Polyamory and Racial Minorities
I have a somewhat sensitive subject to talk about, and I don't know if it's been talked about before. If it has, let me know and I'll try to search for it, or post a link here and I'd be eternally grateful.
My question is, why does most of the poly population seem to be drawn from Caucasian (read: white and of European descent), and even especially well-educated and well-off Caucasian peoples? For example, why do African Americans seem to be largely "left out" of the poly movement? Can anyone suggest some ideas that would make such minorities feel more welcome, interested, and able to try out some poly practices, and even, mingle more with the "usual poly demographic?"
The local poly group I belong to is doing a potluck and discussion hour near the end of this month and they are going to try to discuss and address this problem (I assume I should consider it a problem). Whenever we meet together, it's always a bunch of standardized white folks meeting together. I'd love to see more diversity in our meetings. What are the chances something can be done to encourage that? I suppose we're partly out of luck, since New Mexico doesn't seem to have a large black population. (Does that represent part of the problem?) We do have a large Latino (and Native American) population though, so maybe there's a way we could reach out to those peoples?
I am rather stumped which is why I thought I should try tapping into Polyamory.com for persepctive, insight, etc.
Having mulled over it, I had an "oh shit" moment where I realized the same kind of disparity shows up almost every time one turns on the TV or visits the theater. What's the ratio of black-to-white actors, especially actors who play the main character? What about newscasters, aren't most of them white? It seems to me like African Americans are left out culturally in a number of areas. Sure official segregation is a thing of the past and progress has been made (e.g. an African American President for the first time ever), but I almost feel like we're pointing at them, and saying, "You don't belong." You see black folks in sports and music, but not in Hollywood. What's the reason?
I guess, then, that it isn't what you'd call a "polyamory problem" per se, it's more like a widespread cultural problem. I feel like there are large areas in the United States where most black folks don't feel safe or comfortable to live. In fact, doesn't the largest concentration of black population seem to be confined to the historic slave states? Gods, black people don't even feel like they can leave the geographic areas where they've always been oppressed the most. Maybe part of it is that all people tend to want to live near their relatives, and it's not like a whole family is going to simultaneously up and move across the country.
Is there a way white and black people can at least dialog with each other more? get to know each other better? I feel self-conscious about how little I know about what it's like to be an African American, what their hopes and fears and day-to-day lives entail. I feel like I have a vague, Hollywood-guided visual of all that. Is part of the problem a disparity in how much internet access people have? Would it help me to find or select some African American individual I've never met and see if we could become pen pals? How would I approach that; where would I start?
I kind of picture this wide, formidable chasm between white and black people, and nobody seems to know how to bridge that chasm. As I said I know we're making progress little by little, but what are some things I can do as an individual to be more helpful?
Maybe it's comparable to the problem of getting polyamory (and homosexuality, and kink) accepted by mainstream society. It takes a lot of struggle and it doesn't happen overnight. After all, one can also turn on the TV and see hardly any polyamorous characters depicted in almost any movie. Oh, polyamory is beginning to get some public attention, but slowly; very very slowly. And I'm sure we all remember what a big deal it was when Brokeback Mountain came out. So sometimes races are marginalized, and sometimes life choices are marginalized. Sooo ... is there a way all us marginalized folks can get together more? cling to each other for support? learn how to help each other better?
What are your thoughts in general on all these matters?
Stepping in with what might seem like a glib response, I'd like to say that the various racial minorities I spend time with are doing pretty much the same kind of thing as the racial majorities... It's not the action, it's the communication. If this were a political movement and there were organizers trying to build momentum and clout and voice, we'd be building coalitions of folks with like-minded interests. As is, forums like these and other areas of the world are images of the societies in which they exist.
Stated differently: there's plenty of poly-like behavior across all of society, and it's a question of finding the conversations and figuring out the different definitions and vocabularies.
Polyamory and Ethnicity
In that thread, our member Hades36 posted a few times about his perspective on his local poly community as a black man married to a white woman. IIRC, he also stated a few times that the black community is very poly - they jjust don't callit that!
Thanks NYC. I posted a comment on that thread:
Yes, I am a thread necromancer. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!
I guess I feel good knowing African Americans are at least not excluded from the ability to choose polyamory (by any other name). Now if we could just figure out how to get those two groups of polyamorists together! I suppose "getting together" would be a considerably bigger risk for most African American "polyamorists." Just a fond thought I have, that maybe someday it'll happen.
I spent a short but intense while in Detroit serving as a missionary for the Mormon church. I baptized one guy there, and one baptism isn't much to speak of for your average missionary. But that one guy treated me like we'd been fast friends all our lives, took me on a few fun (but harmless) adventures in the city, and became a big part of me learning to love that ethnicity, to feel proud of the people of that city, honored to mingle with them, and now, decades later, I've left the church behind but that experience has stayed with me. I am grateful it happened. I miss the wonderful African Americans I met there. Considering I was a white guy, the descendent of slave-owners, you'd have thought they'd have been put off by my presence. But such was not the case. A lot of people treated me really, really well during those fondly-remembered months.
So, the notion of connecting the dots between the white and black communities is a notion that is near and dear to my heart.
I am from a black Caribbean background. In our culture, polyamory exists, sort of, in a DADT sort of capacity. It wasn't uncommon for a man to have several Mistresses that his wife knew of. Did she consent? Well, she didn't leave him, but that is probably due to cultural and religious expectations, the high incidence of domestic violence and lack of opportunities for women generally. The key thing that invalidates it from being "poly" in my book is that if, given the choice, she would have preferred to be in a monogamous relationship. Not every women, perhaps, but I'd say a lot would have because of their religious beliefs. And that's another reason why people probably wouldn't have been "out" even if they had the choice, the men I mean, because of the religious influence.
Overall, that's why I think there will be less ethnic minorities who would ID as poly even if they basically live a polyamorous lifestyle, simply because it isn't supported by religious scripture and therefore the communities that they belong to. This obviously assumes that someone from an ethnic minority is more influenced by religion than their Western Caucasian counterparts. Yes, North America especially has very religious groups of Caucasians, but even those groups do not practice polyandry, it's always polygamy, and is always "made good" with the religious blessing of marriage. It's not just some guy with a bunch of girlfriends. It has to be made "holy".
They always call it polygamy, but technically, if it's one man with multiple wives, it should be called polygyny. I know, I'm splitting hairs ...
So from what you're saying, the obstacles appear to be threefold:
By the way, most (not all) polyamorists are of of the opinion that "polyamory without consent" isn't really polyamory at all; it's just cheating. So even if these wives know about their husbands' girlfriends, if said wives are (in their hearts) opposed to it, then the men are really just conducting a collection of affairs. Consent is usually considered a really important part of genuine polyamory.
I also want to add my personal feeling that it sounds pretty unfair that the men can have extra women, but the women can't have extra men. Of course, that was always unfair. It was unfair when the Old Testament prophets did it, and it's unfair when the Mormons do it. (I say "Mormon" loosely because the "main Mormon church" has given up the practice, however several "break-off Mormon sects" still do it.)
Religiously sanctioned patriarchal polygyny (commonly known as polygamy) is actually okay if the women really honestly deep down in their hearts consent to it. But the problem is, what if that religion resorts to lifelong brainwashing to get this "consent?" It's like saying it's okay to have sexual relations with a child if the child consents. The child doesn't have enough experience in life to give genuine informed consent.
I guess I kind of wandered off-topic there, but let's just say those are some of my thoughts about men having relations with multiple women.
I appreciate your input.
Yes, I agree about the consent issues, and that's why I said it "sort of" exists. I mean, some women were like okay about it enough to ensure significant women in his life would be able to come to his funeral etc, others wouldn't and the "second family" would always be shunned. Financially and otherwise. But, with the consent thing, we have to accept that many Mono-poly relationships are exactly the same. Yes the mono party knows and allows it to continue for fear of losing the relationship or whatnot, but they are also opposed to it, "in their hearts". I have felt for a long time that invalidates the consensual element of the relationship, and believe it or not, it's mostly the fault of the mono person, because they always say "yes" when they mean "no".
Yes, Black people are VERY POLY...but for some weird reason we don't call it that. Its actually a really deeply ingrained and accepted part of Black culture, at least from my experiences. Its funny, I had a conversation with a new female friend just recently. I had suggested she should try poly and she pooh-poohed it, said it was too weird, etc. BUT...she is seeing a married guy, and his wife knows about and accepts her, and she is also seeing two other guys who have their own women, and everyone knows about each other! I told her, "Well...um...you're already sorta doing it!"
I do wonder why Blacks don't just embrace it and call it what it is. Idk. I mean, I'm Black but when I talk about poly, other Blacks act like its just a "White thing"...smh...sad.
Wow, I just read your entire post. Loving it! I wish you lived closer to Philly. My wife and I are engaging in just this sort of dialogue with our community (Mount Airy, PA) about race (and gender, sexual orientation, spirituality, etc.) We do monthly Conversation Cafes where bring together a diverse group of people and have them engage on these very issues. I'm loving that you are wanting the same thing in your community!
Yes, the topic kind of came up as one of a couple of (very interesting) topics, and the group voted for the race/poly topic. I was rather pleased about that, but then I thought later, "I have no idea how to address this topic!" So I was even more pleased to discover that it's already been talked about quite a bit on this forum. That's what I needed ... different points of view and perspectives and food for thought.
I'm sure we'd get along well if I lived in your area in Philly, and I'd enjoy your Conversation Cafes. Alas, although I'm on the cusp of moving, my direction isn't to be east/northeast but rather north/northwest, to Seattle-ish where my older brother and his wife live. We get along so well with those two, love the ambience of the area (yes even that dubious weather), and look forward to the fact that Seattle seems to be one of the big "poly centers" in the United States. Other cities with large and well-organized poly populations are Los Angeles, Austin (Texas), and Boston. Anyway, my V definitely has Seattle on the brain right now.
I am interested in the idea that lots of black folks practice polyamory in essence, but think of it as "weird" when called by that name. I wonder what they feel the difference is, or is the difference merely that polyamory is something "that white people do?" When you described "black polyamory," I heard all the essential elements that polyamory calls for -- romantic/emotional involvement, commitment, and most of all consent. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, ain't it a duck? Strange. Some kind of gap in perception is at work here, do black folks realize how like them polyamorous whites really are in that respect? I suppose as always the missing link is communication between the races. If we all really understood each other, we might all have an "aha" moment.
Could the disconnect be rooted in the fear of "mixing with the other race?" Are white people somehow "feared" amongst the black community, because of the awful way whites have treated blacks in the past? "Whites can't be trusted ... If it's something whites are doing, it must be alien and weird and something we'd want no part of." Could that be part the problem?
Alas, I can't imagine any way any white peoples could make up for the sins of their ancestors. Slavery and all it entails is such a vast and mind-boggling sin, it's just impossible to imagine any restitution that could fix it in the present. As yet another unfair element in the story, the onus seems to fall on black folks to forgive white folks even though white folks don't deserve it. I guess I'd compare it to the holocaust in WWII. How are the Jews supposed to forgive the Germans? The damage the Germans did is permanent; it reaches through each successive generation. In which case, forgiveness is an undeserved gift.
And then, forgiveness is generally assumed to come paired with the restoration of trust. It's one thing to forgive someone (relinquish any ill will held towards them), but it's another thing to say, "Well I will trust that person again. I will let them be a part of my life." Why should black folks trust white folks?
All this is complicated, of course, by the fact that many white folks (e.g. my father, I'm ashamed to say) cling to their prejudices against black people, and aren't willing to relate to black people eye to eye. Black people certainly remain disenfranchised as a whole in our society. So how do you extend trust in that kind of environment, just for the sake of a few whites who don't have the traditional prejudices?
One hopeful thought is that maybe *polyamorous* whites are more trustworthy, because they tend to have more liberal and open-minded views. How often would you see a polyamorous white person who had a distaste for black people? Not very often. For the most part, polyamorous whites are progressive and sincere about wanting to get along with all races. *If* this idea can be noticed by the black community, we might all have a better chance of getting together -- and helping each other. To be white and polyamorous is not to comprehend how hard it is to be black in this world. But it's a start. At least polyamorous whites have a glimpse of what it means to be in the "margins of society."
I am reminded of the phenomenon I've often heard of where quite a few gay folks strongly believe in monogamy and strongly condemn polyamory. Sometimes marginalized peoples (whether marginalized by life choices which they can choose, or by race which they can't choose) miss the potential of "outcasts helping each other out."
The more I think about it, the more I suspect that blacks and whites (perhaps especially blacks and polyamorous whites) need to find a way to communicate with each other more. As communication is considered to be so important to relationships by poly folks, so communication is also probably the key to healing the large-scale wounds of the past, and making trust and forgiveness possible. After all, the thing that usually drives individuals apart is the difficulty in trusting and forgiving.
I have two younger brothers. One of them is having a terrible time forgiving the other because when we were kids, the older brother ostracized the younger brother and made him feel like he was totally unwanted -- as if the older brother would have liked to see him erased from existence. Today, that wronged brother is having an epic struggle inside with forgiveness, and an even greater struggle with trusting the guilty brother again. After all, the two brothers have such opposite personalities. One (the ostracized brother) is intensely emotional and person-oriented. The other is coldly logical and data-oriented. Does that "cold brother" deserve forgiveness? He doesn't have any great sentimental feelings about the idea. Does he deserve to be trusted, after the depth of the wounds he inflicted?
So there are many sins-of-the-past hurdles to overcome, and many differences-in-life-and-culture to overcome. The sad thing here is that if very different/diverse peoples could get together, imagine how much they could enhance each other's worlds and perspectives!
Perhaps that's one of the reason why multiple poly groups (from far distant localities) are becoming increasingly focused on the racial divide that echoes itself in polyamory. And it's appropriate that "white polyamorists" seem to be more more obsessed about it than "black polyamorists." After all, "the white guys" are the ones that need the trust and the forgiveness. It's a type of yearning, if you will.
@ london ... interesting the ideas of "partial consent" and "the monogamous partner is always non-consenting." I would venture that sometimes such is the case, but not always. From the people I've met and talked with, it seems that some folks can be monogamous but poly-tolerant, sort of in a live-and-let-live type of a way. This says nothing about how many such monogamists (and mono/poly) couples are out there, and how the numbers are affected by race and culture. But I believe it's possible for some monogamous people to be okay with their partners being polyamorous, if said partners are extra considerate and make sure the monogamist's needs are met. Not to act like a know-it-all; I only speak of what I've encountered on poly forums so far.
It sounds like some black cultures live in a state of "half consent" with respect to polyamory. The monogamous woman in a marriage technically goes along with the husband's other girlfriends and at least allows some of them a place in family functions, but not all of his girlfriends.
I am observing, by the way, that not all black communities are alike. It depends largely on what part of the world they live in, and what part of the world's many cultures they're affected by.
We can definitely agree that if a monogamous partner means/feels "No," he/she should say "No."
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