In my most recent blog on Psychology Today I explore the experiences that polyamorous folks report with prejudice and discrimination.
In my most recent blog on Psychology Today I explore the experiences that polyamorous folks report with prejudice and discrimination.
Good news for anyone who is interested in polyamory but find Cons inaccessible for a variety of reasons. The Accessible Multi-linking and Polyamory Virtual Con, is taking place November 3 – 5 at an Internet-capable screen near you. AMaP is a fully online con designed to be accessible to people who usually can’t make in-person cons.
If you want to, consider submitting a workshop or presentation proposal for the con. The theme this year is Silenced Voices, and organizers are inviting all to participate with a special emphasis on diversity and folks who do not traditionally have access to the cultural megaphone.
As a white liberal – and I mean whiiiiiiiiite some lily white shit white – I never intend to be racist. As a white, lower-middle-class, cis-gendered woman, I have been marinated in white privilege since I was born. Squaring these two opposites – not wanting to be a racist but having white privilege in a decidedly racist society – is challenging. When swimming upstream against cultural conditioning that reinforces colorblind racism and actively works to keep white privilege invisible, knowing what to do and say can be difficult for ordinary white folks.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of room white us white people to offend people of color because we are all too often ignorant of their sub-cultural realities, values, and experiences. White privilege means we don’t have to learn about people of color to survive, at least not in the way that children of color must learn to deal with white society on its terms or be crushed under its boot heel.[i]
Some of the things on this list come from my own personal experience, and some from listening to people of color talk about their experiences with white people who are often well meaning but say or do incredibly stupid racist shit that gets old, especially because it is the same thing all the time. Although I have not made all of the mistakes on this list, I have certainly made some of them. Because I live in Atlanta and hang out with mostly white or Black people, this list emphasizes racism towards Black people a bit more than others. Also, racism towards Black folks has a special kind of uber-virulence that shapes other forms of racism in the US. I hope this list proves useful to you in avoiding these common mistakes.
Yo White People, Avoid Doing This
If you are hanging out with people of color and the music is too loud for you, suck it up. Do not touch the dial. Do not ask for the music to be turned down. You are not the queen or king of this domain to demand that it be changed to suit your needs. You can move away from the speaker and/or just develop some tolerance for louder music. If it really becomes an issue, get some cool earplugs that look like ear buds to wear when you in that situation.
Whitesplaining, according to Maisha Johnson, is a form of privileged explaining (like mansplaining) in which white folks believe that they are “somehow more qualified to speak about a marginalized group than a person who belongs to that group.” Johnson identifies the signs of whitesplaining as “ a condescending tone and paternalistic assumption that a person of color doesn’t know enough to accurately articulate their own experience.“
We white people are not the arbiters of what is racist and what is not racist. If you have whitesplained, most likely you did not mean it as racist, but that does not mean it was not racist in its outcome. If it is racist to a person of color, then it is legit racist whether you meant it to be so or not. All sorts of things that white people do not see as racist have a racist impact on people of color. We are shielded from knowing that by white privilege, which allows us to focus on our intent rather than the impact.
For instance, when my son called my girlfriend-at-the-time/now wife (who is Black) a “big dyke” in jest, I thought I could make it all better by saying “He didn’t mean it that way,” meaning that he did not intend it as racism. While I had the best of intentions to explain that he was raised hippie and we joked about things like that to destigmatize language, the impact was to prioritize what he meant over what she experienced. Saying he doesn’t mean it that way is white privilege saying I want to define the situation, and I say that intent is what really matters. So as long as I don’t mean it to be racist, then it’s not racist. Right? Not really, it is still racist because it lands as racist with POC. To ignore the impact or expect it to simply shift as soon as the person of color comes to understand how you meant it is an expression of white privilege.
Instead – listen to what the other person is saying, ask them questions about how they feel and what they mean, and apologize.
People of color are not obligated to educate us white folks on their ways, thoughts, history, language, music, or traditions. Take it upon yourself to actively broaden your horizons instead of passively expecting POC to interpret for you. See a movie, read a book, attend a lecture – work to expand your understanding of the lives of POC as they experience things. The Internet reigns — use it to educate yourself with search terms like:
White people broke is not the same thing as POC broke, and saying you are broke when you actually have money is obnoxious. It is even worse when you do so in the presence of people who know a whole different level of brokenness.
When you are chatting with someone and ask them where they are from, believe their answer. If they tell you they are from Cleveland and they look like an Asian Pacific Islander, believe them. There are people of Asian descent living in Cleveland, who are from Cleveland in the sense that they live there, grew up there, and might have been born there. Asking where someone is really from implies that they are not to be trusted when they offer their first response and that they do not really belong here, they are not one of “us.”
Under no circumstances can white people use the n word. Not in song titles, not in song lyrics, not in conversation, not in jest, and not in irony. Simply do not say it. Ever.
POC are as diverse and widespread as anyone else, and they are not all members of the same club. While they may all experience various levels of racism, that is where the similarity ends. By assuming that all Black people know each other, you are putting them all in the same box and applying a false homogeneity. This erases that person’s individuality and makes them just a member of a group based on their race.
If you are white and living in the United States, chances are very high that you can choose to spend most of your time with other white people, eating white food, and watching white tv in your white neighborhood in a house that you got because your family was not redlined from that neighborhood. Whiteness is so pervasive in many ways that you have to actively choose to broaden your horizons. Go to new places where you are not in the majority, and see how other people live and how it feels to be a minority in that space.
Be quiet and listen, especially if you are nervous. White privilege makes it seem natural for white people to constantly want to tell other people about their ideas, experiences, perceptions, and values. The thing is, POC have also been marinated in white culture so they know all about us. We white folks are not a mystery to POC, and we need to stop talking so much because it keeps us from listening.
White people are fascinated with the various textures that Black hair can achieve. Asking to touch their hair may seem innocuous or even a sign of interest in attempting to get to know about POC, but it does not come across that way to the majority of Black folks – especially Black women. Instead, it is objectifying and rude. How would you feel if your ears stuck out more than the dominant cultural images, and people you did not even know whose ears were close to their heads constantly asked to touch your ears? Chances are good that you would feel objectified or irritated, and that the constancy of the interaction would reinforce for you just how much you differ from the dominant cultural expectations.
[i] Social class obviously makes a big difference, and rich people always have more choices than poor folks. Even so, wealthy people of color still experience racism, and poor white people still have white privilege.
Christopher Smith is collecting original stories written by African Americans who identify as polyamorous. If you are in that category, please consider submitting to his anthology!
While completing my academic article entitled Open to Love: Polyamory and the Black American (which will be published in The Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships in the winter 2017 edition) I realized that theory, research and the few personal narratives I complied alone are not sufficient to display the eminence of the Black American polyamorous experience. The people themselves need to share their experiences, hearts, minds, and thoughts through essays, poetry, dance, monologues, narratives, biographical stories, text conversations, social media posts, and whatever other avenue comfortable for the individual and/or collective. The people themselves need to be heard…
The Black American Polyamorous Anthology Project is an avenue for self-identifying polyamorous Blacks/African Americans/Black Americans to express; through any form written, audio or video; their experiences. To be clear this project is meant to represent ALL self-identifying polyamorous Blacks/African Americans/Black Americans regardless of socio-economic class, age, sex, sexuality, gender, and polyamorous formation.
There is NO limit to what is expressed, this anthology seeks to show the totality of the Black American polyamorous experiences (the good, bad, happy, sad, celebratory, abusive, rehabilitory, cautionary, progressive, troublesome, sexual, nonsexual, affective, discriminatory, comfortable, uncomfortable, racial taboos etc…) and its intersections with our everyday lives (as pastors, clinicians, hostess, waste disposal professionals, CEO’s, accountants, artists, mothers, fathers, military members, it does not matter). The goal is to show a robust and true view of our lives.
The project has two elements:
1. Written anthology to be digitally released
2. Video/Audio anthology to be digitally released and presented at film festivals
The due date for submissions is July 16th, 2017
For more information about and the directions for participation in this project please email Christopher N Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org expressing your interest.
About Christopher N Smith
Christopher N. Smith is researcher focused on consensual non-monogamous relationship trends in current and historical contexts. His prior education includes doctoral studies in Sociology; a Master of Arts in Religious Studies with a concentration in Religion and Society; and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Anthropology form Howard University. He is in pursuit of a Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies with a concentration on Minority Serving Institutions. Mr. Smith has extensive experience publishing, working, teaching, presenting and conducting research studies within the education, sociology, human services and criminal justice sectors. Currently he is a Management Analyst for the District of Columbia & in the United States Air Force Reserves. He is an educator, community builder, father, relationship advocate and passionate about increasing awareness of and support for non-monogamous relationships structures in the United States.
Dominus Blue and baby j from Black People Kink recently interviewed me for their new podcast. You can check it out at https://www.blackpeoplekink.com/podcast-2/
Do you have something to say about the intersection of sexual freedom and social justice? If so, then please consider submitting a proposal for a panel or workshop at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit scheduled for Washington DC August 3 – 6, 2017. Proposals are due by Monday February 6. For more information click here
Written by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff
Marriage and monogamy are not what they used to be, and today many couples are opting to start families before getting married, or deciding not to get married at all. At the same time, gay couples in states that recognize same-sex marriage are getting married in droves. Some people prefer non-monogamy and have relationships that include swinging and polyamory. The landscape of American marriage and relationships is changing, and a variety of family systems are developing and becoming more common.
Dr. Elisabeth Sheff is the author of The Polyamorists Next Door, a blog featured on Psychology Today.
Using empirical information based in academic research, this blog explores the issues facing polyamorous relationships and families. It covers topics as diverse as sexuality to parenting, jealousy to coming out to families of origin, and employment and housing discrimination to online dating.