Sunday, 3 June 2007

Black Leather

My local BDSM community, compared to other, smaller, more rural BDSM communities that have been a part of, has quite a lot of people of color it. Specifically, they're quite a lot of black people. Nowhere near as many as there are white people, but I honestly can't remember any event I recently went to that didn't have a few black folks.

The small leather conference that I went to this weekend had quite a few black gay leather men. I think they may have all been members of the same club. But there were quite a few of them. Several of them made mention, in one of the discussions I attended, of what it's like culturally to be gay black man, and then, on top of that, to be interested in leather as well.

It got me thinking, because I've definitely seen, both in traditional anti BDSM feminist literature, and in everyday life, the argument or thought that BDSM is for white people. The argument seems to be that we're used to having power over people, since we're white and privileged and in the U.S. there's a whole history of white people as masters of black slaves. It follows from this that white people doing BDSM comes from a sort of decadent interest in power, and few if any people of color--especially black folk--would be interested in such stuff. For them it would involve reliving that painful history, recreating something too much like it, and why would they ever want that?

I don't mean to say that that doesn't hold true generally. I honestly have no idea. And I'm sure that I know quite a few kinky people of color precisely because I tend to socialize in kink circles, so kinky people are who I know generally anyway. But I am sure that the reason all of those kinky people of color I know are black is because there are black groups are around here.

But I really start to wonder, knowing that there's a thriving (or so it appears to outsider me) black kink community in my area. I wonder how far those arguments go. I wonder how they make the people I know who are black and kinky feel. I wonder whether what's going on in other places really is the black people wouldn't be interested to history, or whether a specific leather or kink community for them would draw many people, as it seems to have done here.

13 comments:

ellefromtheeast said...

At my college, there was a huge campus blow-up when an annual kink party included a slave auction and the African-American union took serious offense. So when I entered the local leather community in my city, I expected to find no African-American members at all, for exactly the reasons you described, that the history is just too painful.

However, I found out at my first party that I was just plain wrong. At this year's city titleholder contests, one contestant (out of two) for the Ms. city Leather title, and two (out of five), including the winner for the Mr. city Leather title were African-American.

I am curious about how African-Americans feel about the historical weight of the language of BDSM, but I really don't want to ask anyone for fear of making them feel like I'm asking them to speak for all black people.

Trinity said...

"At my college, there was a huge campus blow-up when an annual kink party included a slave auction and the African-American union took serious offense. ....

However, I found out at my first party that I was just plain wrong."

Yeah, I've seen some things like that too... where some people assume no POC could be into this, especially blackfolk -- and then there are all the groups for leatherfolk of color, and lots of them around in general (though there are still far more white folk.)

"I am curious about how African-Americans feel about the historical weight of the language of BDSM, but I really don't want to ask anyone for fear of making them feel like I'm asking them to speak for all black people."

I can't generalize at all, but I've known some kinky black people who really don't like "master" and "slave," prefer other terms, and would rather other people use other terms as well.

SnowdropExplodes said...

I think the difference in the OP may have been more to do with the ethnic make-up of the different areas.

I live in a country town right now where there are very few "POC" in the community; I would be very surprised to find even one of them into kink, simply on the basis of probability: BDSM forms a rather small proportion of the population at large.

However, I am aware that there are several POC involved in BDSM, they just live elsewhere, in general.

The suggestion that POC because of the history, either of British colonialism or of American slave-ownership, or whatever, wouldn't be interested in BDSM, is of exactly the same order of racism as the assumption that a black person is automatically going to be into reggae or R'n'B or "urban" music.

Yes, of course there are going to be some elements who view the language and appearance of BDSM as offensive, even though more often I have found that the language and imagery harks back to ancient history (like the Romans) rather than relatively recent history. Some people enjoy being sensitive to such things, I think. But it is a mistake to think that they speak for everyone (just as it's a mistake to assume that anti-porn, anti-BDSM radical feminists speak for all women, or even, all feminists).

Incidentally, immigrants who came to Britain from Africa, rather than from the Caribbean, have a completely different historical perspective and culture from that developed in the Caribbean. Slavery means something very different in their cultural history. (I saw a television documentary once, about this issue - that's the only reason I'm aware of it!) I would guess that there are similar issues in the USA these days, although I don't know for sure.

Come to think of it, isn't it rather like suggesting that feminists can't be BDSM submissives because of their political background?

verte said...

Snowdropexplodes:

I agree with you to an extent. But then we had that issue of a possible BNP/racist/National Front type being involved in the scene on IC, yet no further information was given. I can understand that this might make POC quite nervous about being involved in the scene.

But still - there are a lot of mad, non-PC contradictions. My first dominant, of sorts, was Jewish and had a big collection of vintage Nazi uniforms he'd wear to clubs. It was a fetish for him. 'Transgressive', perhaps. But still ... well, it weirded me out a bit.

I still think it's pretty rare to find more than a handful of POC at BDSM events in the UK, particularly oop north, and that's always made me slightly uneasy. But no more uneasy than coming up to university from London, where 39% of the borough I lived in were non-white and around half my year at school were non-white, and discovering how very white campus was up here - especially on my literature course.

Trinity said...

"But still - there are a lot of mad, non-PC contradictions. My first dominant, of sorts, was Jewish and had a big collection of vintage Nazi uniforms he'd wear to clubs. It was a fetish for him. 'Transgressive', perhaps."

I've noticed some things like this too. People of a certain group that people would expect to be offended being into a type of play that seemingly demeans them as members of that group.

That's part of the reason I'm neutral on race play (and much more neutral on Nazi play than a lot of people around me are comfortable with, too.) I know too many POC who like (or don't care about) race play to be righteously indignant on their part, but too many who are deeply offended by it to think anyone who is is uptight.

ellefromtheeast said...

Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy have a good discussion of race play in _The Bottoming Book_.

I think this is one issue where there's going to be a big difference between the US and UK contexts. For example, "I have found that the language and imagery harks back to ancient history (like the Romans) rather than relatively recent history." I think that's accurate, but I also think the relatively recent history of slavery looms much larger in the US.

I'm not sure about lumping all people of color together here. For example, my local community has a sizable Latino/a membership, and I've never heard a particular objection to BDSM articulated from a Chicana/o perspective.

Peter said...

I don't think you can separate the evolution of BDSM from Atlantic slavery. People in Krafft-Ebing's "Psychopathia Sexualis" base their sexual fantasies on "Robinson Crusoe" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The relationship of Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick was based on Atlantic slavery, at a time when slavery was part of living memory in the UK and practiced in the US. The classical elements of Greek and Roman slavery are actually a veneer over the social reality, used by apologists.

See Anne McClintock's "Imperial Leather" and Robin Wood's "Blind Memory"

The relative scarcity of POCs in BDSM is a cultural thing, IMHO. People need a certain distance in time and/or space before they eroticize and fetishize things.

Furthermore, BDSM is a leisure activity. You need disposable time and money to pursue it.

Finally, you need to come from a culture that allows people to develop their own identities, based on introspection, and express them. If you live out a life script assigned to you from an early age, you aren't likely to construct an alternate identity.

Trinity said...

"Furthermore, BDSM is a leisure activity. You need disposable time and money to pursue it."

I'm not so sure about that. I think a lot of critics of BDSM want it to be this very high-class thing that snooty white folks do with all their extra time... but that doesn't square with the reality of the rural communities I came into leather in at all.

also -- wtf? people of color have no leisure time? back up.

and "you need distance to fetishize something" -- then please tell me why oh why someone like me who has been through more painful surgeries at age 28 than most go through in their lives fetishizes pain?

please provide a basis for your claims.

Rhiannon said...

Peter I'm with Trinity here,

People need a certain distance in time and/or space before they eroticize and fetishize things.

What about all the people who fetishize rape after being threatened with or experiencing sexual violence?

Trinity said...

"What about all the people who fetishize rape after being threatened with or experiencing sexual violence?"

oh but they're distant. it must not have been real.

yeah. and my fetish for blood and knives must have so much to do with how "distant" I was from the years of emergency surgeries.

yah, i didn't feel it at all.

*sigh*

queer dewd formerly known as be elle said...

i just finished reading tricia rose's longing to tell -- about black women's understandings of sexuality and intimacy. i'd say about 20% of the narratives involved women who grew up to be involved in BDSM -- straight, bi, lesbians. you know, i didn't pay attention to the top/bottom thing so i couldn't say if it was a one or the other thing.

but on that note, as i wrote on my blog, the whole book undermines easy conclusions about sexuality and intimacy. e.g., that you can only have an interest in sexual issues if you have money. that it only matters because it's only after you've provided yourself basic stuff in life.

the one thing that the book does make you feel is just plain sad that so many people really have empty lives: they trust no one, have learned to avoid intimacy, and encounter nothing but shitty relationships with men and women, as friends and lovers. hell, the notion that people actually have passion and sensuality in their relationships is undermined in this book. for most of these women, wherther poor, middle class, upper middle class, from the US or Africa or Caribbean, from the South or North, suburbs or city or country? Lesbians, bi, straight? Their sex lives are unfulfilling and their intimate lives are rarely found in a partner with whom they have sex.

if these women's lives are the lives of most women in the US it's pretty sad. they have wonderful, stupdendous, extraordinary exciting lives of accomplishment sometimes, but sex joy and pleasure? this seems an impossibility for them -- and not just because it's about the patriarchy. lesbian relationships are pretty sad in this book -- which has little to do with poverty or racism or even inhibitions and prejudices against homosexuality. it's just that these folks, not through necessarily any horrible childhood or something (tho that does go on) can't seem to identify relationships where there's pleasure and joy in sex.

Of course, I have to read this again, but I buried myself in it and let the narratives just wash over me and I got up after the marathon of reading and felt extraordinarily depressed and sad for black women and women more generally.

and then i'm troubled b/c rose just doesn't comment much on it. she just puts it out there and i have no idea how she got her sample. it's just there, to make of it what anyone wants.

but i'll read it again and hopefully find something more hopeful. i hope i missed the methodology chapter somehow.

Trinity said...

Q|D

I just came across your comment. I really don't know what to say other than... yeah. wow. how sad.

and yeah. the whole idea that bdsm is about money, is about leisure

well, hands can spank, slap, etc. as easily as they can caress. where does this idea that you need a toybag come from?

or... even if you're poor

what if that ONE flogger is a splurge?

a token of love that's well-worn and years old and beloved?

or that one corset is years of savings?

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