Control Tower

Playing with Race

There are taboos in kink—and then there are taboos in kink. You want to make kinky people unhappy? Be a white dominant with a black submissive and use the word "nigger" in your BDSM scene. The edgiest pervert in town will be up in your face, telling you you've gone too far.

And they'd be right, wouldn't they? I've been asked to be the dominant in race-play scenes, but I have firmly declined. I'm perfectly comfortable being a bitchy sadist, but to pretend to be superior to someone of color just because I'm white? Utter hateful racist epithets or hold a mock slave auction? No way! What kind of girl do you think I am? That's just wrong!

But Mollena Williams ( sees it differently. Williams is an African-American writer, performer, and BDSM educator. She's also a submissive who does BDSM race-play scenes, and she's challenging BDSM people to examine that taboo. I asked her to tell me her take on it.

How do you do race-play scenes and feel okay about it afterward? "You have to know why you want to do this play. If you, as a white person, are overeager in approaching me with your fantasy of domination and oppression, my hackles go up. As the person taking the hit, I need to feel in control of the process up until I relinquish control... Those who do not know why they want this scene, who want 'payback,' who have deep hatred—I see them as very risky partners in a race-play scene. Open communication, plenty of negotiation, and lots of aftercare are essential."

Doesn't it trivialize racial inequalities to do a BDSM scene around them? "Some kink is light and fluffy, but a great deal of kink revolves around taboos, pain, and triumphing over adversity. If you think that doesn't sum up the human condition, then you aren't paying attention... Trust your partner enough to let him or her into your darkest fantasies. Of course we should do what feels dangerous and risky! Surviving danger galvanizes the soul."

Don't you feel that doing race scenes keeps negative stereotypes alive? "Absolutely. That is one reason I dive into those waters. I am of the post–Jim Crow generation. I didn't live when racism was institutionalized. However, I live in a society where racism is endemic. It is absolutely vital to tap into the past in order to handle the present and remain open to the future."

Can you have a race-play scene where both people are of the same race? Can a person of color be the dominant in a race-play scene with a white submissive? "Absolutely yes. Race play can embrace your current physical identity, but a lot of BDSM revolves around roles that we assume. If I can be a naughty schoolgirl, why can't someone else be a dark-skinned Indian person avenging herself on a lighter-skinned, higher-caste individual? The only limit is your imagination and your bravery." recommended


Comments (20) RSS

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wow, i think that was the best argument for kink i've ever read.
Posted by cat on April 9, 2009 at 6:47 AM · Report this
I went to Mollena's site and read a lot of the stuff there. She's fabulous and dead right. I think she's also right about some of it being an age division also. I'm a little bit younger and live in nyc where we deal with race a little differently than the west coast, and while i would think this kind of thing needs to be handled carefully there isn't any reason it needs to be off limits if everyone involved wants it!
Posted by nicole on April 9, 2009 at 7:29 AM · Report this
Thanks for doing this column Matisse. The kink community in Seattle, for all of its admirable support of gender and sexual diversity, has been shockingly devoid of any conversation about racial diversity. I know this column doesn't talk about this directly, but any conversation about race and kink in Seattle, in my opinion, is a good thing. My hope is that the people who read this column will look around and start to have that conversation within the community.
Posted by KinkInSeattle on April 9, 2009 at 8:31 AM · Report this
I've been thinking about this since you wrote the column on verbal abuse. I always wondered how could I fantasize about a race-driven scene with a Nazi officer, since I'm a left-wing activist, proud of my African origin. Then I understood - that's precisely why.

I mean, I can only accept being abused and humiliated in a scene if I don't actually believe the words I hear. Not more than I believe that I'm a "slave", or that the mistress is a "goddess".

Therefore, it's my very political awareness that allows me not only to take part in a race-play scene, but to feel aroused. That's how I see it.
Posted by Marcos on April 9, 2009 at 3:20 PM · Report this
As an African-American submissive I find Mollena's comments to be utterly repugnant. Her comments aren't just culturally offensive, but self-contradictory. She says she knows the race-play scenes are perpetuating negative stereotypes, but thinks her "getting off" on one culture's idiosyncrasies and misfortune is going to somehow alter or redirect these misguided stereotypes. Get real!

I think one reason race-play scenes are such a "taboo" in the BDSM community, is because those events are still festering and meandering in the hearts and minds of people of color. It's still a phenomenon that affects us everyday. Imagine being pulled over by police or followed in a department store because of the color of your skin, then going to a play party and seeing an African-American woman "getting off" on being called a nigger. There's an intrinsic ignorance here on Mollena's part. I think respect and understanding beget reverence, and her actions show that she holds no reverence for what African-Americans have had to face and overcome.

Matisse, I love your writing,and I appreciate the fact that even you--a Caucasian woman--can respect the boundaries that race-play scenes apathetically cross.

This interview has definitely opened my eyes...
Posted by Rockstar on April 9, 2009 at 11:27 PM · Report this
I FIND IT DISGUSTING! "WANNA RACE" IS SICK IN A BAD WAY!IF YOU ARE WHITE YOU ARE WHITE AND PRACTICING THIS YOU ARE A RACIST! YOU ARE A POISON!iF YOU ARE A BLK. American or any person of color know that to the poeople who actually sufferd this bdegraiding of their souls were not happy they were mistreated disrespected and treadted wost the shit! You are a poison!if getting off for you is about a repeat of this type of misery that mained and killed millions of people do us all a favour lay right here,put these ear plugs in, thats it, now lay on these train tracks,dont worry the trains always one hr late trust me!!!!
Posted by justifide! on April 10, 2009 at 6:39 PM · Report this
What the hell? I'm not in the scene but I would have never guessed that this is such a huge taboo. This is coming from people who regularly act out scenes of violence and humiliation and claim it has nothing to do with their real attitude. All kinksters agree that female submissiveness doesn't have anything to do with real world violence against women, so why should black submissiveness have anything to do with real life violence against black people? You kinksters are shooting yourself in the foot if you believe race-play is racist, you are basically saying that everything you do is wrong but you do it anyway because it doesn't cross some arbitrary moral line.
Posted by confused on April 11, 2009 at 6:25 AM · Report this
The columns about the deeper psychological and sociological implications of kink are great. I look forward to reading more. I'm not a kinkster but it's fascinating to read about how power dynamics functioning in other parts of life (e.g. workplace, non-kinky relationships, and in this case: attrocities ) are examined, manipulated, turned on their heads, whatever, in kinky play--regardless of whether or not I agree w/ the viewpoints of the players in question.

I don't know if this is off-base, but to an outsider like me, it looks like that BDSM exaggerates the dynamics of non-kinky relationships, or at least throws them into the light. Again, I don't know, but interesting to think about.

Thanks for a thought provoking column.
Posted by know-it-all on April 11, 2009 at 8:14 AM · Report this
I agree with confused.. wtf? why is play-sexism ok but play-racism is off limits? me no understand the logic.
Posted by sonia on April 12, 2009 at 3:17 PM · Report this
I, too, am left wondering why sexism and rape, in real life and in BDSM play, are less unsavory than their near-exact analogs, racism and slavery. An interesting contradiction and I'm awfully glad someone's having a look at it.
Posted by bangs on April 12, 2009 at 9:10 PM · Report this
add me to the list of the uncomprehending.
why are race scenes taboo?
if it is not taboo for me to fantasize about being raped, used, existing for the sole propose of a partners pleasure, if I can concede to a desire to be without rights, personal motility, or a partners respect, or even basic humanity, and still understand on a visceral level the horror of real rape, real sexism and oppression of women, why can't a person of a particular race be capable of the same complexity of sprit. I have struggled for years to reconcile the sick scenarios that turn me on with the real horrors of the world, and it hurts me that the BDSM community, which is so glib about saying that the games they play have nothing to do with real life violence against woman, is so sensitive to the suggestion of playing on the equally charged themes of race and racism.
Posted by sub-feminist on April 13, 2009 at 7:18 PM · Report this
I agree with Confused and Sonia.

I am heavily into age-play but have never felt I trivialize pedophilia or child abuse.
Posted by elle on April 13, 2009 at 8:39 PM · Report this
I think that either you are into kink or you aren't into kink. If you don't get it, you will probably always find it offensive no matter who is doing what. I actually believe that refusing to allow yourself to acknowledge, talk about or explore a taboo is far more dangerous than sexualizing it with a safe and sane partner. If you express it safely, then it has no power over you. Having a conversation about sex or exploring your emotions and sexuality is healthier than repressing your thoughts or feelings.

In the same way that a woman who has a rape fantasy has no desire to be raped in real life, a person who explores other bdsm themes (racial or otherwise) in the safety of his/her bedroom most likely has no desire to act it out in their real lives. Consent is the key. I would never suggest race play, but if a partner thought it was hot and it would get him off, then hey, maybe. It doesn't make me a racist and I would certainly never suggest that a person who was uncomfortable with a sexual theme or idea should try it. They shouldn't...but they also shouldn't try to regulate what happens between consenting adults who would like to safely express themselves sexually in the privacy of their own homes. To each his own.

The point that I think a lot of people miss is that sexual role-play doesn't translate into real life desires. While I might enjoy getting off thinking about being over powered/ ravished, I have no desire for this to happen non-consensually. I imagine for those who are into race play, they have no desire to be discriminate/ be discriminated against in the real world. I would think it's more about the control or submission or the naughty/taboo factor than anything else...exploring conflicting emotions can translate into some really hot sex. Getting off on taboo is nothing new whether it's centered on a racial theme or not.

I want to stress that my position is not pro-race-play and I don't think it's cool to treat people badly on the basis of race or nationality, etc. My position is pro-sex, pro-consent, pro-self-expression. Just because it's not my cup of tea, doesn't mean that it's wrong if other people find it hot. What leather-clad people do to get themselves off in their own bedrooms is their own damned business and has nothing to do with actual racism in my book. It has to do with kink, sexual exploration, submission and domination and getting off on taboo.
Posted by liberal lady on April 14, 2009 at 12:10 PM · Report this
This is my view as mock slave auctions go, just to put it out there. I've been involved with one in the Sci-Fi Convention scene for some years now. Its a great Live Action Role play that touches lightly on BDSM and kink, but never goes near the subject of race or sexual orientation. At this years event we even ejected some newcomers that thought they were getting a chance to really "put some kinds of folks in their place" (quoted directly from one blacklisted attendee). Just putting it out there...
Posted by Zoe Fae on April 15, 2009 at 1:54 AM · Report this
Dear Mistress Matisse,
I've noticed that people often use identity-language to express their BDSM preference/orientation ("I'm a submissive;" "I'm dominant") much like people often use identity-language to express gender preference/orientation ("I'm gay;" "I'm straight"). Now that gender preference is considered by many to be innate rather than acquired, I wonder if there's been any discussion or research on the origins of BDSM preference? Could this too be something physically present from birth, perhaps inherited? Thanks!
Posted by Mister Science on April 15, 2009 at 1:59 AM · Report this
I am black, female and was raped as a teenager by a sranger. I find it odd that this would be any more taboo than a rape fantasy - I do not think being called a nigger hurt me more than getting raped.

But this is the whole point of FANTASY. We have no idea why we are turned on by the things we are turned on by. People wanting to act out rape fantasies rarely want ACTUALLY be raped/rape someone. I suspect that people wanting to do race play are similarly unlikely to want to purchase/become ACTUAL black slaves.
Posted by Fantasy is fantasy because it's not real on April 16, 2009 at 2:39 PM · Report this
I think what most of this comes down to is "My kink is OK, your kink is icky". I've always found it interesting how intolerant the kink community is. There's this huge fascade of tolerance for everyone's individuality and preferences, but it turns out that kinksters are just as prejudicial as anyone else. The only difference between the kinky and the non-kinky is the scope of what is acceptable bias.
Posted by open minded, or not? on April 19, 2009 at 1:33 AM · Report this
Hmmm, I am trying to picture "homophobia play" as hot and failing. As a lesbian mom I just find the people who want to destroy my family annoying I have been part of the BDSM scene and know that some people do play with racist or anti-Semitic themes. There is a built-in power imbalance in those historical models -- the slave master or Nazi officer had the power of life and death. While crazy elected representatives have similar power over my family, I cannot imagine making a fetish out of this.
Posted by GayMarried on April 25, 2009 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Actually I'm quite surprised that you would think race play is wrong Mistress Matisse. Especially with you knowing that the sub is only roleplaying and fullfilling a fantasy that he or she doesn't do in everyday life. To say you can't mentally do it is one thing but to declare it wrong is another. Wrong in who's eyes? What about the religious community declaring that your acts are wrong and sinful in their eyes? I do respect your work and love watching your scenes but I'm shocked that you would label it as "wrong." Just say you can't do it mentally than to past judgement against it and fearing "The edgiest pervert in town in your face, telling you you've gone too far."
Posted by Raceplayer on July 3, 2009 at 2:56 PM · Report this
@GayMarried. many gay men fantasize about sucking off some straight dude. and in the kink world, many construct elaborate scenes about being abused and dominated by 'str8' guys. So we have eroticized the gay-bashing that we feared or were victims of in our youth. It happens. Psychology goes a long way to try and explain why we develop one fetish or another, or get turned on by one scene or another.

I would argue that this is just one more way in which the USA has not crawled out from under the racial past. I don't think that black people living in Canada or Europe or other places would have quite the same level of taboo about this particular scene. This just does not hold the same charge for them, nor for the whites who would play this scene with them.

I agree with other posters that the level of acceptance in the kink community is a bit over-rated.i.e.: "everyone's kink is accepted as long as it doesn't cross some made-up line in my head."

Does wanting to be the daddy in an age-play scene make you a pedophile? nope, but it would probably creep out the survivor of childhood incest to a huge degree. ditto with someone who wants to engage in sexual violence vs. the survivor of rape.

If there's nothing wrong with these kinks then there's nothing inherently wrong with 'racism' play either. What about the reverse? what about a black dom and a white sub? is that okay? But what if the sub is a female and the dom's a male? then who's right to not have to act out historical abuse trumps?

The interviewee in the article had it right, the question is never what scene do you want to act out, it's WHY do you want to go there that really determines how wacky you are.
Posted by yyz-hkg on August 13, 2009 at 5:56 PM · Report this

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