Mollena Williams is gregarious, the kind of woman who makes a point

of saying, “How are you today?” to the Walgreens cashier.

She has a short afro and laughs easily. She works as an administrative

assistant and at night, she pens her theater performances. She is also

a masochist.



















<p> Williams is part of San Francisco’s BDSM community (shorthand for “bondage/discipline,























dominance/submission, sadism/masochism”). By definition, a masochist























receives pleasure from experiencing certain types of pain. By her own

























 account, Williams loves pleasing her partners. That might mean a whipping.

























It might also mean obeying her partner’s commands or being called

























 a “slut.” Her partners aren’t strangers. Like non-BDSM

























people, she expects to feel a connection and develop trust—enough

























 to submit to a partner for the hour or the day or the week that they























agree to. And she, in turn, expects a lot. Her partners have to be comforting,

























quick thinking, and treat her like the princess she’s always felt





















 herself to be.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 </p>























 <p> Contrary to popular notions, BDSM is not about abuse.























 It’s consensual and trusting and people refer to it as “play” (as

























 in “I want to play with you”). The point of BDSM is not sexual

























intercourse. In fact, when Williams recalls her first experience as a

























 masochist seven years ago, she says she met her partner, a white man,

























 at a bar and “fell in love at first sight.” They made their























 way back to his hotel. “For the first time I felt someone could























 see who I really was.” And that was someone who found it erotic



















 to be a submissive to her partner.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































</p>























<p> In recent years, Williams has added another element

























 to her repertoire as a masochist. She’s begun to engage in what























 is called “race play” or “racial play”—that























 is getting aroused by intentionally using racial epithets like the word “nigger” or























 racist scenarios like a slave auction. Race play is being enjoyed in























the privacy of bedrooms and publicly at BDSM parties, and it’s

























far from just black and white. It also includes “playing out” Nazi

























interrogations of Jews or Latino-on-black racism, and the players can

























 be of any racial background and paired up in a number of ways (including























a black man calling his black girlfriend a “nigger bitch”).























 White master seeking black slave, however, seems the more popular of



















the combinations.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 </p>





















<p> Race play is considered on the edge of edgy sex, but

























workshops on the subject are becoming standard fare























 at kinky conferences as people like Williams become























 comfortable with publicly speaking about























it. Like any practice making its way into public conversations,























 the workshops include everything from personal testimonials























 to theories on why people

























 of color are getting aroused by what some would see























 as just racism. Like any controversial sexual activity,























 race play has its critics. In May,

























the title of a workshop at a BDSM conference had to























 be changed after protest over the original name, “Nigger Play: Free at Last.” Williams

























herself has been the subject of several e-mails from people of color























who, while enjoying BDSM themselves, accuse her of self-hate and recommend





















she enter therapy. </p>





































 <p>





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 But























 Williams doesn’t seem self-hating. If she is, then she’s























pretty darn happy talking about her writing and desire to find a good

























 man. If race play is not about hate, then what is it about? What does

























 it mean for a person of color to be aroused by words like “nigger” or “spic”?

























 For the people that I talked to, it’s made them neither freaks





















nor Uncle Toms. </p>

























<p> <strong>Teaching Race Play</strong></p>























 <p> There are about as many ways to engage in BDSM as there

























 are theories for why it arouses. For some, BDSM is

























having your boyfriend yank your hair and mumble a naughty

























 word like “whore” during























sex. For others, it is whips, chains and hot wax—all done in public



















 before an audience in a space that





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ’s been converted to a dungeon. </p>























 <p> Psychologists from Freud on down have speculated on

























 BDSM’s appeal. Perhaps the most common perception is that it’s

























a way of working through childhood trauma. But some say it’s more

























 akin to psychological theater where you abandon your mundane life role

























(all those responsibilities!) and act like a master or slave, for example.

























Still, others conjecture that BDSM alters body chemistry or proffers



















a spiritual connection.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































</p>





















 <p> In his coauthored book, Bound to Be Free, Dr. Charles























 Moser has put out what might be the most sensible theory,

























 calling BDSM just another type of relationship. It’s consensual and erotic,























 he writes. People find it erotic to act like they have complete control























 over another person (or pretending that they give up control). It also





















has its own rules: people agree at the outset what the limits are.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































</p>























<p> Needless to say there are countless conferences, websites























 and parties, all of which loosely make up the “BDSM community.” It

























was at one such conference in May that Mike Bond was to present “Nigger























 Play,” a workshop on using the word “nigger” as part























of race play. But a small public outcry from fellow kinky people, many

























of them apparently people of color, on several electronic listservs devoted























 to BDSM resulted in a change to the more demure, “Dancing with

























the Devil.” Ironically perhaps, people did not seem to object to



















the content, just to the word







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































“nigger” being in the title. </p>























<p> Mike Bond, who declined a phone interview and answered























questions by e-mail, is a masochist. He is a black

























man and emphatic that race play “is not a message about all of black kind.” He

























doesn’t suggest that all black folks enjoy what he does, but he























 says, “I have been floored when people have criticized me by saying























 [that] not everyone agrees with my fetish. So what? Not everyone likes





















cheese.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ”</p>





















 <p> During his workshop, Bond told the audience about his























 own history. He first considered race play when a partner

























 asked if it was humiliating for him as a black man

























to bow before her, a white woman.

























 He hadn’t thought about it before. “But if that made it more



















embarrassing,





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ” he said, “then I was all for it.” </p>





















<p> On the panel with Bond were three white women he has

























played with. They emphasized that race play isn’t about hate. For

























 one woman calling Bond “nigger” was just another bad name

























 that aroused him. But another woman, who is Jewish, said it took time





















 and encouragement to be able to relax with race play. </p>







<p>





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































After























the talk came the demonstration: A woman dressed in a business suit and























 planted in the audience heckled























 Bond, then grabbed him by the collar and threw him

























down, all the while yelling about what





















gave Bond the right to criticize







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































“her people” (rednecks).</p>

























<p> As arousing as that scene might be for some, it is























downright repulsive for others. Racism was institutionalized























as social, economic and legal practices, in part, through

























 rape and the white domination

























 of black sexuality. Chupoo, who is a black woman and























declined to give her last name, says it point blank: “I can’t do race play

























because I have people in my family who had to submit to that, where they























had no choices. It’s too close to home for American black people.” Race























 play makes her think about her grandmother who had to sleep with her



















employer, a doctor, so that her children could have healthcare.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 </p>























<p> Chupoo is not anti-BDSM. In fact, for seven years,























she’s been a submissive in a master-slave relationship with a black























 man. So, she’s delighted, for example, when in an erotic context,

























 he calls her a “bitch.” “I can accept other people

























are able to rise above their sexism,” she says, adding, “The























race thing is really a lot deeper. I guess it’s easier for me to























deal—he understands that we have a partnership…I feel like

























my master respects me. I cannot imagine feeling that with someone around



















race play.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ”</p>























<p> Those who engage in race play are quick to say that

























 they keep politics outside of their bedroom (and dungeon).

























But their own relationships to race are telling. Chupoo























 sees race as central to























 her life; Mollena, not as much or not in the same way.

























Chupoo refuses to do BDSM with anyone who’s white and she says that when someone























at a BDSM party ignores her partner, or pretends to not know his name,

























it’s disrespectful and has to do with racism. For Mollena, it’s























 most often the other person’s problem, and she’s had relationships

























with white men. Whatever trajectory brought the two women to these different























conclusions, it may also inform what they do in the dungeon, making race



















play either titillating or disturbing.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 </p>























 <p> <strong>The Turn On</strong></p>























<p> Many presentations on race play, if not all, follow

























 a similar format: personal history, explanation of

























race play, demonstration and time for questions and



















 answers. The explanations vary.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































</p>





















 <p> Vi Johnson, the black matriarch of BDSM, has presented























on race play at kinky conferences and she believes

























the appeal is different for each person. “When you’re being sexually stimulated,























you’re not thinking that what’s stimulating you is a racist



















 image,





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ” she says. “You’re just getting turned on.”</p>























 <p> So, for some, she says, race play is about playing



















with authority and for others, it might be humiliation.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































</p>





















 <p> Well-known sexuality and SM educator Midori, who is Japanese and German,

























often presents her theory that humiliation in BDSM

























is linked to self-esteem. Take the woman who likes

























it when her boyfriend calls her a “slut,” Midori























says. Perhaps the woman internalized the idea that “good girls

























don’t,” but she enjoys her sexuality. Because the boyfriend























 sees her in all her complexity, Midori says, when he























calls her a slut, “he

























 is freeing her of the social expectations of having























 to be modest.” That’s

























 different than having some stranger (and jerk) calling

























you a slut. The stranger doesn’t see the full woman. It’s

























 similar with race play, Midori says. By focusing, for

























 example, on a black man’s body,























 while he’s bound as a slave, she’s bolstering his own perception



















of himself as strong and powerful.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































</p>























<p> Of course, race and gender have a different history.

























So does that make it easier to play with the word “slut”?

























 Midori tells me to not take it the wrong way but it’s a question























of my youth. She’s known women of other generations, for whom the





















 word slut is painful to hear.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 </p>





















<p> Her workshop demonstrations have included full auction























scenes mimicking those of the Old South. In them, she

























 is the plantation mistress inspecting a black man for “purchase.” He’s

























in shackles and “I slap him on his face and push him down on the























ground, make him lick my shoes,” she says, emphasizing that she



















 only does the demonstration after the







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































“psychological” talk. </p>





















 <p> The audience’s reaction? “Everything from horror to sighs























 of relief to uncomfortable arousal to validation to hooting and hollering,

























including people walking out.” Midori stresses again that race





















play is







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































“advanced play.” </p>





















<p> Advanced players have had their reservations. Master

























Hines, a black man, joined the BDSM community in the























early 90s. He’s























 a sadist who’s more than comfortable flogging his white submissive.























 But with race play, “I thought I’d feel like I was being























racist. I thought it was very extreme.” He changed his mind when























someone likened it to people playing out a rape fantasy. In that case,

























he wouldn’t consider that person a rapist because reality and fantasy





















 are different.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































</p>























<p> While most workshops focus on black and white, every

























color line is up for grabs. Williams facilitated a

























workshop in Washington, D.C., three years ago where























 a Mexican friend helped her. When it came

























 time, she mentioned “wetbacks” and her friend who was sitting

























 in the audience burst out, “What’d you say bitch?” The

























scene that followed was an erotic struggle, verbal and physical, between























him and Williams. When he had her down on the floor, he barked, “Now



















what? Now what bitch?





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ”</p>























 <p> "Now we stop,” she replied, and they both started laughing























and hugging. Williams adds that even for kinky people,

























the race play is still so new that it’s important for them to know

























that she and her partners are real friends.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 </p>























<p> Williams stresses the emotional care in race play.























Because it is psychological, “no one knows that you’re hurt,” she

























 says. So, she advises seeing it before trying it and having a go-to person

























for comfort after engaging in race play. She reminds the audience to























think carefully before doing it in public. “You’re putting





















your reputation on the line





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 —are you prepared for that?”</p>























<p><strong>The Reality of Play </strong></p>























<p> A curious thing about race play is that it is pursued























 by people of color but often consumed by whites. The























BDSM community is largely white, so those watching

























a public scene are more often white























 people. The community itself is not free of racism.























 Chupoo sees this evidenced in the men who approach

























her. “I get more white sub[missive]























 men hitting on me than anything else,” she says. They’re























hoping she’ll be a big, black dominant woman. “It’s



















 their thing. It





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ’s their racist fantasies of what black people are.”</p>























<p> Bond has had similar experiences but he and others























note that the white people they do race play with are

























 not racists. “Truth























 be told, you have to get a white woman to like you before you can get





















 her to beat you or call you racial names,





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ” he says. </p>





















 <p> However, discomfort in saying the word “nigger” during race

























 play doesn’t make someone racism-free. A related concern is the























 relationship between the sex industry, much of which operates on race

























 as fetish, and those who do race play. But white men flying into Havana























 for morena prostitutes reduce those women to racial and gender stereotypes.























 It’s not a consensual relationship (or any kind of relationship).

























 They don’t have to consider that woman’s needs. By contrast,























Williams only does race play with about four people she’s come





















to trust.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 </p>





















<p> Still it is tricky matter, race play. Williams says

























 that in considering a partner for it, you have to ask

























 yourself, “Do

























 you know in your guts of guts that [racism] is not their point of view?” Even

























 knowing the answer to that, she says, you have to be ready for that moment,























 that quick second perhaps in which you might find yourself doubting the























 person’s motives. It’s like wondering if a boyfriend would

























cheat, Williams says. The moment should ideally pass quickly but if it

























doesn’t, she says, “Are you ready for that moment?” <br>

























</p>