When I had released the survey asking people what to discuss at a future polyamory panel, one of the suggestions was intersections of polyamory, race, and queerness. This topic could be a panel by itself. Here I will attempt to give some insight to my experiences as an African American who happens to be polyamorous, but I am not going to go into detail about my experiences with being queer as I am often perceived as a cishet male and have only recently begun to explore elements of my queerness.
This will not be an academic paper, but rather a collection of thoughts put together into what I hope is a coherent form. I’ll put in some links here and there and give suggested readings, but this isn’t a research paper - this is just how I view things.
Content Warning: Mentions of racism, slavery, rape, murder.
A little personal history:
As an African American, I have heard two phrases repeatedly in my life: “you don’t act Black” from white people, and “why are you trying to act white” from Black people. Herein lies an issue that I’ve often experienced - expectations to conform to a certain standard that don’t suit me, but people want to see me as. This frustrates me to no end, but it is also a part of life that I’ve had to deal with forever. Not as much now as I’ve gotten older, but it still crops up at times.
A few reasons why this came up time and again was because of where I went to high school (a catholic, military, college preparatory, all male private school that was also 95+% white), my love for science fiction growing up (especially Star Trek), and my diction (as the child of two thespians, having a theatrical manner of speaking is to be expected). My peers could not relate to me - I was unique and often alone. And as I got older and started to try to date (try being the operative term; I didn’t have my first date until I was 21), I started hearing a new phrase: “I don’t date Black people”. I live in Minnesota (89.4% white in 2000, 85.3% white in 2010), and most of the spaces that I navigated were white spaces.
I mention this because it is important to understand where some of my perspective comes from.
Black bodies have been controlled throughout American history. African Americans have not been, and in far too many quarters are still not, seen as entirely human in America. Slaveholders would rape Black women and beat anybody who stood in their paths (read “A Slave Can’t Be a Man” by Lewis Clarke and Dr. Esther Hill Hawks’ summary of the rape of Susan Black for just a couple of examples). Black people would be lynched for so much as looking at white people the wrong way (the murder of Emmett Till being the most well known example). We have been forcibly sterilized and tested upon.
Polyamory is in the early stages of being viewed as “acceptable” in the United States. A lot of our media is focused on white, middle class people who are polyamorous, which tends to be more “palatable” for The Powers That Be. Times have been changing, fortunately, in that it is easier to find more pictures of polyamorous POCs, but a lot of the representation that is out there tends to come from white, middle class people. However, that doesn’t mean that it is acceptable in society; as I have mentioned before, people who are outed as polyamorous can lose their jobs or be denied promotions, can lose their kids, and can even lose their homes. We’re not seen as “normal”. People who are not polyamorous, I’ve found, will call people who are Black and polyamorous a “pimp” or a “playa” but not do similar towards white people.
Yes, I’ve been called a “playa” more than once. Including by my own father. It infuriates me.
African Americans, being second-class citizens, exist in a way that makes us unique in polyamory communities. One of the efforts to control us was to paint us as hypersexualized beasts, creatures to be sought after, objects to be put on display, and that sometimes shows up in communities. But being The Other also is a thing that shows up in communities, a lack of representation leading to being the only Black person (or even the only POC) - we’re talked to and asked to provide emotional labor, but without forming romantic and/or sexual relationships.
“I don’t date Black people” really hurts. It also says a lot about you.
My mother once asked me, “would you ever date a Black girl?” I know she means woman, but that’s for a different post. The question confused me, though - of course I would. “Well, you don’t seem to have many Black friends.” Yeah, statistically, that makes sense. She tried to tell me that there was a similar lack of Black people around her growing up as I have had - she went to an integrated high school, I went to a white high school; she was into athletics, I avoided athletics (I was rather shy, to be honest); the neighborhood she lived in had far more Black people than the neighborhood I lived in. And, of course, I’m polyamorous - I know very few POC folk who are polyam. Period. Not to say I don’t know any - just very few.
Yes, my partner is white. I love them very much. And our love is between us.
Being Black and polyamorous is lonely. It’s being different. It’s being excluded in ways that white people don’t realize is happening. I’ve been asked more than once “don’t you think that you’d be happier if you were monogamous?” No, I really would not be - it would be rather painful, honestly. I’ve tried it. I would have to hide a part of who I am while still dealing with being Black in America and all of the trials and tribulations that come with it. But being Black and polyamorous is a part of my life, and I live it.
Open to Love: Polyamory and the Black American
Chris Smith on Poly and the Black American
Here's The Real Truth About Polyamory In The Black Community
A Real Look At Consensual Non-Monogamy in the Black Community
African American Women | Freedom-Based Relationships
No, Open and Nonmonogamous Relationships Are Not Just for White People
Open Relationships, Nonconsensual Nonmonogamy, and Monogamy Among U.S. Adults: Findings from the 2012 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior
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