Race and Power Exchange Dynamics

Race and Power Exchange Dynamics

It was brought to my attention that there is a lack of resources for cis het men that identify as a submissive, particularly for black men. I remember several years ago questioning this disparity, noticing that the vast majority of books for male submissives read like porn and lack any depth or insight. Even good books on power exchange dynamics rarely mention the intersection of race. My book Rope Happy discusses race as part of our identity, and power exchange, but not directly as a topic in its own right. So, it got me thinking…

I am a dominant, but not white. I have not experienced a power exchange dynamic with a black man. So, I will not write about that specific dynamic. I will write about what I do know: how race influences power exchange dynamics and steps we can take to reduce harm.

I live in the UK. The term we use here for racial minorities is Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic; BAME. In the USA, you might hear the terms People of Colour POC, or Black, Indigenous and People of Colour BIPOC. I will use POC in this writing. Whichever term you use, this refers to the group of people for whom thier race and/or skin colour has left them systematically and culturally disadvantaged. There is a personal and family history of colonisation, enslavement, apartheid, displacement and unequal civil rights. This results in increased poverty, leading to complex social problems and inability to climb the social and economic ladder. Justice systems reflect the socially accepted forms of racism, and lead to a widening gap for the already marginalised from their white/Eurocentric counterparts. In short, if you are of colour or follow a religion that is demonised (pagan faiths, Judaism and Islam, in particular) you aren’t on the same pitch playing the same game where the more powerful decide the rules that preserve their wealth and power. The degree and style of racism will vary according to your location.

It is unpleasant and unjust. It is rooted in the dehumanising of groups of people. It leads to genocide, the worst example being the holocaust, and war and death. It is a human problem, even if you don’t experience it yourself.

So, inevitably, this will impact your rope and kink. As you develop relationships and play with others, you will be exposed to their vulnerabilities. You will need to understand that your life and the privileges it contains do not match the experiences of the partners you have. You need to make yourself aware of the complexities of race in kink, particularly if/when you explore power exchange dynamics.

General Reflections

I need to know from my partners, especially white/Eurocentric ones:

  1. Do they hold any racist views? They might be fine with black people, but be antisemitic. Racism sometimes takes different hues and can be very nuanced to explore. So, notice how they refer to other racial groups.
  2. Are they bigoted in any other way? Homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic. Do they belittle others to feel better about themselves? All forms of bigotry are rooted in insecurities and ignorance. Would you want that in your life?
  3. Are they fetishising your racial heritage? This leaves me feeling used and colonised. Consuming and idolising a part of my identity as a POC I have no control over, that in my daily life causes pain, is disrespectful.
  4. Do they think race isn’t a thing? Saying things like “I don’t see race” or “all lives matter”, may come from good intentions, but race does influence daily life and we all need to understand how.

Ultimately, it is up to you as an individual to decide what level of racism you want to allow in your life from other people that you choose to interact with. You can also choose how much you allow racism into your kink life. I am not saying you can choose if you experience racism or not, you can’t. It’s everywhere. Everywhere. Rather, I’m suggesting you to not debase yourself by allowing anyone racist in your life that you don’t have to, when you have that choice.

To be fair, we rarely have that choice, do we! If you can limit it, do. You deserve to have people around you that celebrate your racial identity and understand your struggles. We all deserve that.

Power Exchange

What is power exchange? In my opinion, it is a term often associated with dominance and submission (D/s), control, and authority transfer. Through informed consent, a submissive chooses to serve the needs of their dominant, in whichever form they choose it to take. It may involve bondage, humiliation/degradation, discipline, sadomasochism, pet/age/role play, be sexual or not, and can even not involve any kink at all.

The key is the handing over of power, allowing one person, a dominant, to make the decisions on behalf of the other person, a submissive.

However, if you live in a society where your rights are limited because of your race, handing over control adds an extra layer of complexity, vulnerability and consideration – which can be very beautiful when handled with due care. If we decide to create a dynamic with a person of a different race, you would be wise to intend to honour your racial differences.

Navigating Race

This is not easy, though. Sometimes white people do not notice the racism that exists until they see it being inflicted on others, and don’t make excuses for it.

Furthermore, we can be influenced by racial stereotypes in porn. Black men depicted as BBC bulls, black women as dommes, Asian women as submissive, which is deeply unhealthy and unhelpful.

If you are a white person seeking to play with a person of colour, consider:

  1. Why do you wish to engage in play with this person? Could you be using their race as social capital, to look good and not racist?
  2. What is attracting you to them? Is the race the reason you are attracted to them? If so why? Is it rooted in stereotypes or discriminatory practices?
  3. How aware are you of the social pressures and levels of racism that person of colour is experiencing?
  4. How easily have you made it for the person of colour to open up about their sensitivities and vulnerabilities associated with power exchange?
  5. What behaviours, words and protocols do you wish to build with your dominant or submissive that might cause offense or trigger a traumatic memory the person of colour has endured?

You may notice, I’ve not separated out the dominant or submissive roles in that list. That is because dominants can be used for social gain by white people just as much as submissives can. If it is rooted in racial domination, to feel better as a white/eurocentric person (eg. “I’m not racist because I have Black friends”) whatever the power exchange dynamic role, it is racist. Don’t do that.

Submission and Race

That being said, giving over power in a world that has stripped your from your agency by your very existence, is a big deal. POC already find it harder to access good education, climb their career ladder, overcome financial burdens, access sufficient healthcare, gain justice and feel safe.

  • As a priority, health and safety are paramount in all BDSM practices. White/Eurocentric people need to know that whatever they negotiate to do will not inadvertently harm the other person, due to ignorance or neglect. All participants need to feel safe.
  • POC need to know their best interests are taken seriously and are adhered to. If you cannot meet those needs, don’t cross your fingers and hope for the best. Instead, don’t play until you know how to navigate racial pressures in regards to safety.
  • POC need to know you care. We need to know you intend no harm and are actively taking steps to prevent harm.
  • If a person has a darker skin pigmentation, you need to recognise marks and how they vary on different skin tones.
  • A person of colour would have heard certain racial slurs and you need to understand how troubling this can be.
  • Some people of colour enjoy race play, so if you choose to engage with this, then you need to know your intention is not rooted in racism and be very thorough indeed in your negotiations. Don’t guess or wing it. You might have that privilege, but it will cause harm.
  • Be familiar with any language barriers – slang, dialects and languages. Include body language because a simple gesture can be seen as a racist microagression. Similarly, a submissive using different body language may appear disrespectful but is not intended that way at all.

Intersections With Other Minority Indentities

As a cis-gendered, queer Asian woman with invisible disabilities, I have lived experiences of how those identities and demographics intersect and influence with each other and how I play with others.

A wise thing to do, to avoid harm, would be to check your privilege index. You are also more privileged if you are:

  • Able bodied – physically and mentally
  • Straight
  • Fair skinned
  • Speak your country’s language fluently
  • Are highly educated
  • Come from an affluent background
  • Are straight
  • Are cis-gendered
  • Are a cis-gendered man
  • Are the same religion as that that is influencing your countries laws
  • Are aged and experienced in life
  • Have wealth
  • Have a stable source of income
  • Have secure housing
  • Live in a place with social security and free healthcare

By knowing your privileges, you provide yourself a better viewpoint to understand the needs of others. Do not pity those more marginalised than you. Instead, celebrate their identity and welcome any feedback you receive. Allow space for reflection and do not pressure others to confirm to your privileged requirements. After all, not everyone can run to the late night supermarket at midnight to get you a tub of ice cream, for example!

In fact, between two white/Eurocentric people, knowing knowing these privileges can help inform your relationship too. At the end of the day, we want to find and nourish our relationships based on openness, honesty and the real world we live in. And avoid causing harm in the process.

Final Thoughts

This writing is based on my experience and perspective on this matter. Other POC will feel and think differently. We are all people deserving equal right and opportunities to thrive. We are one human race. But the world isn’t built that way, not by the privileged anyway. Racism is still a pressing issue and will continue to be so for many, many years to come.

So, be mindful of any racial influences and considerations you may have when forming and developing relationships or playing with people of a different race to you. If you wish to hand over power and control, do so wisely. If you wish to take control and authority, be acutely aware of your privileges and how to not abuse them.

Nobody is perfect. All you can do is try your best and take time to reflect on your power exchange practice. Learn from your mistakes. Be humble, the best leaders walk with patience and humility. Own mistakes and make ammends as best you can.

Any thoughts? Please comment below.

Title image: two colour dragonfly neck tie created, rigged, modelled and photographed by Dea Nexa

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