"Polyamory Can Be Liberating For People Of Colour, Until Racism Gets In The Way"
The story below deserves a post of its own. It appeared on HuffPost Canada a couple days ago. To judge from it, Canada may have made less progress than the organized poly movement in the US — at least the people who organize, present at, and attend the big poly conventions. More on that in a bit.
But first, excerpts:
"When polyamorous people of colour date, they often are mindful of how their identities are treated in community spaces. (Getty)"
Polyamory Can Be Liberating For People Of Colour, Until Racism Gets In The Way
By Al Donato
How can you feel love for more than one person? Before Gabby Cenona opened herself up to polyamory, this question was insurmountable. As the daughter of Filipino immigrants, her upbringing enforced the idea that people are only supposed to romance one person at a time. ...
[As] polyamory, often shortened to “poly” or more recently “polyam,” ...becomes more visible in Canada, so too are misconceptions rising to the surface. Among the most common: “Polyamory is for white people.”
Just gonna say this, if you wanna be polyamorous then chances are you're gonna date a lot of white people— M. Shawnukkah (@shawwillsuffice) September 24, 2017
In reality, Canadians of colour like Cenona are just as willing to form polyamorous relationships. Although white people tend to be the face of polyamory, a paper published in the German Journal of Psychology reports that people of colour are just as likely to engage in consensual non-monogamy.
People of colour (POC) who are ethically non-monogamous... explained to HuffPost Canada that while their love lives are active, they aren’t nearly as visible in media or represented in community spaces as their white counterparts. By virtue of who they are, their relationships are nuanced by racial inequality and cultural considerations; two factors that rarely get explored in mainstream conversations about polyamory.
Getting fetishized, ignored can lead to alienation
...Jenny Yuen, a Toronto Sun editor and the author of Polyamorous: Living and Loving More, found that many of the polyamorous people of colour she talked to felt fetishized by polyamorous meetups and discussion groups; when concerns would be brought up, they’d be brushed aside.
“They feel like, for example if they’re Black, they’ll be asked to ‘taste the chocolate,’” Yuen said. When statements like those are called out, Yuen said, it can lead to a defensive retort like, “Why won’t you take that as a compliment?”
Racial fetishes aren’t just a problem in consensual non-monogamy, as they pose issues for many people of colour. But for a community that relies on finding like-minded individuals for a specific relationship style, the fear of fetishizing can become a huge deterrent to forming bonds. Psychology Today [actually Eli Sheff's Psychology Today blog] listed the fear of becoming someone’s fetish as a major reason why polyamorous community spaces like meetup groups are often white-dominated.
...Aside from worries about getting fetishized... stigma and not having the time or money make people of colour hesitant to go to polyamorous events in-person.
Kevin A. Patterson, author of the book Love’s Not Colorblind, notes that when Black people are present in white spaces, white attendees mistakenly believe that that it’s OK to objectify them. He recalls how at one event, a man told him about his wife and bragged about her “queen of spades tattoo;” the ink’s symbolism implied that she was into Black men, as “spade” can be used as a racial slur.
“We’re going to talk about this bullshit racist tattoo that you think is going to endear me to you, your wife, your situation,” Patterson told the man.
Patterson says that he and other polyamorous people of colour deal with this degree of insensitivity on such a regular basis that “for every one of these [incidents], there’s like five that I forgot.”
...Millie Boella, a Black Canadian who was interviewed by Yuen, felt uneasy when she realized that only 11 out of 1,000 people in a Toronto polyamorous group she was added to were visibly people of colour, based on their Facebook avatars.
Patterson said that when he and his wife went to their first meetup for ethical non-monogamous locals, only five other people of colour attended. Four never returned.
“When you’re a person of colour, you have to decide how much white nonsense you’re willing to tolerate, how many microaggressions you’re willing to tolerate,” Patterson told HuffPost Canada.
People of colour have long histories with polyamory
For many cultures, polyamory isn’t anything new. The long history of consensual non-monogamy in many cultures predates today’s version of monogamy.... Relationship styles like “walking marriages,” open arrangements, and polyamory in Indigenous communities have been documented all around the world.
Despite this, many still see polyamory as a recent concept popularized by white North Americans. “Anything that is progressive is deemed as ‘white people discovered it first,’” Boella said. The Vancouver resident, whose family comes from Kenya, says that there are non-monogamous relationships in her country.... “My tribe has a lot of progressive love practices that I haven’t seen Western culture do … we always judge people of colour as conservative when there’s so much nuance to that.”
...Aside from the unequal treatment they navigate in non-monogamous circles, polyamorous people of colour note that they may also face hardship when talking about love in their own communities.
...For many communities of colour the theoretical, academic framework of polyamory (which comes with an extensive vocabulary) is inaccessible. Kristura also believes that because they are marginalized, communities of colour may form strict attitudes toward behaviour that don’t fit Western norms as a survival tactic.
“The more marginalized a community is, the more it’s going to feel the need to police itself,” they say. “Whiteness is equated with privilege; privilege is freedom. When you get right down to it, white people can do anything and be looked at as individuals. They’re not going to be looked at as a reflection of their race. We are.”
...Boella told HuffPost Canada that she founded the Facebook group Toronto Non-Monogamous BIPOC after deciding the original group she was in needed a separate space for people of colour. The group has become popular in the city, spawning meetups that became workshops on requested topics.
And in the US chapters of Black & Poly have sprung up in 10 cities, there's one in London, and there are now two polycons centering the black experience: Black Poly Pride in Washington DC in June, and Poly Dallas Symposium in July.
Other ways of improving polyamorous social circles include challenging the existing spaces to do better for their racialized attendees. Patterson said he is vocal when spaces make him uncomfortable as a Black person. This has led to sometimes being shunned for calling out organizers, but has also resulted in direct change...
Boella encourages polyamorous white people to be allies to their partners of colour. That can mean listening when a partner of colour calls them out, or holding workshops that teach fellow white community members to stop unethical dating practices like fetishizing or, on the flip side, avoiding relationships with certain ethnicities. She says she hasn’t seen workshops geared toward being supportive to partners of colour.
“I haven’t seen that; I feel like this is a massive blind spot,” she says. ...
Read the whole article (Nov. 22, 2019).
Kevin Patterson (who's brilliant on many topics, not just the above) will be the keynote speaker at the Poly Living convention in Philadelphia the weekend of February 7–9, and I see that almost a third of the Poly Living presenters in the program are people of color.
That didn't just happen. For several years Patterson and at least a dozen others have been actively working in the poly awareness and education movement for wider representation around race, ethnicity, economic class, and gender diversity, and this has benefited us all. For one thing, it has upped conference attendance numbers. This comes after many years of us well-meaning white folks wondering why so few others than us were showing up. It took a dedicated vanguard — but it also took event organizers ready to partner with that vanguard (thank you Robyn Trask) and to listen to how to create safe and welcoming spaces.
It's de rigeur now for cons to provide at least some scholarships, work trade, and room shares for polyfolks who are not in the middle class and up, and to help pay presenters' travel and hotel expenses where needed. (Most polycons are still not big enough to cover their presenters' expenses as a matter of course; most struggle to break even). There is also greater attention to building in safety for women and gender minorities and accommodating disabilities.
A notable blowup happened when organizers of one polycon, Beyond The Love in Columbus, Ohio, came under criticism for disrespect and then not making things right. BTL, under new management, apparently got the message that the community's concerns needed to be addressed, especially when members of the community are offering to help out, not just criticize. BTL 2019 was three weeks ago. I wasn't there, so I can't report how things went, but I've heard nothing ill. The scholarship money that was collected at a fundraiser last year was located and used, I'm told, and the producers established a diversity and inclusiveness statement for attendees to which they too expect to be held. Any news from people who went?
Also, just up this evening: On Zora, "A Medium publication for women of color," Are Polyamorous Relationships the New Sexual Revolution? (Nov. 25)
By Feminista Jones
...Part of why I began my own work as a sex-positive feminist was because of the lack of Black women’s inclusion in conversations about sexual agency and liberation. I fully understand that sexual conservatism in Black communities is real and is often rooted in religious beliefs and the result of historical sexual trauma. I also know that people of color do have robust and diverse sexual experiences and the nuances of our sexual activity and participation in alternative sexual lifestyles like polyamory must be included in larger discussions about sex and sexuality.
...Websites that center Black people, in particular, are growing in number as more people feel safer sharing their polyamorous preferences. In 2018, BET published an article about being Black and polyamorous in which Crystal Farmer, editor of the online magazine Black & Poly, also pointed out that the larger poly community is still pretty White and she, like so many others, feels more comfortable around other Black people in poly-focused social settings. And because it can be difficult to find romantic partners when society still ostracizes polyamorous people, Black & Poly also operates a dating site for people looking to find poly love online and it welcomes all types of poly configurations, genders, and sexual orientations.
...Black Poly Nation (BPN) was founded by a Black polyamorous couple, Devon White and Danielle Stokes-White, in December 2018. In less than a year, BPN already has an Instagram following of over 13,000 people, over 11,000 subscribers on YouTube, and a Facebook community group with nearly 14,000 members. According to their website, BPN is “dedicated to uplifting all forms of Poly and other forms of ethical nonmonogamous relationships” and its mission is “to create a social engagement centered community, that allows people to learn, network, and even search for love.” I reached out to them to learn more about BPN and what makes them a go-to source for all things Black and polyamorous....
White said the decision to create the BPN community was in response to “a growing call for a change in how Black polyamorous people engage each other.” He noted that “everyday people” weren’t represented in a lot of groups and that their organization “has laid the groundwork for a new, more modern and realistic representation of Black polyamorous people, one where the focus is on building a community as a whole.” BPN shares educational tidbits about polyamory, encourages community engagement, promotes mental health awareness, and according to Stokes-White, BPN has hosted more local meetups across the country than any other organization this year. ...
...There are also conferences that center the lived experiences of Black polyamorous people, and Black Poly Pride is the newest one to enter the scene. Launched in 2019 by Chanee Jackson Kendall and Cheri Calico Roman, co-founders of The Poly Cultural Diversity Alliance, the conference was created because of the lack of Black presenters and educators at other poly conferences. “Instead of waiting to be invited to speak, we built our own table and platform.” ...
As an educator, she was tired of being asked to speak specifically about “diversity” and being Black and poly; she wanted to create a conference where Black presenters were allowed to cover all aspects of polyamory, not just race issues. ...
We are witnessing a shift in consciousness when it comes to the ways in which Black people love. Polyamory and ethical nonmonogamy are increasingly popular because of the people who are unapologetic and unafraid to be open and truthful about their experiences and their love lives. ...
The whole article (Nov. 25).