Black & poly in a mostly white movement: Much is brewing.
Let's start with something cool. The photo above was the front cover of the Seattle Times Sunday magazine, Pacific NW, a few months back. Look at her hand on the right.
The cover story is Black Like Me: It’s time for a deeper conversation about race in America (Jan. 26, 2017). The photo (of burlesque performer Ms. Briq House) indicates two things: that poly for her is right up there with power, independent, feminist and the rest for meaning strength and pride — and also that the Sunday-supplement editors thought everyday readers would get this. Seattle does have a reputation as the poly capital of the world. (Thanks to John Ullman for sending the tip.)
The modern poly movement has expanded enough that people of color who go to events don't always have to feel conspicuous. The Black & Poly movement has chapters in at least a dozen cities, speaking to the community's particular needs, experiences, and histories regarding non-monogamy.
|Black & Poly flag|
"[Black & Poly founder] Ron Young asked me to be the editor for the Black & Poly blog. We're starting from scratch and asking for contributors." See her call for submissions.
One of B&P's activists is Kevin Patterson of Philadelphia (who runs the Poly Role Models website). At last February's Poly Living East convention, he explained to a crowded workshop that although the nonwhite-to-white ratio there is getting more representative, "I still count."
You don't know about counting? Whatever you look like, if your reaction on walking into a room is to look around and count how many people look like you, it's an uncomfortable room. If you're privileged enough not to know about counting, you're privileged by definition.
Kevin told his personal story to Narratively for their "Polyamorous People" monthly series: Polyamorous People #4: "When I Show Up at These All-White Events and I Feel Uncomfortable, I'm Not Quiet" (Feb. 22, 2017):
Who: Kevin Patterson; 38; technical writer; greater Philadelphia
Photo: Daniel Krieger
...Next thing you know, the three of us are rolling around together back at the hotel. The next day, I thought it would be this weird and uncomfortable thing, but it just wasn’t. Instead, my girlfriend and I started having conversations about how important exclusivity was to us. It wasn’t. So we kept our relationship open from that point on.
That was only six months into our relationship. Now we’re married, have been together going on fifteen years, and have two kids age four and six.
At first, it was just going out with whoever would have us, but then we started desiring relationships, not just dates or hookups. We both started getting more serious with the people we were dating and then discovered the term “polyamory.” A few years after that, we discovered a community.
...I do have to always be wary of being tokenized and fetishized. I have to listen for key buzzwords to figure out, are you into me? Or are you into getting a stamp in your ethnicity passport? About four years ago, I started talking in Facebook forums about the lack of people of color in the polyamory community. If you do a Google images search of “polyamory,” you’ll get dozens of images deep before you find a person of color.
...Last year, I started doing workshops about race and polyamory and how they intersect, at sex ed conferences around the country. I’ve become the guy to talk to about this topic. I’m also writing a book about race and polyamory.
Representation has to be the job of all the white folks organizing these groups. They’ve got to make it their concern because if you’re not being actively inclusive, you’re being passively exclusive. It has to be something you make happen and you work to maintain.
...Philadelphia has a high percentage of black people (about 44 percent), and there is a group called Black and Poly Philadelphia. If the mainstream group and Black and Poly merged, those numbers would be reflected. The question is: why do people of color feel unwelcome in the mainstream group? That’s what a lot of my work tackles. I look at all the barriers to entry. It’s a hard conversation to have. When you tackle racism, people get quiet. They don’t want to tell you they’ve dated twenty people over the past few years and none of them have been people of color.
Also, here's Patterson on the Poly in the Cities podcast, Episode 49: The Intersection of Race and Polyamory (Sept. 11, 2016).
● Another B&P activist is Christopher N. Smith. He has posted the powerpoint for his talk "Open to Love: Polyamory and the Black American," and he's building The Black American Polyamorous Anthology Project "for self-identifying polyamorous Blacks/ African Americans/ Black Americans to express; through any form written, audio or video; their experiences."
● Ruby Bouie Johnson runs the PolyDallas Millennium conference, coming up July 14–16. Here's the partial program (including Christopher Smith.) This will be the conference's third year. Cunning Minx interviewed Johnson last month on her Polyamory Weekly podcast, Episode 508:
The theme this year [of PolyDallas Millennium] year is "power, anarchy and equality." It will be attended by many health and mental-health professionals, including therapists, coaches and chiropractors.
But the best part is hearing about Ruby’s amazing life story of recovery, discovering kink and poly and coming out professionally on the Poly Role Models blog. She shares what changes she has seen in the poly community over the last seven years, how to cross lines and bring communities together, what she foresees for the next 10 years of polyamory and how to address race in the poly community.
● I already posted about the black-and-poly webseries Compersion, by Jackie Stone and her Enchant TV. Now there's another: 195 Lewis, which made its debut last December:
195 LEWIS is a dramedy series about a group of women navigating the realities of being Black, queer, and poly in New York City.
Based in Brooklyn, the series follows Yuri and Camille as they test the boundaries of their open relationship. Yuri’s growing infatuation with a new lover leaves Camille distressed, which is only amplified by the unexpected arrival of Yuri’s old college friend Kris, who shows up with nowhere else to stay.
– An article about it on KitschMix: Watch ‘195 Lewis’, A Queer Polyamorous Web Series: "Love triangles are easy. Try a love octagon."
– And on OkayAfrica.com: ‘195 Lewis’ is a New Series About Being Black, Queer and Polyamorous in Brooklyn (Dec. 14, 2016).
– And at Bella Books, A queer couple navigates love and polyamory in “195 Lewis” (Dec. 26, 2016).
– Update: At Wear Your Voice ("intersectional feminist media"), 195 Lewis Is Black Lesbian Perfection (Nov. 14, 2017).
● If you imagine that race ought to be invisible, start here: Diary of a Polyamorous Black Girl, by Alicia Bunyan-Sampson (Oct. 7, 2016):
...You can’t imagine my joy when I found out about polyamory. ... When I found out there was an entire polyamorous community I was so happy that I was wrong in thinking nobody saw love and relationships as I did.... I began to search the internet looking for my community....
I eagerly made my profile, posted my picture and filled my about me section with large paragraphs describing my history of being polyamorous without knowing what polyamory was. I was so happy.
Then I got my first message.
It was from a white couple. I read the subject line before I opened the message and it read “Seeking Ebony”. The language made me incredibly uncomfortable, but I decided to read it anyway. The couple described in detail how impressed they were with my profile and my apparent intellectual prowess. Translation? “You speak so well”. ...
I immediately deleted the message and sat quietly for a while. I was probably about 19 at this time, and though my parents had provided me with literature and political discussions at the dinner table on the subject of race, I was certainly not the person I am today, so I had quite a difficult time processing the message. I knew I didn’t like what I read but I wasn’t sure if I should be angry about it. ... Was this my community or wasn’t it?
...When I logged back on I had over 200 messages in my inbox. They were all from white couples or single white men and all the messages resembled the first one I received. Remarks on my intellect, my skin colour, my hair....
I reluctantly entered into a series of monogamous relationships. Within those relationships, I made attempts to create spaces where polyamory, or at least some kind of openness, would be possible but it always ended horribly. The men I dated were completely interested in sleeping with other women and carrying on relationships with other women, but I was not allowed to do the same with other men. It was frustrating.
...I also certain that I couldn’t be the only black polyamorous person on the planet. I had to find black polyamorous people.
...A classmate of mine had shared with me that she knew of a few polyamorous people that frequented a local adult play lounge. She suggested I check it out – and I did.
What I found was more disappointment. My first few nights at the lounge, I saw not one single black person and was subjected to the same racist sexual gaze I experienced on the dating site, only, this time, it was in real life so it was that much more painful and dangerous to navigate through. I saw some black guys a few nights, but they were not at all interested in me, nor were they polyamorous, they were only interested in “sexually free” white women who would participate in group sex.
...I’ve learned that in a lot of ways, polyamory is a privilege. A privilege that most black people are not able to explore. ... Surviving in a white supremacist society is difficult enough, and there is not enough knowledge or support of polyamory in the lives of black people to even make it seem like a viable relationship option. Additionally, there is a huge socioeconomic element involved in the most basic exploration of polyamory, as the community does exist in the shadows to some degree, and one must be able to meet the financial demands to enter into those shadows (similarly to the kink community). Ultimately, though, black people like to know that other black people exist in the spaces that they are entering. I know the first thing I do when I walk into a room is look for another black person. I feel safe as soon as I see them. Currently, white is the face of polyamory and has been for quite some time. It more than likely will remain that way. The face of the world is white — why wouldn’t the poly community be the same?
I still have hope that I will find black polyamorous people somewhere and that I will have the romantic relationships I have always wanted.
One day. 🙂
Both Alicia Bunyan-Sampson and Kevin Patterson have books coming out in spring 2018 from the alt-relationship book publisher Thorntree Press, according to its managing editor Eve Rickert.
● Newly up in South Africa, by Indo-Afrikan Queen: Love and Whiteness, Part II. Its message to South African white liberals also speaks to American situations. (Thanks to Green Fizzpops, who largely runs South African Polyamory, for posting the link.)
So the last time I wrote a post on this subject it was more directly lamenting the difficulties of loving a white person and the ways in which they fail to see you on a one-on-one level.
But as we get deeper into our relationship big things keep coming up. ... Put simply, loving a white partner is not simply about the one-on-one relationship the two of you have. ... See, there are the interpersonal dynamics between the two of you, then there are the larger societal power dynamics.
...Deciding to build something with a white person is complex, because the advantages they have of being in the world slowly crowd out the little space you have.
...A woman slowly is expected to conform to the culture of her partner, and her partner's family. That is, assimilation. But this is compounded because of the settler-colonist culture in South Africa; whiteness is seen as the highest bar of existence for all, and so with whiteness comes a sense of supremacy and entitlement, and if you don't fit the bar, you guessed it, you are less than worthy of being a part of the family.
There are a number of challenges that come up when I think about the costs that being in a relationship with a white cis-het male have had on my psyche. And to speak frankly I am tired. In fact all the women in me are tired. But because it is a release, and because it may help someone else out there I am going to dish them up right now. So sit back, and enjoy (if possible).
1 - Privilege and the associated lack of lived experience. This is perhaps the biggest stumbling block in our relationship. ... Sooner or later, one day you wake up and have the earth-shattering realisation that:
"There is no way in which my cis-het, upper class, able-bodied, christian, male partner, has ever been systemically discriminated against in his entire life."
And this shakes you up because all you've ever known was struggle....
...Obviously different people are woke to different levels, but white partners in particular tend to suffer from the white liberal affliction. They think that because [they] agree on the basis of morality and ethics there is no need to do extra work to be a good ally. In fact they may not even know what allyship means. And the burden of educating them is then defaulted onto YOU, the partner.
Because they are an entitled white male, they get offended when you say that it is not your duty to educate them. They don't understand that you don't owe it to them. ...
2 - Compounded with class and privilege comes family. In the case of my partner, he is half foreign, and half South African. And I always find that the half foreign aspect is what has saved him. Of the micro-aggressions that I experience at the hands of his family, those from his dad -- a white South African apartheid-era male -- are the worst. To him I am not an individual, I am other. Whenever he talks about black people or Indians, or black colleagues, he makes eye contact with me. Needless to say he thinks I am the fucking spokesperson for every Indian person in South Africa. ...
So yeah, white families. And guess what, you tell your partner about it and they accuse you of hating their family? ...
3 - Friends. I'll keep it short. The microaggressions are terrible. One of the friends also did the thing all white people do by referring to me as curry! Racist pig. There was no backlash from my partner, who then went on the defensive and like a week later forgot it happened. Well, I didn't forget....
4 - Society. ... It is worse because white liberals who live here [Capetown] go to church and think they are doing their duty unto society. ... They don't make eye contact with you if you are not white, and do not acknowledge your humanity. When they do it is in a patronising way....
5 - The lack of a reprieve. So, I go to work. It is extremely white, I go to therapy, she is white, I go home my partner is white. My family is scattered. I am alone in this city. ...
I love my partner. I really do. When it is just the two of us hanging, I see his soul and I truly feel that he sees mine, and I don't wanna end what we've been building. I dig it. I dig him. I dig our life. ... But the bottom line is this guy is going to have to put in some serious work.
I guess if I could speak frankly to him I would say....
Read on (April 3, 2017).
● Elisabeth Sheff-Stefanik is also in a racially mixed marriage, on the white side. Here's her Five Things White People Can Do to Make Their Poly Communities More Welcoming for People of Color (Sept. 12, 2016).
Set your defensiveness aside — Discussion of race and white privilege do not have to be about white people and our egos....
Listen — This means more than just keeping your mouth shut. This means really listening to and thinking about what the other person is saying, rather than formulating your rebuttal....
Educate Yourself — Do not expect people of color to educate you about racism — that is exhausting for them and inappropriate for you....
Acknowledge White Privilege — Out loud, every time you can, with your family, friends, grocers, neighbors, and strangers on the street....
Lean to Tolerate Racial Discomfort — Race is uncomfortable in the U.S., and white people have been able to shift that discomfort on to people of color for far too long. It is going to be profoundly uncomfortable for white people to talk about race — and that is OK....