What Mollena is playing with is the horrific history of the trans Atlantic slave trade.  I bloody well doubt that they would be delighted, and no matter how much Mollena has deluded herself into believing this lie, the blood that ran on the whipping post says the exact opposite. How could she honestly believe that the women who were raped, or had their tears stamped into the mud as they were helpless to defend their children could see this as anything but gross?  What about the fact that the Atlantic is literally a graveyard? It has been roughly estimated that over 6 million Africans died during the crossing. Just because one is Black, does not give one a pass to invoke such a terrible, painful, haunting history for kicks.

Yes, women's activism has empowered women to choose, but that does not mean that choice necessarily leads to a positive result. Rather than serving as a marker of how far feminism has come, to me this article reads like someone who has lost touch with the pain of their history.  This kind of behaviour encourages the White partner to enjoy their privilege without consequence. Mollena isn't empowered; she's a useful fool.

Providing a safe environment for a White person to be a racist is harmful to the rest of us whose panties aren't sopping wet at the idea of playing auction block slave.  Already in public discourse, racism is often excused by the ever popular Black friend. What does Mollena think that her actions will signify in a world in which people of colour are already not viewed as individuals, no matter how educated, responsible, well spoken, or intelligent we are? Letting someone explore their inner racist without any kind of censure does not inspire them to think critically about their privilege, or how their actions impact people of colour.  I can completely understand how a racist could absolutely get off on the idea of have a person of colour play their slave, but for the life of me, I don't understand what Mollena is getting out of it.

Included in the piece was a section on S, a Latino former sex worker.  According to Jezebel, he got into this line of work as a way to secure healthcare.
"Lots of people have these racialized fantasies," says S. "They just don't know how to talk about it, how to find people who are into it, and how to engage with it in a way that at the end of the day is respectful." That's the service he provided, and while he no longer does sex work, he says he'd be happy to facilitate race-play scenes or parties for others. He describes a white man he once met who explained his interest in race-play with a rationale that evokes Avenue Q — "There is a level where everyone's a little bit racist." For him, racialized sex was a way to "exorcise" racist feelings, to "get these feelings out while getting off." 
There is no way to engage in race based sex play respectfully.  Everyone has prejudice, but not everyone is "a little bit racist," as S puts it. No matter how he twists, or justifies what he has chosen to do, S' actions have embolden pathological racism. I don't buy for one moment that White people are struggling to find venues to explore their racist attitudes.  They don't even struggle to contain themselves when we are in the same room, but S wants me to have sympathy for those who supposedly desire even more freedom than they already have to stereotype and attack people of colour. Just NO! They know damn well that these urges are based on a desire to maintain privilege, and furthermore; they absolutely have to know that their so-called sexual desires are harmful.

This article was framed around sexuality as a way to excuse both racism and internalized racism. Race based BDSM is a kink; it's not a sexuality, as much as Mollina would like us to believe it is.  There is nothing innate about wanting to explore the history of racism with sexual acts designed to produce an orgasm.  Race itself is a social construction - an idea invented for the sole purpose of exploiting, oppressing, and "othering" people of colour. It is something that is actively taught to us, as we learn our first words.  Mollina does not get a pass by claiming sexuality for internalized racism.  At best I would call what both S' and Mollina engage in collusion for the purposes of sexual gratification.

As for Jezebel, the navel gazing comments prove how faulty this piece was from start to finish.  Instead of dealing with the complex issues involved in this piece, most of the commenters could only contend with how they feel on on-line dating sites, when someone openly declares their race.   Jezebel claims to  be a feminist; however, it does a terrible job at both inclusion and intersectionality.  Hiding behind feminism and so-called agency while promoting what is clearly internalized racism, is nothing but a bid to increase their hit count. There was absolutely no regard for who would be triggered reading this article. It was a simple case of racial voyeurism and though I don't expect better from Jezebel at this point, I am still extremely disgusted.