Race Matters

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I like white women. Yeah I said it. Not only that, but I love women of all races that inhabit this earth. That’s why, as an heterosexual cis-gendered male, I do not have a preference when it comes to race. In my book, race shouldn’t matter. But I’m far too wise to understand that this hasn’t been the case. I understand that some brothers feel the need to only marry and populate this earth with melanted sistas. To a degree, I completely understand where this ideology comes from.

My personal marriage story ended pretty tragically, because I was trying to uphold an ideal of what black love is supposed to look like. Called myself trying to create an Obama family of excellence. Since that fall from grace, I took race and religion out of my love book. It’s not so much that I don’t value race and religion, but because of my own personal experience, I can’t fathom trying to design a relationship based on race alone. Now! With that being said, I do have a bar for my partners to leap over. I need to know their wokeness. How authentic is this person? Are they generally eager to understand the oppression that is faced by African-Americans in this country? Or do they use my friendship as a prop to show that they have that one black guy that they are cool with? These are the things that matter most to me personally. My future children will grow up with a black father and have black culture ingrained into their upbringing. That’s a priority that I’m not willing to budge on.

I wanted to write about this because in our Black & Poly discussion board, a member asked the question about if he was wrong for requesting that his wife only have relationships with black men. You are never wrong for voicing your opinion on something that speaks to your heart and core values. I would caution that you should give your wife the opportunity to explain if this doesn’t fit well with her core values. If you’re married, then I would assume that you share core values, but you must remember that she is an individual just like yourself. She has autonomy over her personal dominion, and there is nothing more beautiful than a black man who completely trusts his black wife to make decisions in regards to how they shape their polycule. Remember, she loves you, and she already wants to make sure she doesn’t rock the boat with the relationship.

Imposing unnecessary restrictions on people is a sure fire way to create an environment for deception and cheating. Try boundary language where you get to the root of your feelings. Rules can come off as feeling entitled and controlling. Rules enforce restrictions and make people feel stuck. Value her views as you would want your views to be valued also. May nothing but peace and happiness bless your relationships from this point on and forward. Metta.

Check out more of Brian’s writings at www.cultivatingdopeness.com.

Who is Black & Poly For?

A group members asks the Facebook group to be inclusive.

Dear Black & Poly, can we visit or revisit the question of whether all black people should be allowed in this group?

Recently, a post came up on our wall about whether it was appropriate to request a partner restrict dating to black people. While the question was simple enough, some responses (many of which have been redacted) argued that white people were enemies unworthy of our love. The idea of interracial relationships, or “swirling” makes some people here sick.

I’m mixed, so this felt intensely personal. Does the thought of me, a product of an interracial relationship, make you sick? I came here because I’m poly, and I’m tired of walking into a room of white people and feeling on the outs because a black woman like me is overlooked or not seen as beautiful or not understood. And here I walk into my black family, and in less than a month of joining this group, I feel even more rejected than I do by the white folks.

Yeah, I might be half white, but I face a lot of the same stigma. I deal with the systemic racism, the lower employment chances, the fear of police, the lack of representation in the media and government. People avoid me and assume I’m on welfare. From being kicked out of hair salons to being called the maid in my own apartment complex, I deal every day with the same mess.

But.

If this group sees the white half of me as evil – that white half of me that was born and raised in Algeria during a civil war, the white half that almost died saving Algerian kids from being killed, the white half that worked on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after it escaped to safety, the white half that devoted its life to supporting the black African community here in the United States financially and emotionally for decades – then I don’t want to be a part of this group. And I think this group should seriously consider who it allows in, in the first place, because it’s crueler to say “we accept you as people” and then present rejection than it is to just say “no” in the first place.

We all know that there is no one experience of being black. Some of us are Southern, some of us are from the cities, some are from the suburbs, some are immigrants, and some are mixed. There are many more people than I’ve listed, and a bunch of us are in this group. It would be my personal preference to be as respectful of all of these experiences as possible, in the same way as we are as respectful towards all expressions of polyamory as possible.

So if your preference is to date one race, that hurts me a lot, but I can accept it. But if you see part of us black folk as the enemy because of how we are born or how we love, then rancor aside, let’s consider this as a group so those of us who don’t belong can form another community that will include people like us. Thanks for your understanding.

Editor's Note: Black & Poly is centered around black people and those who love them. Everyone, regardless of race, is welcome to participate in discussion. What do you think of our group's mission? Let us know in the comments.

Ask Aunty: Black & What Now?

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Ask Aunty is a regular feature of Black & Poly where real people ask about their polyamorous relationships. Aunty is here for you, so ask away!

Dear Aunty,

Why are there white people in the Black & Poly Facebook group?

Black Nation Builder

Dear Aunty,

Why do the admins silence white voices in the Facebook group?

Social Justice White Person

Y'all are looking at two sides of the same coin. Black & Poly was started by Ron Young to be for black people transitioning to polyamory. Not black allies, black people's lovers, and certainly not for white people. White people have their own blogs, books, and groups about polyamory. White people will even tell you they straight up invented polyamory.

The problem is, white people don't know how black folks are. We know how Aunt Clara always had "friends" who liked to visit late at night. How our distant Nation of Islam cousin was actually married to three women. How our other cousin is always talking about "nation-building." Black & Poly is a space to acknowledge and define black nonmonogamy for the black community, past and present. So when new people come to B&P looking for advice, they find people who have lived through the same stuff--unicorn hunting, jealousy, new relationship energy. Not only that, we lived it while being black, not just poly. Consider us your elders at the church who smack you upside the head if you're not listening to the sermon.

Don't get it twisted, though. Some of us are biracial or multiracial, and some of us love and are loved by people who are not black. That's why B&P is open to everyone. Love is color blind, and who am I to say your red head needs social justice classes STAT? (Well, I am, but you do you.) This isn't a fishbowl for others to examine us, but it's a good place to learn how to interact with the black community and occasionally hear from non-black poly veterans.

Because it's still a group for black folks. When non-black people comment and say our way of poly is wrong or this is the actual history, they are taking away our voices. You know how you'll argue with Uncle Mike about everything, but as soon as someone steps to him you're "brothers 4 life?" The B&P family sticks up for itself. Non-black voices are welcome as long as they recognize they are guests. Sometimes we're gonna tell you to take a seat. Maybe several seats. Maybe several seats outside the room. At the end of the day, people coming to B&P may have a lot to learn, and we want them to learn from people like us.

Editor's note: I am not an admin of the Facebook group, but the blog is an outgrowth of their work. If you've found yourself rejected from the Facebook group, browse our Poly 101 articles so that you have an idea of what polyamory is and is not. You can always reapply as long as you answer the three questions appropriately and have not broken the group rules.

Do you have a question for Aunty? Comment below or use our contact form!

Poly Is What You Make It

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You think being a polyamorous person will erase all of your relationship woes? Guess again. If anything, being poly puts everything under a lens that allows everything to be discussed. Many will believe that they are not meant for poly because the same tragedies that plagued their monogamous relationship has in turn plagued their poly relationship. This doesn’t have to be true for you and the relationships that you form.

What’s great about being in an open relationship is that you have more control of your life. You’re not stuck in a situation where your options are limited. The concept of family and love is taking on a new identity, and I believe that it’s heading in a direction that will allow people of color more flexibility in the design of their families.

Poly encourages healthy dynamics in relationships. It’s a mirror reflection of what you put out in the world. You’re unable to hide in other partners because your issues will simply rise to the top. The connections you’ve formed will be strained if you don’t first take care of the relationship you have with yourself.

I’m a counselor by trade, so I highly advocate for people to practice some form of self care as they navigate life. Knowing yourself goes a long ways in figuring out what kind of poly relationships you desire. So I encourage everyone to look into taking the Myers Briggs personality tests and other scientific instruments that can give you insight into who you are.

Ask your partners, friends, and family about quirks of yours that stick out. It’s better to know your strengths and weakness so that you can educate your partners about the best way to communicate with you. Do some journaling about your past relationships and look at them without the concept of you being involved. Some exploration about who you are in relationships will give you better insight into what style of relationship will work best for you.

You’ll encounter heartbreak, passion, tears, joy, all of the emotions that are essential to the human experience. If you’re running away from those things, then you need to take a reality check. Poly is hard. Mono is hard. Life is hard. But learning to dance in the rain is what makes life worth living. Those moments when we are able to see the sun through the fog and realize that it’s all about our perspective.

Developing healthy relationships is my passion these days. And I want to help others have those healthy relationships with their partners, family members, and friends. The poly community is growing. I would love to see it become more popular in the black community. The economic hardships that face minority populations and low income folks would benefit from a more communal style of family and relationships. It could make a world of difference in the development of young lives. Think about the emotional intelligence of these children compared to what we currently see.

Just like we go through stages of our black identity, so does our identity as a poly person. Allow yourself the space and grace to make mistakes. Move at your own pace and educate yourself by reading posts, joining Facebook groups, etc. The only way to start finding out what you want from poly is to explore. Look at certain relationships and say, I can see myself in a relationship like that. Or vice versa. Personally, I could never see myself in a closed triad, but at some point in my life that may be a great option. It’s all about the now and what it’s doing for you.

Last but not least I want to reiterate the importance of self care. Schedule time to yourself as if it was a date. Just you and the universe. Interact with the world in a different way and bring the information you’ve learned back to your partners. It’ll make for a wonderful experience and promote growth amongst your polycule. Take care of yourself and others. Metta.

Check out more of Brian’s writings at www.cultivatingdopeness.com.

 

Mr. & Misogyny

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Although the title is meant to be witty and slightly humorous in the name of starting a conversation, the people I’m describing can be quite the opposite. You know them. Or maybe you ARE them. The forced OPP couple who have deemed it “Unicorn season”. The Hoteps who insist their “secondary” single girlfriends date only them while they themselves are married. The wife who only wants to play pillow princess to, but could never marry or take a relationship serious. Even the LGBTQ couple who fall into heteronormative gender identifications in which the feminine party is viewed as less than, or subservient to the masculine or otherwise dominant one.

For some reason or another polyamorous people are sometimes looked upon as more enlightened and or evolved than the general monogamous population.

Some of us will argue that monogamy is actually the devolution of the natural order of things, but I can agree that the ability to connect to and love more than one person in these times is hella progressive.
But to think that these poly-oriented people don’t each come with a customized set of very human and sometimes downright oppressive belief systems is not a stretch, it’s just incorrect.

I can only speak for my experiences , and those that have been shared with me from other non mono people. I listen to the stories of women and men who try to love these people, only to be treated as less than, or even as some kind of disposable object, here for the entertainment of those who subscribe to these ideals. The worst of these stories end in abuse, self esteem issues and other emotional and psychological damage.

I myself have my own tales to tell, as a masculine leaning androgynous queer person in a largely hetero community, (many woman I date are married to men) I have been made to feel as though my relationships are invalid. As if my presence in a married woman’s life was temporary, a phase she was going through, and not to be taken seriously. And not just by the men in these scenarios.

I’ve seen men and women alike flip out over wives for even wanting sexual encounters with men, but won’t push to meet or otherwise interact with me in the same situation because “men are different”. As if somehow my vagina makes me safe. Or not as bad. Or anything less than capable of doing just as much damage as my male counterparts. How cute, my girl has a girlfriend!

How do we move past misogyny in a society in which rape, domestic abuse and other atrocities are often blamed on the victims? How do you convince a woman her internalized misogyny is toxic to free thinking, womanist or feminist types, and this may be why nobody wants to “inbox her man if they aren’t eating her p*ssy” as one meme I saw suggests?

Here’s an idea; by not entertaining that mess. Say no to the date with the dude that insists you wear heels and know how to cook. Don’t hook up the woman who lets you know she could never go beyond sex with a woman. Let the woman who expects you to pay for the date know, men can be treated too. Call out the LGBT folks who belittle those who don’t fall into their already marginalized hypocrisy. Y’all need to check yourselves. This ain’t the 50’s!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for living your truth unapologetically. We are in a free thinking society in which one can do what they please, and some folks are OK with varying schools of radical thought. This is all good! But instead of forcing these hyper masculinity based belief systems on the rest of us, find each other and be happy. Let Mr. and Misogyny take their forced OPP elsewhere. Let the rest of us poly in peace and equal love.

What’s your take? Share it with us!

How Representation Works…or Doesn’t

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How Representation Works…or Doesn’t
A Follow Up

In the early afternoon of Thursday May 11th, I got an email from a colleague. First, she congratulated me on my upcoming book about the intersection of race and polyamory, then she congratulated me on my appearance in the New York Times. The piece, Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?, had just been published that morning. The congrats were both a friendly greeting and a way to lead into the real content of the email while also saying, “I see you there, Kev. Doing big things.”

The true purpose of the email was to ask if I’d be interested in taking part in a round table about family and parenting. Eventually, I would respond that I was indeed interested. But before I had a chance to even read that email, I received a second one from the same colleague. Delivered only eleven minutes after the first, it simply read “Oh my gosh, Kevin! I just read the article. You must be upset. I’m so sorry!” While this wasn’t the way my day started, it pretty much encapsulated how the whole day went. Boundless excitement followed quickly by frustrating disappointment.

My wife and I contributed to Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage? because our names were thrown into consideration by Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson, the authors of Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships. Mark and Patricia are familiar with the impact nonmonogamy has on our family and our work regarding race and polyamory. Logically, they thought we’d offer some insightful perspective to such a piece. And what a mainstream piece! I’d be lying if I said that hadn’t factored into my decision to participate. My Poly Role Models blog, while a fairly popular free resource, couldn’t hope to hit the broadcast range of even the lowliest New York Times article. An increased readership could help countless people find their way to and through ethical non-monogamy. Unfortunately, any perspective I could add or range I could reach is buried beneath a sad story of floundering marriages. To be clear, the sad story of floundering marriages are both valid and valuable. My work definitely covers that as well. But it covers more than that…and therein lies the problem.

Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage? is predominantly the story of a married couple, Elizabeth and Daniel, who have grown dissatisfied in their lives together. Their mismatched libidos create an unbearable strain on what was otherwise a happy union. If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you understand. Sexual incompatibility is such a weighty factor that it can severely hamper strong relationships; even if it’s the sole stressor. In response to the growing displeasure, Daniel researched ethical non-monogamy and discussed it with his wife. What followed was not ethical non-monogamy.

Elizabeth shot the idea down. Only to find romance with a new fellow anyway. First, behind her husband’s back, then to his face without his willful participation…despite his pain. The guy Elizabeth took up with? He was also unhappily married and cheating on his spouse. He didn’t even have the benefit of an unresolved conversation about the vague possibility of opening his marriage to use as a justification. Look, I’m not judging. Unreasonable expectations of exclusivity, in the face of incompatible sex drives, need to be discussed.  Partners that come to ethical non-monogamy by way of infidelity needs to be discussed. These are already being discussed. In fact, the idea that ethical and consensual non-monogamy are just the product of unhappy marriages is already the predominant narrative. We’ve heard these stories before. They get pushed out to mainstream media every few months and frankly it’s gotten boring.

It’s clear that Susan Dominus has a specific story that she is trying to tell. But I question who that really serves. The non-monogamous newcomers, who don’t fit this couple-centric view, won’t find any love here. In this article, they are either outsiders or at the whim of a shaky marriage that views them as a crutch. Even those who do fit in the coupled model, on display here, don’t have much to look forward to. The stable and happy couples featured are virtually voiceless in this article. What little speech we’re given is limited to seemingly reluctant acceptance of the situation we’ve found ourselves in.

The name of the article challenges the traditional views on marriage with the idea of a happier alternative. So, where was that? I know you’re not supposed to read the comments section, but I did. What I found was dozens of people remarking about how unhappy people are in open marriages… how easy it is to spot which partner is into it and which is just going along with it… how it’s all just about finding excuses to cheat. That’s the story these readers came into this article believing. With all of it’s sad photos and stories of even sadder partnerships, those readers are left with a pretty solid confirmation of their pre-established attitudes. For those with lived experience inside of ethical non-monogamy, we are left with yet another narrowed view on a life we know to be both varied and vibrant.

As someone who provides a platform for dozens of true accounts of ethical non-monogamy, I’ve learned that each one resonates with those who need to find themselves and their experiences validated. Obviously, you can’t tell every story in a single article but then why gather a wealth of resources that serve to expand the perspective? Authors like Eve Rickert, Franklin Veaux, Patricia Johnson, and Mark Michaels were all consulted and left out. Twelve thousand words are a lot of space to flesh out an idea. Especially with tons of time and energy spent on taking photos of the whole shebang. With the bulk of the content focused on unphotographed people using aliases, why were our names and faces used… only to ignore our observations?

Now, I’m not flat out saying that my wife and I are only included as token people of color. I am challenging anyone to show me what the difference would be if we were. Our voices are mostly unused, but our faces are pretty prominent in a photo that shocked the people in our lives. One friend said it is the saddest they’ve ever seen either of us look. Another said that, without context, they would’ve believed all of the photos to be from a story about divorce. A visual storyline to match the narrative of non-exclusive but unsatisfying marriages.

In the case of sexuality, the article is almost devoid of mentions… except in regard to the single gay couple, Logan and Robert. Though there was valuable insight in the bit of text dedicated to their perspective, their voices were mostly left out as well. In an article that read as extremely heteronormative, there were no occurrences of the words “lesbian”, “bisexual”, “pansexual”, “queer”, or “trans”. There were six mentions of the word “gay”. Five in a single paragraph containing a reference to gay advice columnist Dan Savage and the two sentences from one of that couple’s husbands. The sixth “gay” is some dude’s name. Again, maybe Logan and Robert are not included as token LGBT representation. But how would it have looked differently otherwise?

What we’re missing is proper representation. Better representation. At least better than having our identities used as a prop to tell a story that doesn’t see us or accurately reflect us. At least better than an edgy title that doesn’t even bother to get out of it’s own way. By which I mean, letting a story write itself with the pieces you put together. A great example of which would be Daniel Krieger’s Polyamorous People feature for Narratively’s People of Interest series. In which, Krieger trusted his subjects to be both interesting and honest without trying to force either. The results are a much wider set of experiences, along a broader range of personal identities, done in roughly a quarter of the word count.

The ideal solution to any of our image problems is simply to tell our own stories. Non-monogamy already bucks convention by its very nature. We come from all walks of life and practice our lifestyles in countlessly diverse ways. We don’t need to be made into a compelling story. We already are. The story isn’t how we exist, it’s that we exist. All we need to do is open our mouths to speak our own truths. When someone on the outside of us attempts to speak for us, regardless of the platform, they carry in their preconceived notions…and worse they carry their desire to shoehorn us into those notions. While I thank and appreciate the New York Times for trying, what they gave us was not nearly what was promised or expected or needed.

But, hey… I guess it could be worse. At least there weren’t any stock photos of three pairs of white feet sticking out from under a white duvet.

Kevin Patterson blogs at Poly Role Models.