Sunday, February 28, 2016

What Too Many Progressives Need to Understand About Race and Kink

I saw this article about composer Georg Friedrich Haas and his wife Mollena Williams, also known as The Perverted Negress, and it made me so happy.

And sad.

Because there are far too many well-meaning people looking down at this beautiful, consensual, healthy, and happy relationship and seeing it as something problematic, something abusive. Something it’s not.

There are far too many people claiming that this relationship romanticizes, glorifies, or sexualizes racism and oppression. That they find it offensive and wrong and they don’t want to listen to anyone else’s opinion on the matter, not even Haas's or Williams's. Because they believe theirs is the only right one. That their opinion is truth. Is fact. Because they don’t believe in “a black woman willingly submitting to a white man. ‘It’s a struggle to say, “This is genuinely who I am,” ’ [Williams] said. But she added, ‘To say I can’t play my personal psychodrama out just because I’m black, that’s racist.’ ” It is in and of itself oppressive to say that Haas is being oppressive because he consensually enjoys consensual behavior with a partner who consensually wants to do those things. If they both have discussed what they want and have agreed upon it, have consented to it, that’s what should matter, not race.

The issue is and always should be consent. If everything Haas & Williams do is completely consensual, that is what separates it from actual oppression. It is what makes it oppression’s opposite. And to say their races inherently negates or alters that is in and of itself problematic. It makes it seem as if you think people of color can only be loved by those of “our kind.” That, if a white person claims to love us, there must be something wrong with that. Must be wrong with them or their intentions. That that kind of love must require outside skepticism and scrutiny. As if you wonder how a person like them could possibly find a partner in, could ever love, a person like us? That the only way a white person could love us is if it’s predatory or fetishistic. As if you believe that the only thing our white partners must see when they look at us is our race.

It makes me wonder, if that’s what you believe, exactly what you see when you look at us.

And it is also extremely oppressive to think anyone has any right to say that Williams shouldn’t do what she consensually wants to do when it doesn’t harm anyone. No one gets to decide what is right for her and her partner. It’s tantamount to saying that, because of her race and gender and orientation, she isn’t capable of making her own decisions. That she, like a child or dependent, needs someone else to sweep in to tell her what to think and what she can and cannot do with her own partner. How could anyone think they have that kind of authority? How would you feel about someone making that kind of judgement for you? It’s paternalistically patronizing and offensive. And an oppressive thought pattern that seeks to impose one opinion of what’s right on everyone else, despite the fact that it’s no one else’s business but the people in the consensual relationship. Williams is a fully capable adult. And this is her decision. You may not agree with it. May not want it for yourself. And that’s fine. But it is no less her decision to make. And she has every right to make it without interference or judgement. After all, “If you don’t respect my yes, how can you respect my no?”

Like I said, I’m sure it’s meant to be well-intentioned. These people honestly think that they’re protecting people of color. But protecting them from what exactly? Personal freedom? Choice? Love they way they want to experience it?

The fact of the matter is, for the vast majority of kinksters—just as (perhaps even more so than) with the vast majority of vanilla people—we enter into our relationships willingly. Eagerly. This is what we want and what we’ve been looking for. No one’s making anyone participate in it against their will. And, if everyone is consenting and it works for them, that’s all that should matter.

And, honestly, people like Hass & Williams have probably thought more about the social and ethical implications of their dynamic than most people. Read some of the posts from The Perverted Negress about race and kink. Because, sure, there’s something inherently problematic about power dynamics if played with without thoughtful intention, particularly power dynamics that deal with race and gender, but there is something more ethically problematic, in my opinion, about passing judgement on a dynamic—on a relationship—that doesn’t affect you at all. No matter how well-intentioned or fervent your beliefs.

After all, people have been using that same type of justification for all sorts of things. Homophobes quote the Bible, saying that God said being gay was wrong, screaming to the heavens that what they believe is truth. Racists try to use faulty science or skewed statistics to prove that white people are superior to people of color, all so sure in their belief that what they believe is fact. Sexists are always talking about how evolutionary psychology proves that women are inferior to men, all too ready to say that they know the truth the rest of us are too blind to see. And far too many sex-negative vanilla people—often who would otherwise claim to be for people having the right to choose how to live their own lives in almost every other respect—tell kinky people that what they do is crazy and sick and wrong and anti-feminist and racist and abusive, even though those kinky people are living healthy, consensual, and happy lives with each other that in no way infringes on anyone’s freedoms, rights, or lives (look up the actual scientific and psychological studies on that, of which there are many), are so sure that their prejudice assumptions are fact. There are always people out there trying to use their personal “truths” to police other people’s personal lives.

Our lifestyle doesn’t affect yours. At all. That’s truth. That’s fact. Your opinion on our life choices doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. If you don’t like it, fine, then don’t do it and leave us alone. We didn’t do anything to deserve your judgement because, again, it doesn’t in any way affect you. And passing judgement on on a consensual relationship that doesn’t harm you or anyone in any way...aren’t we supposed to be better than that by now?

And, the fact is most of the people who would so adamantly judge this kind of relationship have no idea what it’s like to be in that kind of relationship. What kinky people of color go through. They have no concept of what our love lives look like. What they feel like.

And they could.


If these well-meaning progressives just stopped trying to paternalistically protect us for one second and talked to us. And really listened to us. Like I said, if you’re so worried about Mollena Williams’s welfare, she has an amazing blog that I definitely recommend where you could find out her state of mind and could learn about her experiences. If you really want to know, you could read stories by and about people in these kinds of relationship, like the one I wrote for Between the Shores: Erotica with Consent:

“[Kat] knew that there were people who thought, for all sorts of reasons, that she and Peter didn’t fit, who couldn’t look at the two of them together and see more than the color of their skin. She would be with Peter whatever his race, which meant that she at least in part was attracted to him because of his race. Because it was part of who he was and she was infatuated with the whole of him. Yes, she admired his strength and his confidence. She enjoyed his intelligence and his passion. But she also loved [...] to linger over his apricot skin, the color and feel of it soft and firm and so sweet. She liked to think that he was with her for similar reasons. That he found wonder in the whole of her too. She’d been with men who’d seen nothing but her skin, who’d gotten so lost in the look of her that they couldn’t see that it only contained the rest of her. She’d been with men who’d written whole histories of cultures over her, trying to mentally mold her into ethnic experiences and expressions that weren’t her own. And she’d been with men who’d tried to love her ethically, who made a point to color-blindly love only her inner beauty and feared looking too hard at the rest of her. They’d thought that desiring her physical beauty—to acknowledge it at all—hurt her, demeaned and cheapened her. In their care, her body had become a landmine of terms, with traps set in the shapes and tones of her, that seemed best left unseen and unspoken. They’d loved her despite her race and it had always made her wonder, if they would have loved her more—would have been able to love more of her—if she’d been a race they felt comfortable recognizing. Those men had all tried to love her and, in doing so, had left an ugliness inside her. Because she didn’t want to be loved in parts. She couldn’t bear to be with someone who, even with the best intentions, could only bear to see fractions of her.”

I’ve been in many interracial relationships with white partners. I’m in one now. To think you know our intentions, our motivations, our love, better than we do...ask yourself how that’s possible. How it’s possible that you’re a better expert on us than we are. And, if you really want to know how our relationships work—if you really are concerned with how we’re faring—you could just ask.

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