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PUSH STATEMENT ON BLACK LIVES MATTER, RACISM, AND BDSM

Already devastated by COVID-19, the past two weeks have witnessed a world in shock at the torture and murder of George Floyd. His death at the hands of the police was no shock, however, to the black community, long accustomed to racist treatment not just by police, but in society at large. In fact, his death followed the murders of so many others: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade . . . we could go on. As the founders of PUSH, we want to note that we stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and other protesters in demanding an end to racist violence and systemic racism.

Like many members of the PUSH family, we have attended several demonstrations to voice our support for this struggle. While we do not know what will come out of these protests, we have been pleased to see so many people . . . many friends and other people that we have never met before . . . taking a heartfelt stance and putting their bodies on the line.

In addition to noting our solidarity with this struggle, we want to emphasize one thing that the black leaders of these protests have regularly pointed out to white allies: they have said, correctly and passionately, that we must confront racism in our own communities. Being not racist is not enough. We must be anti-racist.

The kink/BDSM/fetish community is not exempt from racism. Pete has been involved in this community for almost 40 years and he has seen a lot: from bouncers requesting multiple forms of identification from black men to get into bars and fetish clubs in 1980s New York City, to event organizers making it clear to black and Chicano men that they were not welcome at sadomasochist events in 1990s Los Angeles and San Francisco, to submissive white men shunning dominant black women at parties in late 1990s and early 2000s Los Angeles, the community has expressed significant racist exclusions.

In addition to this, both Brooke and Pete have seen many instances in which black men and women have been fetishized for the color of their skin, their size, or parts of their bodies. While fetishes are of course a key part of our community, we must take account of the ways in which fetishization can promote racism and white supremacy. Perhaps we can think about, alternatively, how other fetishes can promote anti-racist action.

In addition to calling our community to account for racism, we acknowledge and applaud the anti-racist activism within the kink/BDSM/fetish community. At least since the 1970s, many leather activists of all races have taken part in anti-racist demonstrations and worked to fight against the exclusionary policies mentioned above (the leather community is a predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community with a long history of practicing kink, fetish, and sadomasochism). People in the kink community were involved in demonstrations against police violence in the wake of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles. Many individuals from the leather community were involved with AIDS activism, some with a particular focus on communities of color. Today, there is a substantial sector of the BDSM community that works to promote an anti-racist agenda within the community and in society at large. We see many people at the demonstrations in Durham and Raleigh (and even Asheville and Richmond) that we know from PUSH. We endorse and encourage this type of anti-racist activity.

At the same time, we want to make sure that PUSH is a safe space. We plan to call people out on racism within the community or at the event. Our efforts to identify and eradicate racist behavior in our community should not only promote anti-racism, but also educate and empower. We ask all of our community members to remember that a central tenet of our community is consent, and we do not consent to racism. If you encounter racism at PUSH, we ask you to tell a staff member about it, and we pledge to act on it.

In the spirit of education, we want to suggest a few sources that discuss race and racism within the BDSM community. Ariane Cruz’s book, The Color of Kink: Black Women, BDSM, and Pornography (New York: NYU Press, 2016) and her article, “Playing with the Politics of Perversion: Policing BDSM, Pornography, and Black Female Sexuality,” Souls 18 (2016): 379-407 are particularly useful discussions of the place of race in BDSM. Isaac Julien’s amazing short 1993 film, The Attendant (https://www.isaacjulien.com/projects/the-attendant/), along with his article, “Confessions of a Snow Queen: Notes on the Making of the Attendant,” Critical Quarterly 36 (1994): 120-126, explores the connection between the Atlantic slave trade and BDSM. Margot Weiss’s Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2011) includes an extensive discussion of racism in a BDSM community in San Francisco. Finally, Jennifer DeClue’s “Let’s Play: Exploring Cinematic Black Lesbian Fantasy, Pleasure, and Pain,” in E. Patrick Johnson, ed. No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2016), discusses race, BDSM, and black lesbian fantasy.

Pete is a professor who researches these topics, and, if you message him, he would be happy to provide more sources and discuss BDSM, race, and racism with you.

Let’s move forward together with an anti-racist agenda.

Brooke and Pete

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