Controversial letter goes viral as readers discuss ‘race play,’ a sexual fetish involving racial slurs?
In a recent Essence.com column, a black woman married to a white man described her shock in discovering that her husband likes to use racial slurs during sex. In a Q&A penned by love expert Abiola Abrams, a woman who called herself “Black and Proud” shared these details.
“Dear Abiola,” she wrote. “My man keeps calling me a ‘n***er b****h’ during sex and I hate it.”
“Black and Proud” elaborated that she and her partner appear to have a picture-perfect lifestyle, but it has been spoiled by his recurring epithets.
“Every time we try having sex again, the slurs fly,” the woman wrote. “Our sex life is pretty much over right now because I pretend to be asleep every time my sexy, handsome man wants to be with me.”
Letter leads to controversy
This essay stirred up a great deal of controversy, and was shared 15,000 times on Facebook. On Essence.com, the roughly 480 comments over the quandary “Black and Proud” described were so irate, users accused her of being anything but.
“There is only one reason marriages between black women and white men last longer than other marriages,” one reader opined. “Black women become submissive to white men. They view his whiteness as the ultimate validation and their half white offspring as superior to black children.”
On Clutch Magazine, a popular web destination for black women, some site visitors were similarly critical — but others unleashed a bombshell revelation to explain the husband’s behavior.
These users suggested that “Black and Proud” might have been exposed to a fetish called “race play” – a form of sexual expression among people exploring fantasies that can include the use of racial slurs between partners of different races.
In a curious parallel, “Black and Proud” did write that her husband explained his behavior by saying “a Black woman he dated in the past enjoyed being called racial slurs.”
Was “race play” behind this issue?
It’s easy to dismiss such an idea. There is no way we can know the seriousness with which her husband might have made this claim — or that the practice of “race play” motivated this incident. Plus, many readers were resistant to the concept in the belief that no black woman could possibly enjoy such a thing.
Yet, one Clutch user countered: “Google ‘race play’ and you will find out just how common this is… Most black women won’t discuss it for obvious reasons. Many white men seek out partners who will agree to this type of racial abuse.”
I Googled “race play” to find out a bit more about this apparent subculture that had been brought into a collective discussion. One of the top search results led me to Mollena Williams, an African-American writer who also describes herself as a “BDSM Educator, Storyteller, fat Fetish Model and Activist.”
She hardly gives off an impression of victimization.
The definition of “race play”
“’Race Play,’” she wrote in an email to theGrio, “is a form of consensual sexual role-playing in which the actual, perceived or assumed racial/ethnic/national identities of the participants is specifically the focus of the scene,” a scene being a scenario for fetish exploration.
“It might incorporate an assumption of supremacy based on race, and it sometimes even delves into troubling aspects of bigotry and privilege manifested in base racial slurs and exploitative scenarios,” Williams wrote.
This might make it seem as though a black woman would always be on the receiving end of aggressive energies in “race play,” but this is not the case.
“Anyone can be the aggressor, and some race play scenarios are heady ‘revenge fantasies’ against the institutionally advantaged, privileged individual,” Williams explained. “Race play can run the gamut from subtle to horrific. A scene could be something as subtle as people of the same ethnicity engaging in a teasing one-upmanship because the other is ‘lighter/darker’ and incorporate the conflict of intraracial politics. It could be as horrific as re-creating the interrogation of an Iraqi prisoner by a racist U.S. Marine Corps officer that then turns into an explicitly sexual scenario.”
The importance of communication
As shocking as that may seem, what is worse is marrying someone without knowing where his or her sexual preferences lie.
“If you are committing to spend the rest of your life with someone, honest and open communication about your sexuality is something to ignore at your own peril — and the peril of your relationship,” Williams stated. “Though it can be awkward, it helps to minimize the risk of mismatched intentions and desires.”
Williams noted that “Black and Proud” had only known her husband for six months before their marriage, according to her letter. The bondage and submission expert theorized that her husband may have had desires related to “race play” that he failed to share during courtship, “because he was reluctant to ‘scare her off,’” Williams wrote.
She also mentioned the different levels of comfort with “kink” observable among people of different racial backgrounds. This may have been a factor impacting “Black and Proud” and her interracial union. “Talking about your sexuality not only in terms of your personal experiences, but also within the framework of your racial and cultural experience can open up whole new realms of communication that can engage mutual compassion and expanded understanding.”
Can “race play” and mutual respect co-exist?
The greatest debate that emerged from this online exchange was over whether a white man can love and respect a black woman who he also calls the worst terms. Many commented that this is impossible.
Williams countered that mutual love and respect are certainly possible between participants in “race play,” and perhaps may even be enhanced by it.
“Love and respect [are] not guaranteed by avoiding certain modes of speech, nor [are they] obviated by the presence of seemingly hateful speech,” Williams wrote. “One of the most remarkable things I have found about exploring uncomfortable sexual fantasies is that it takes an enormous amount of trust, love and respect simply to share these fantasies.”
Yet, Williams acknowledges, partners cannot jump into this type of intimacy without setting some serious boundaries first, which the husband of “Black and Proud” evidently failed to do, regardless of whether “race play” was explicitly involved.
“I cannot stress enough the absolute need for consent on ALL sides of this equation,” Williams asserted. “Without consent, without a strong affirmative from ALL involved parties, this moves from the realm of edgy role-play to abuse. Straight up, end of story, no compromise. Love and respect can look like a hug and a kiss, a bow and a curtsy, or inescapable bondage and brutal words. What is vital – what is real – is the love and consent and respect that embraces ALL of who we are, not just the easy parts.”
What we can learn from this story
Whoever she may be, it is extremely sad that “Black and Proud” is facing such a difficult marital problem. Most will likely never engage in “race play,” and hopefully will never be exposed to unwanted language in any context, let alone in an intensely vulnerable setting such as sexual expression.
Yet, there is an important relationship lesson we can glean from the colloquy spurred by this highly unusual missive.
By exposing a curious fringe realm of sexuality, this topic has underscored the need to honestly and openly communicate one’s true sexual needs as essential to the success of any sexual partnership — regardless of how “kinky” or traditional those needs may be.