Within the “kink” community, there are subgroups catering to specific interests and fetishes. Within these safe spaces, people can comfortably express their alternative desires among like-minded people who won’t dismiss them as weirdos. While some might seem extreme, they’re mostly innocent and harm no one. Still, some fetishes garner more controversial attention, and “race play” is definitely one of them.
Mollena Williams, an internationally known and respected writer, lecturer and authority on race play, defines it as “a form of consensual, sexual role-playing in which the actual, perceived or assumed racial/ethnic/national identities of the participants are specifically the focus of the scene.” She adds that race play “can include the fetishization of a specific racial feature (skin color, hair texture, facial features).”
Within the adult entertainment industry, there’s a high demand for movies and images depicting various forms of interracial coupling. A quick Google search for “interracial sex” yields tens of thousands of links to websites and movie clips catering to this fetish. Some scenes include White female starlets unapologetically use the “N-word” with Black male partners, who respond favorably and often with more vigor. Cuckold scenes often involves a White man whose White wife has sex with a Black man in front of him, to his apparent “shame.” There are even scenes with White men wearing confederate flag attire having sex with Black women.
How far is too far? Where do we draw the line between what we consider freedom of expression and hate speech? Is there ever a time when “race play” can be enjoyable and rewarding, or is it an absolute no-no in any situation?
Williams says, “engaging in a type of role-play that brings up real-life difficulties—abuse, racism, bigotry, sexism, for example—is not something to be done frivolously.” She compares preference for edgier fetishes like race play to the preference some people have for rougher, more aggressive sex. “The core concept is consent,” she says. “I get to choose my partners, I get to choose how I express my sexuality. We all carry bias, and most of us have been on the receiving end of bigotry, exclusionary tactics and ‘othering’ at some point in our lives. Race play gives me the opportunity to explore this within the safer context of a controlled environment, and see where my mind and heart takes me.”
Njaila Rhee, a popular sex-positive blogger who also works in adult entertainment, has a different opinion. As a mixed-race woman of Black and Asian heritage, she’s well aware her Blackness has made her into some type of trophy or accomplishment for some Asian and other non-Black men.
“When I’m intimate with a man, I want him to be connected to me as an individual, not as a prefabricated hyper-sexualized notion,” Rhee says, explaining her discomfort with race play. She noted that when she took on a moniker with the word “Blasian” in it, her inbox was suddenly filled with men who expressed specific interest in her racial makeup for fulfilling their fantasies.
Williams maintains that there’s value in race-based interactions. “The most profound shift in my reality was the realization that I am stronger than bigotry,” she says. “It reminds me that we all, as humans, have a terrible facet of our emotional selves that we usually manage to keep at bay. My spirit feels galvanized and my fear is mitigated.”
Surely there are boundaries, right? Williams cautions, “If someone pushes, coerces, uses racially offensive language in casual conversation, if they ignore your boundaries, I would caution against engaging in any [kinky] play with them, let alone one of the edgiest type of role-play scenarios out there. Use your gut. If it feels off, call it off.”
“My kink ain’t your kink” is one of the common phrases used by African-Americans who participate in alternative sexual lifestyles, as an affirmation and respect for personal choices. I will admit, race play ain’t my kink. Unlike many of my sisters and brothers in the kink, however, I respect Mollena’s (and others’) right to engage in their preferred consensual kinky acts, despite my own personal views about them.
There are things I’m into that others don’t understand, and I don’t feel the need to defend my adult preferences. I’m not hurting anyone. The question about whether or not race play hurts or has long-term negative effects on the individuals involved lingers. Kinky activities affect people differently. We should, however, at least give people the benefit of the doubt that, as adults, they’ll take care of themselves and stick with the type of sex that gets them off and satisfies their deepest desires.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.