Call for Thoughts: Poly People of Color

Update 2

Good news! Two people (Katie, who comments below, and a co-conspirator) are putting together an anthology of writings by “perverts of color”, which includes kinky and poly people. It was this sort of eventual product that I was trying to get at in this post, though I did not do a good job of it. So I am very excited about the upcoming anthology.

You can read about the status of the anthology here.

Update

If it were possible to truly retract a blog post, I would want to do so with this post. But it is not, and I have a moral problem with deleting pithy comments such as those below. I am leaving this post up as a lesson in what not to do, and as a starting point for conversations.

The first rule of this sort of work is to not further the oppression in question. And that’s where I failed in this posting. By centering white people in my language and discussing the polyamory movement in unqualified terms, I made it difficult to have a productive conversation about race, which is what I was looking for. In retrospect, it is not at all surprising that the post resulted in various critical comments but not much in the way of stories.

I encourage readers to read this post in a critical manner, remembering that polyamory communities include people of color, and there are many kinds of poly community out there, some more visible and some less. Please read Katie and Nabil’s comments along with my original post in order to get the full picture.

To their criticisms, let me add that it is perhaps problematic (patronizing? colonizing?) for a white person to ask people of color to put their stories on the line as I have done here. At the very least it is difficult to do elegantly, and my activist urges have outrun my skill level in this case.

With these issues in mind, feel free to comment or continue any of the conversations started below.

I am abandoning the stories project for now. It is clear that I need to think hard about my positioning in racial power dynamics before trying again. If I decide that I am the right person to lead another attempt, the end goal would be to have a kind of mini-reference of the issues and experiences that people of color face around race and polyamory, something that could be referred to during power struggles around race within poly community.

I may still do a somewhat more generic interview project for polyweekly, because I think polyweekly could greatly be improved with more personal voices. If I do, I will be sure to include poly people of color as interviewees and race as a salient feature.

I apologize deeply for this abortive attempt. I do understand that flailing about like this can cause damage, and at the very least is not productive in anti-oppression work. I know I should have devoted a lot more attention and care to this post. I will be sure to do so in the future when dealing with race and racism.

Original Post

Motivation

Recently at a large poly speed dating event here in San Francisco, I estimated that around 85% of the room was white. This may not seem like a lot to some of my readers, but it looks a lot bigger if we remember that San Francisco itself is only 43% white, and the greater Bay Area is still only about half white. For some reason, or more likely a series of reasons, poly community in the area is either failing to attract or managing to exclude people of color.

This disparity becomes even stronger if we look at the the well-known luminaries of the polyamory movement. I have eleven books about polyamory on my shelf, and all but one were written by white people as far as I know. (And the exception is not a well-known poly book.) And while there definitely are a growing number of poly activists of color, that number was still a handful at the recent summit of poly leaders in Philadelphia.

I have been collecting my thoughts on race and polyamory into a separate post, but as I was writing that essay, I realized that my writing should not be the first or last word on the matter, in this blog or anywhere else. One of the intersectional issues for race and polyamory is the near-complete lack of representation of people of color who are nonmonogamous. So I am trying to do my little part to remedy this visibility problem, both here on the blog and on the polyweekly podcast.

My personal motivation here is related to my polyamory organizing and activism. I put on local polyamory events, and any understanding of racial dynamics around nonmonogamy is immediately useful to me in making these events more inclusive, and for figuring out how to support local poly people of color. I am hoping this call will be a conversation starter around these issues.

The Call

I am looking for stories or thoughts by people of color (including mixed-race people) who identify as polyamorous or nonmonogamous. I am also looking to hear from white people in interracial relationships. I will collect these together and then post them here as a separate blog post.

If you are a nonmonogamous person of color with something to relate, please send me something as short as a paragraph or as long as a couple thousand words. You can do that by posting it as a comment here or by emailing me. I will only perform minor edits for grammar or clarity before reposting. I will not post these thoughts anywhere other than this blog. Also, let me know what level of attribution you want: name? link? bio? anonymous?

I am also looking for interview folks for polyweekly. I am a co-host there, and the show is an easy way to reach a couple thousand people. My current vague plan is to do human-interest style interviews with race as a salient presence. If you are interested in being interviewed, or have some other idea for creating content, email me.

You should write about whatever seems important to you. However, if you are short on ideas, here are some questions that might get things flowing:

  • What do you think of local polyamory community? Are you engaged with it in some way? Do you think that attending events would be a good or bad idea? If you have gone to local poly events, what good or bad experiences did you have?
  • How do race and polyamory intersect for you? Do you find that stigma tends to stack as a poly person of color? Does dealing with racism tend to take priority over figuring out nonmonogamy, or vice versa? Do you find yourself traveling between communities?
  • I have noticed that the poly people of color who attend local poly events in my area are mostly those who are willing to date white folks, which is not too surprising given the white super-majority at these events. For those poly people of color who date white people, do you run into difficulties around race in these relationships? Or trouble finding partners?

I do reserve the right to exclude posts that are egregious in some way: completely incoherent, hate speech against an oppressed group, etc. However, I do not anticipate this being an issue. All other stories will be reposted unless the author specifically requests that they are not.

Comment Policy

Because the purpose of this post is to hear people’s experiences, I will have a comment policy in place. I encourage folks to start discussions based on any posted experiences, but responses that are overly critical or which seek to invalidate people’s experience will be moderated. Please be respectful. Similarly, comments which seek to shut down or derail the conversation will be moderated. If you are curious if this includes your response, check it against these bingo sheets. White commenters, please state your race.

I welcome comments from people of color which are critical of this project. If you see flaws in this, please speak up.

43 Responses to “Call for Thoughts: Poly People of Color”

  1. Katie Says:

    A few points.

    I am a person of color who is also mixed-race. I do not identify as either/or. Your wording makes it sounds like POC and mixed-race are two distinct categories.

    As I understand you, when you say “the wider poly movement,” you’re identifying that as a largely white thing, and sidelining the poly POCs who do exist within it. I think that’s wrong for a couple reasons. It makes the POCs who do navigate largely white spaces seem even more marginal, and it subordinates the poly movements that are happening within POC communities themselves in favor of membership in a community which is run largely by white people.

    My problem in my local kink community, which overlaps heavily with the poly community, has always been that the white people simply cannot grasp the whole intersectionality thing. As the Vegans of Color blog puts it, “we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue.” Not that there’s not POC poly activists, of course. It’s just that, in my experience, people of color are usually dealing with oppression on multiple fronts, and interacting with white people is a source of stress IN ITSELF. The level of casual bigotry in majority-white spaces is very high. Talking about poly as though it exists in a vacuum will consistently fail to be relevant to many poly POCs. That’s why most of the many poly POCs I know don’t even bother with the majority white spaces to begin with. Plus, I’m not always interested in dating white people anyhow, making white spaces a bad place to look for partners. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that.

    I guess I’m wondering why you want POCs to join your movement, when the experiences of deep racism I’ve had in majority-white movements indicate that your time would be far better spent addressing the racism of your own spaces, for your own good and that of the POCs who already exist there. Groups with a real commitment to antiracism tend to diversify more organically. From my perspective, it serves only you, and not us, if we join you as opposed to carving out our own spaces that fit our needs.

    • darkdaughta Says:

      Hi Katie,
      Maybe you made the assumption that pepomint was positioning them as mutually exclusive. I read it and saw that he was attempting to cover all bases and make sure that no one felt left out given that people do define all over the constructed spectrum of race. I haven’t read much of his writing but it seems to me that he’s attempting to come from a good theoretical place that is broadbased.

      Also, I think that it is important if we are going to ask questions and do constructive critiques, that we as people of various ethnicities and melanin pigmentations and relationships to white domination, acknowledge that poly spaces are white dominated. I don’t think that pointing this out creates marginalization. I think that speaking truth to what mostly goes undiscussed helps break the silence and inherently asks crucial questions about how these spaces are conceived and by whom.

      I think you bring up some relevant points about how alternative spaces constructed as transgressive and radical are dominated by white folks who can be quite distasteful and difficult to deal with, in my experience especially when they have that one POC friend or when they feel they’ve been doing anti-oppression workshops and have got their shit together. I’ve experienced much in the way of over the top rudeness and covert aggression in white dominated queer’d spaces and only tend to head into these when I’m feeling particularly resilient. :)

      Since you mention the fact that POC shouldn’t have to choose one part of their identities over others because being single-issued does not serve any of us, I think it becomes important then to identify the oppression of poly people in the larger monogamist dominated society and the oppression of POC poly people in the poly subculture as relevant and connected issues to be put on the table.

      I don’t know about you, but going into Black community or POC spaces not defined explictly as queer positive is excruciating. The heterocentrism, the gawd fixation, the dominance of monogamous relationship/marriage as an ideal. It’s all so stifling.

      This is me saying that I think it’s possible to be committed to struggling against white domination as part of the matrix of domination in ways that recognize POC are oppressed on multiple fronts and that some of the ways we are oppressed are pretty damned close to home and have to do with relationship configuration as much as it has to do with the construct of race.

      hmmm…
      That’s pretty muchw at I’m thinking about what you wrote.

      • Katie Says:

        Hi darkdaughta –

        Maybe you made the assumption that pepomint was positioning them as mutually exclusive.

        No, I didn’t. I did think his wording did, though. I do not believe he thinks of them that way, but wording is important.

        Also, I think that it is important if we are going to ask questions and do constructive critiques, that we…acknowledge that poly spaces are white dominated.

        Well, it becomes a tautology at some point. “White-dominated poly spaces are white-dominated.” I certainly acknowledge that, but those aren’t the only poly spaces that exist. What I’m asking for is a recognition that POC poly spaces exist, that they function, that they are not subordinate to or lesser than the “wider poly movement.” They are smaller, of course.

        I get the sense that you read my comment as stacking race above being poly in a hierarchy of oppressions. I don’t feel that way at all. I recognize that POC spaces can be just as oppressive around queer and poly identities, speaking from my own experience as a queer, poly POC.

        I don’t think that pointing this out creates marginalization.

        I read the piece as making a direct correlation between the number of POCs at white-dominated poly events, and the POC poly community at large. That seems to me rather illogical.

        I don’t think we’re disagreeing, here…

    • pepomint Says:

      Going back and reading my motivation section, it does kind of read like a call for recruitment. Sorry – that was not my intention. Also, I am not trying to marginalize the people of color who identify as poly. Indeed, they are my primary concern here, as I describe below. But perhaps I need to pay better attention to my language.

      To me (and perhaps other organizers as well) the sharp disparities in attendance are a warning flag, which is why I led this post with numbers. But the solution is not to try to raise the numbers. Indeed, the idea of a “solution” is itself somewhat questionable, since the real solution is “end racism in the larger culture”, a project that probably has at least a couple centuries to go.

      What I think should happen, in the best of all poly organizing worlds, would include:

      1) Better inclusion of and support for poly people of color who go to the currently mostly-white events. This could include anti-racist training for organizers and attendees, holding more friendly events, creating better media representation of poly POC, and so on. My motivation with this post was the representation concern.

      2) Better support by the movement for spaces primarily or entirely for poly people of color. There have been two attempts to set up poly POC groups in my area, both of which have failed to date, though one is ongoing.

      3) The poly movement allying with or otherwise supporting nonmonogamous people of color who do not identify as poly. This would not be to bring them into the poly fold, but to find alliance without compromising identity or anyone’s personal strategies. For example, a while back I talked to someone who was trying to export poly relationship techniques to bi men of color, unfortunately without much luck.

      What I’m hearing from you is that I should be focusing my efforts in #1, specifically in direct anti-racist education. Is that correct?

      I should update the motivation section to make this all more clear. I’ll figure out how to do that.

      Your wording makes it sounds like POC and mixed-race are two distinct categories.

      Thanks for pointing this out. I’ve fixed the wording.

      “the wider poly movement”

      I see what you mean about how that paragraph positions the poly movement as a white movement, one that needs to reach out across various borders to POC who are outside of it. I’ve removed the paragraph for now – it needs a much more complex and nuanced treatment.

      For accountability to future readers, here’s the removed paragraph:

      I also consider myself a poly movement activist, and I am concerned at the wider polyamory movement’s apparent inability to cross borders of race, ethnicity, and culture. As a movement we will likely be relegated to the dustbin of history if we cannot break out of the “white subcultures” demographic that has characterized polyamory to date.

      • Katie Says:

        1) Better inclusion of and support for poly people of color who go to the currently mostly-white events. This could include anti-racist training for organizers and attendees, holding more friendly events, creating better media representation of poly POC, and so on. My motivation with this post was the representation concern.

        That makes sense to me. I still don’t see the representation as an issue – to me, if POCs are not attending, they aren’t attending for a reason. I feel more positive about the goal of working to eliminate racism from your organization, period. I might be misreading what you mean, here, though, because I think you said you didn’t mean to say that, elsewhere…

        2) Better support by the movement for spaces primarily or entirely for poly people of color. There have been two attempts to set up poly POC groups in my area, both of which have failed to date, though one is ongoing.

        I am curious – what does support look like, to you?

        3) The poly movement allying with or otherwise supporting nonmonogamous people of color who do not identify as poly. This would not be to bring them into the poly fold, but to find alliance without compromising identity or anyone’s personal strategies. For example, a while back I talked to someone who was trying to export poly relationship techniques to bi men of color, unfortunately without much luck.

        I like the sound of this, but your example gives me the creeps. Who is this someone, and why do they feel like bi men of color are a) a monolith that b) lacks something that c) is categorized as exclusively “poly relationship techniques?”

        What I’m hearing from you is that I should be focusing my efforts in #1, specifically in direct anti-racist education. Is that correct?

        No, I don’t think that. I do think, though, that antiracism starts where you are. You have to clean your own house. I am not trying to critique you into a state of inaction (not that I think I could! :)). I do want you think about who you have the right to speak for, and how the map you’ve drawn of center and margin aren’t the same for everyone.

        • pepomint Says:

          I do want you think about who you have the right to speak for, and how the map you’ve drawn of center and margin aren’t the same for everyone.

          Thank you for this. I’ll try to be more mindful of where I’m coming from, and not put white poly folks at the center of these discussions, in my brain or on paper. Also, I think I need to be really explicit about who I am talking about whenever I get into groups.

          Actually though, I have been looking for focus. When trying to write on this subject, I keep hitting the “racism is too big” problem. Your and darkdaughta’s comments are helping me focus down onto racial power dynamics within public polyamory events, breaking the writer’s block.

          I feel more positive about the goal of working to eliminate racism from your organization, period.

          Yeah, that’s a high-priority goal. Though with the caveat that eliminating racism is not something that will ever be finished. Where did I say I was not interested in doing this?

          I am curious – what does support look like, to you?

          There’s two pieces that I’ve seen. First, not actively opposing such groups when they spring up, or working against such opposition. The first attempt in my area faced nasty flames on the local email list, which I think prevented them from advertising on that list. Second, providing logistical support when appropriate. The woman who is working on our second local attempt has been asking me questions around running small social groups – how to advertise, attract people, personality dynamics, venues, etc.

          Who is this someone, and why do they feel like bi men of color are a) a monolith that b) lacks something that c) is categorized as exclusively “poly relationship techniques?”

          I don’t actually have a lot of detail on this, so perhaps I shouldn’t have brought it up as an example. The person in question was a man of color, and I believe he was working within his own community, in a different region from my work. I doubt he held any of the three feelings you list, though I could be wrong. I heard about this on a phone call discussing race and poly issues.

        • pepomint Says:

          Katie,

          Please see my retraction and apology at the top of the post.

          I meant to ask you earlier, but it slipped my mind – would you be up for giving a short description of the poly communities of color you move in? Apparently this is a blind spot for me. Are you referring to the informal poly social networks that seem to be the backbone of poly community? Or something else? No worries if you are not up for it.

  2. darkdaughta Says:

    I do look forward to the day when the people who actually dominate queer’d spaces take on the job of critiquing the ways they were raised, how their values were formed, what they understand as right, normal and true. Perhaps if they are ever able to challenge themselves and each other to do radically honest, anti-oppression based self critique that incorporates consciousness of how it is possible to oppress on the basis of race then conversations about desire, queer cultures, coalition building and truly receptive spaces will unfold and lead to who knows where? :)

    • pepomint Says:

      Thanks for commenting!

      What I’m taking from what you said is that the primary task that white poly people can take on to help the race+poly situation is to get involved in anti-racist work, starting by a hard examination of their own biases, racism, and history.

  3. araliya Says:

    See this is why I continue to follow you despite your long silences. When you come back, it’s with something good. I can’t answer just yet – I shall have to sift through the various threads I’ve got unraveling in my head at the moment – but I will. I don’t think anything’s going to be ‘solved’ in our lifetimes, but we’ll definitely never get anywhere if we don’t at least start the damn conversation.

    • pepomint Says:

      Great! I look forward to it.

    • pepomint Says:

      Hey Araliya,

      I wanted to let you know that I’m retracting the call for thoughts. In various ways it was not well put together, and so I am backing off for now. I’m letting you know in the hopes that you do not write something up before realizing that I have done this.

      Pepper

  4. Jack Christopher Says:

    Pepomint, thanks for opening more discussion of these issues.

    OK, this takes the conversation even *more* meta but…we seem to have different perspectives on how to achieve change. I don’t prefer the political activism approach to change. So that deal-breaks my personal involvement.

    I certainly don’t think it’s a “wrong” approach. But it’s not the only way to achieve change. Though people seem to assume so. Of course that’s not just a “poly community” belief.

    I’ll share my personal experiences later. Maybe in email instead.

    • pepomint Says:

      There are plenty of ways to change the world, and explicitly political activism is often not the most effective, though it is my favored milieu. If you want to chat in email, definitely drop me a line.

      • Jack Christopher Says:

        Kinda surprised you agreed. People are so hardcore about their politics :) It often seems people think, “You’re doing *nothing* if you’re not explicitly (politically) active.” Big fallacy. You could call it “political reductionism”. Makes me sprint from them.

        I like to just be an example. Be the best I can be. Always grow. I want to show that multiple relationships work, just by living life. If someone asks my relationship attitude, I’ll open up. Or if I feel inspired to share my view with someone, I do. But I don’t force anything. I don’t blare from the mountain top. Can’t relate to that.

        I use the same “method” to try to change attitudes about people of my background(s). I learned it from my mixed experience. I’m very mixed. Puerto Rican is one part. Anyway, I believe the best PR I can do for PRs is to just act good. It’s the right thing to do anyway. Some accuse me of just trying to “impress whitey” but I’m not about that. I believe: just act kind and people will *want* to give you what you want eventually. I suppose that sounds sing-songy naive. But I know it’s true. I place high value on just being likable.

        Anyway, what’s your (and the community’s) goal with poly activism? To get U.S. or Western gov’t in general to expand “relationship” laws? Pass stuff that extends gov’t recognization on non-monogamy? More?

        • Jack Christopher Says:

          Oops. Meant to end with, “Because that determines what the most “effective” method to get change looks like.” EDIT

        • pepomint Says:

          I’m of the personal opinion that a multitude of simultaneous tactics is the best way to create change, and if setting an example is your particular tactic, that’s great. Indeed, most progress in queer rights has been through people coming out, which can be viewed as a variation on what you describe. Coming out was originally conceived of as a political tactic, but swiftly became took on more of a personal growth air and has made most of its political advance under that ideology.

          As far as I know, there are no poly activists looking to effect governmental change at this point. We probably will not be in a position to do so for at least another decade or two, and there are various debates over what approaches we should eventually take with the government, most notably the question of looking for recognition versus getting the gov’t out of our lives.

          At this point we’re still dealing with basic visibility: telling people what polyamory is, trying to get some recognition in the media, and otherwise just getting the word out. There are other things going on, most notably some groups that help people whose poly status ends up in court during custody or divorce proceedings. But poly activists seem to mostly be doing basic education.

          So, a lot of the “activism” that I do is actually education or representation. Last weekend my poly pod talked to some students who were in school to become therapists. We also were filmed for someone’s poly documentary student project. A month ago we talked to a large human sexuality class. Sometimes we hold Poly 101 classes, both for people who are interested in being poly and for folks who are just curious.

          Many people (including many poly activists) do not view these activities as necessarily political, but I do. Given that we live in a world dominated by monogamy, speaking up and being open about nonmonogamy is a radical political act in my opinion.

          • Jack Christopher Says:

            “Off topic” now? Anyway, we perspective share on change: be diverse. I see my “poly strategy” as evolutionarily stable (an ESS). People will alway practice “poly”. And naturally pass it on. Hard to measure though. Great anecdote on queer rights, BTW.

            Way I see it multiple open/intimate relationships, “polyamory”, “non-monogamy” whatever you call it, is a product of evolution. Been around forever. Will always. Civilization just bookmarked ‘polyamory’. So it’s “new”; the bad boy. But to me human (society’s) explicit recognition matters less. Civs get dustbinned anyway. But I *am* politically concerned of today.

            Gov’t vs. privatize splits people. *Hand-wave* So is change still decades off? What of coalition joining? Goal: change individual rights.

            Gay marriage is a try to change relationship laws, rights etc. Many back it already. Certain religious groups would back a general change. And who knows who else. People back self-beneficial law change. Poly could join the effort.

          • pepomint Says:

            Hey Jack,

            “Off topic” now?

            Talking about how to change the world is always on-topic in this blog. =)

            Way I see it multiple open/intimate relationships, “polyamory”, “non-monogamy” whatever you call it, is a product of evolution.

            I dislike evolutionary frames of thinking, just because they tend to elevate biology (and often, inaccurate ideas about biology) over people’s lived experiences and concerns.

            Also, I don’t really think polyamory is more advanced than monogamy or other types of non-monogamy. Cultures seem to flow through varieties of relationship forms over time, and so aside from the language, there’s not much that poly people are doing which has not been done before.

            What of coalition joining?

            It’s on the table, but unlikely to happen well. The same-sex marriage movement is way too worried about their own gains to try to support us – and every poly person I know already supports same-sex marriage, so we don’t have a lot to offer them.

            There is a court case in Vancouver where polyamorous folks have joined on the side of the Mormon polygamists, but that’s more out of sense of necessity than any coalition – we’re worried that they will screw up a court case and we’ll end up with the resulting legal or social backlash. In general, the conservative polygamists and the mostly liberal polyamorists do not get along.

            And so it goes. Swingers are not politically active in general. BDSM folks are just as marginalized as poly folks. Liberal people who are not nonmonogamous see no reason to add our issues to their plate. The actual work of coalition-building requires that both sides change significantly to make it happen. Any successful coalitions are a long ways off.

          • Jack Christopher Says:

            Hey Pepper,
            Didn’t think I said certain relationship styles were better to others. Knew I’d danger anthropomorphizing mentioning evolution. Mentioned it for historical perspective. Discussion seemed human and civilization centric.

            Overall, you seem to feel it’s condescending to talk of things outside of “your milieu”. You zip it. I tend to see *everything* as “my milieu”. So I blather. I know I’ll bias in ways I can’t see. But I don’t tight-lip. Everyone has biases. I realize there’s a power dynamic to everything. I’m not sure what people here meant by “oppression” or “racism”. But I’m more worried about self-oppression than anything else. To me, everyone is “oppressed”. Not sure “oppression” can be measured. So who’s the most “oppressed” may not make sense.

            ***
            If it was sold that way originally, I think an individual rights change that implicitly enabled same-sex marriage could’ve pass. Now it might be viewed suspiciously. There’s already 43% support for a gay-only change anyway.

          • pepomint Says:

            Didn’t think I said certain relationship styles were better to others.

            Sorry, I tend to read that into any description of polyamory as an evolutionary step.

            Overall, you seem to feel it’s condescending to talk of things outside of “your milieu”. You zip it.

            It’s not so much that I am worried about being condescending as I am worried about simply saying dumb things or making bad assumptions. In areas where I have a solid knowledge base I am much more willing to spout, such as feminism or nonmonogamy.

            If it was sold that way originally, I think an individual rights change that implicitly enabled same-sex marriage could’ve pass.

            Possibly, though we definitely missed that boat. However, I think you may be greatly underestimating how strongly the american public clings to structuring elements like “traditional marriage”. The right wing already assumes that any of these advances will lead to total social chaos, so actually removing the privileged institution of marriage would send them into complete apoplexy.

  5. Nabil Says:

    Hey Pepo,

    I’ve been unsure how to respond to this post for awhile, because (a) it makes me grumpy, (b) I like you and believe your intent is good, and (c) I appreciate your activism and community work and have personally benefited from them.

    But dang, Pepo, this post made me grumpy.

    I go back to Katie’s point about how you are drawing a center and margins here. Often, Pepo, when I am grumpy about your writing it is when you’ve posted about “the movement” or “the poly community.” There isn’t just one. I’m not included in the one that you’re talking about. And I’ve been poly for way longer then most of the folks in the groups that you center.

    I’d ask you to look at the way that you’re framing this post, as opposed to the way that you write when you’re giving advice specifically to men about negotiating poly contexts. When you’re writing tips for men– about sex parties, or not creeping out women at special events– you’re very careful not to center men as the default poly community. I really like those posts. It’s awesome to write advice for folks with privilege that doesn’t assume they are the center of the universe.

    In this post though– and even in some of your responses to comments– you’re writing about trying to be more inclusive of poc and yet the whole way you frame the conversation sets up white people as “the poly community,” “the movement,” etc etc. I have been a member of poly communities that are majority POC. I really object to the white stuff being held up as the mainstream, real, movement etc. Such phrasing makes me feel grumpy– and honestly, really really tired.

    This has been hashed out so many times. Have you tried researching some of the work of other white queer activists who have tried to make their spaces more accessible?

    I’m wishing that you had asked for a beta reader on this post. (Beta reader is a concept I ran into from a feminist science fiction community, originally drawn from fan fic. The idea is that if you’re writing about a group of folks that don’t include you, you ask around to see if any members of that group are willing to take a first read. For example, I have done beta readings for friends who want to be respectful when writing about Arab Americans.)

    I would gladly beta read your stuff, or help you find book recs, or talk over tea. Like I said, I like you personally, appreciate the work you’ve done and have benefited from it, and think your heart is in the right place. I really don’t like this post though. I’m disturbed by the whole way you’re framing these questions.

    xoxo

    Nabil

    • pepomint Says:

      Hello Nabil,

      First off, thank you for posting these criticisms here, and for doing so in a compassionate manner. I know that it is hard to call out a friend in this way.

      It has become clear that I have fucked up here. I was hoping it was salvageable with a rewrite, but I am starting to realize that it is not possible to do the job properly in a short timeframe. Accordingly, I have posted a retraction and apology at the top of this blog post.

      When dealing with gender and polyamory, I have a stronger intuitive sense of what is going on, and a strong awareness of my own limits. I need to develop more of a similar awareness around race.

      Also, I don’t think I took enough time and care when writing this call. Because I had not framed it as one of my theory pieces in my head, I did not spend as much time carefully qualifying it.

      I will take your advice and spend some quality time reading queer activist techniques for opening up white-dominated spaces. Also, when the time comes I will take you up on your offer of beta-reading.

      If you are up for it, I am interested in hearing more about your poly communities that are majority people of color. Are you talking about the non-publicly-advertised poly social networks that seem to be the prime form of poly community in our area? Or has there been other stuff going on that I have been missing? If you are not up for it, no worries – I understand that this is a draining effort.

      Thank you again,
      Pepper

      • Nabil Says:

        I really appreciate the work you’re doing to not respond defensively/ shut down in response to these criticisms. It’s hard to do! Speaking from personal experience about when I’ve fucked up and been called out on racism.

        I’m currently seeking out resources for you on advice for white activists. Will follow up with what I gather. I know you’re open to reading/ research, and I want to help by pointing you to some options.

        I also can’t recommend the concept of beta reader/ friendly advisors enough. As a more privileged person myself, I have often faced the rock/ hard place of wanting to be inclusive in my work, but fearing/ knowing that my initial attempts to be inclusive will be judged more harshly then simply continuing to exclude folks. Beta readers/ friendly advisors/ research are a marvelous hack in avoiding some of the starter mistakes that lots of folks make when starting to be more inclusive.

        As I said, I will gladly beta read/ advise/ gather resources for you, because I appreciate and benefit from yr unpaid activism. Talk is much less time-consuming then writing for me, though.

        Quick response to yr question on poly poc communities tho: this gets to Katie’s comment about not having the luxury of being single-issue. I’ve participated in queer Arab communities where poly is the norm/ a sizeable majority. We weren’t gathering specifically around being poly tho- frankly, it’s small potatoes next to the rest of the shit we’re up against.

        I think if you define poly community as folks who gather on the interwebs to bitch about poly discrimation, it will intrinsically be majority white. Folks tend to identify around the harsher fiscriminations we face, and poly isn’t that for a lot of folks.

        On the other hand, if you were to center gatherings of queers where poly is an accepted or dominant norm but not the point of the thing – well. Things look rather different.

        Xoxo

        Nabil

        • pepomint Says:

          I’m currently seeking out resources for you on advice for white activists. Will follow up with what I gather.

          Thank you!

          Quick response to yr question on poly poc communities

          Thanks! I had no idea.

          I think if you define poly community as folks who gather on the interwebs to bitch about poly discrimation, it will intrinsically be majority white.

          Well, I was using “folks who attend events that are public and explicitly labeled as polyamorous”, but it has the exact same effect.

          Talk is much less time-consuming then writing for me, though.

          Let’s get together for tea just to chat in the next couple weeks. I’ll send you email.

        • Katie Says:

          Seconded, Nabil – I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments.

          Pepper, the POC poly communities I’ve been around look a lot like Nabil’s – in my case, a network of social-justice-loving and/or activist POCs whose default relationship practice is poly or nonmonogamous. I tend to frequent activist spaces more than avowedly queer ones, but those spaces tend to be very queer and very poly as well.

  6. Invisibleank Says:

    I am disappointed that this project has been put on hold. I was looking forward to hearing about other folks’ experiences.
    In the cotext of intersectionality of issues for poly poc, polyamory is something I choose and embrace and it is an significant part of my sense of self and identity. Initially, I knew very few poly people and no poly poc at all. I sought out the larger poly community and started going to meetups and poly speed-dating etc. It is here that I have met many poly people including several poc.
    I agree that it can be challenging to navigate non-poc majority spaces. I respect the decision folks make to date only other poc. However, for me to thrive and be happy as a poly person, I also want to participate and be included in the larger, more visible poly community. It is a place where many people — including poc — first meet other like-minded folks. It is important for me to feel comfortable in this space and am interested in actively making that happen. I appreciate the efforts to talk about the issues and make it more welcoming for poc.

    • pepomint Says:

      Perhaps let’s talk in person or on the phone at some point about getting this back on track.

      Rather than put out a public call, it may make more sense to network through our friends and either just spend some time talking together on the subject, or put our heads together and try to come up with anti-racist resources or other actions to help improve the situation in the white-dominated poly community.

  7. Speaking of Which. « Bloggity Blog Blog Blog… Says:

    [...] Speaking of Which. Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 5:50 pm So this happened: Call for Thoughts: Poly People of Color [...]

  8. Witan Says:

    I know that this is an old post and has already seen it’s share of issues. It seems that the originally has been identified as and recognized as having issues. My personal position is offend everyone equally :)

    If you are, at some point, going to re-issue this call what if you simply couched it in inclusive terms. Such as;

    I am looking for stories or thoughts by people who identify as polyamorous or nonmonogamous.

    Specifically I am hoping to gather stories that relate to nonmonogamy issues that you have experienced that are further complicated by issues revolving around racism, sexism, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation.

    I think that if you really want to look at specific groups of people you should first make an open call to everyone and when the data comes in then look for significant trends that can be subset as groups.

    As to changing the world, whether through political activism or otherwise, that all of the marginalized groups need to agree to a lowest common denominator and push for that with everything they have.

    Equal freedom for each person, without exception.

    If we focus on details such as race or nonmonogamy we are polarizing other groups into opposing some detail or personal issue. As happened with this post in general. But if we can focus on something small, something simple we might be able to create a culture shift that creates a world where our pet issues can be addressed rationally.

    Personally I don’t care if people are anti-nonmonogamy or anti-kink or anti-my race, as long as they are willing to defend my personal freedoms to the same extent that they defend their own, I am willing to agree to disagree. It is only when their racism or anti-kink or anti-nonmonogamy makes them think that they have more rights than I do or they can treat me as less of a human being that I have an issue.

    Sorry ranted, probably off topic as well.

    • pepomint Says:

      Hello Witan,

      I am all for gathering stories and other data in an inclusive manner as part of the project of moving polyamory forward. Indeed, I’m involved in a poly survey project right now.

      But, I don’t have a problem with focusing in on a particular group of people who are likely being under-served by the polyamory movement, whether we are talking gay men, lesbians, people of color, folks with disabilities, and so on. Even in an inclusive call, we can expect that folks who are marginalized in some way in the larger culture will also end up silenced in the call.

      To put it differently and in the context of race, there’s a long history of people gathering “generic” stories or data, and then it later becoming clear that “generic” really meant “white”, whether by intent or accident. Focusing in on the situation of people of color is one way to avoid this – though the approach I took here is I think not the way to go about it.

      All that said, I may not re-issue this call at any point. Currently my plan is to work on inclusivity in the local events I am holding, and then publish what I’ve learned.

  9. Poly Pocs Says:

    Hello all-

    We’ve had some of our own calls addressing the marginalization of poly poc’s within mainstream (read white) poly community. Would love to share notes!

    Xoxo,

    Poly Pocs

  10. I Says:

    1) I am afraid that racial minorities in Western countries do ourselves a disservice when we are so very quick to point out bigotry and prejudice from the majority culture. If all we do is criticize when “white people” attempt to talk about race, they will become either afraid to talk about it or fed up with minorities in general – both attitudes which eventually result in very real harm directed back to us. I’m glad this post wasn’t retracted – we want the discussion to continue even if we don’t always like what we hear.

    2) In answer to the post: In my view, being a racial minority, like being poly, immediately puts you outside the mainstream. What people outside the mainstream do constantly is explain who and what they are, how they are different from the mainstream, and even more how they are different from the mainstream misconception of the minority group. I was raised as an agnostic Hindu (thats not a contradiction, gosh already gotta start explaining) and with regards to poly it is frustrating living in a society which is consumed by the Abrahamic conception of sexuality as impure and dangerous. It doesn’t help that even the country I was born in and which hinduism was born in is now consumed by that repressive culture thanks to colonialism by british and islamic powers.

    In my view relationships are the one of the few arenas in which being a person of color has advantages – it acts as a filter, repelling bigoted and prejudiced people from the get-go. You gotta deal with the occasional person with a racial fetish, or occasionally a fellow person of color who prefers you simply for not being white. But by and large, being a person of color in primarily white society puts you in a more tolerant, diverse, and accepting group of people. Think about it: As a “white person”, would you really consider dating someone who uses race as a criteria for who they connect with? Well, we people of color get to filter most that nasty demographic out of our intimate lives right away.

    Being a minority is hard when you are dealing with people on a day to day basis, but in relationships its great. Yes, the pool is smaller – but its also a much better pool!

    • I Says:

      I should probably mention that I am male, and not involved in the “community” – I’m more one of those underground people. I don’t really broadcast my lifestyle, though I am upfront about it if a relationship could be on the horizon. I realized it was right for me pretty much as soon as i was sexually active, though I found sites about this “poly” thing on the internet pretty recently and realized there are more others like this then I had thought.

      • pepomint Says:

        Welcome to the blog! And welcome to the greater poly community. There are indeed quite a lot of us out there.

        Regarding your point #1, I have seen ongoing discussion in other forums around finding a balance between criticizing white allies and working with them against racism. My personal criteria for where that line should be is based in utility: are the issues the white folks carry going to scuttle the effort entirely? I think in the case of this post, the problems with the initial effort would have rendered the entire effort largely useless. I appreciate the criticism in any case.

        The good news is that someone else (including one of the commenters here( is making this effort, and doing it right! They are putting together an anthology of writings by kinky or poly people of color. Check it out over here.

        Regarding #2, thank you for the point on how it is easier to find quality people. I think there is a similar effect in the poly circles I move in – the pool is much smaller, but the people are higher quality. However, the pool is so small that dating is still very difficult for many poly people I know.

        Apparently you are doing much better in small-pool situations, perhaps because of the race effect you describe. That’s awesome.

  11. Araliya Says:

    Hey Pepper,
    I came across this post on Womanist Musings the other day on kink and marginalization. This isn’t to do with polyamory directly, but I thought it may be of interest to you because it exemplifies a couple of points made early on in the discussion. http://www.womanist-musings.com/2011/10/kink-and-marginalization.html

    • pepomint Says:

      Thank you – that was a good link for viewpoints. It puts much of the blame for the whiteness of kink communities on the attitudes of folks within those communities, which I think is warranted.

      From my vantage point, the (visible and public) polyamory community seems to have parallel issues. We don’t have the same sorts of direct fetishization of POC (like, say, the cuckolding scene) but at the same time there seem to be poly-specific varieties. In particular, the tantra/new age community heavily overlaps with the polyamory community in my area, and the exotification is intense in those circles.

      • Araliya Says:

        Oh yes, the exotification can be very intense in those circles. There’s a bit of overlap with the poly community but, mercifully, there are enough atheists, geeks and skeptics in the community that discussions of such subjects is avoided. I find the general fascination with anybody non-white turning up at poly events hard enough to deal with without specifically being told how ‘spiritual’ ‘my people’ are (all nearly 1 billion of us!).

  12. Angel Says:

    I know this is an old post, but I’ll put in my 2 cents. I am active in some poly spaces that are predominately black Americans (as well as the publicly acknowledged poly spaces – my partners happen to not be black). These spaces aren’t really a separate group. They are the queer friendly Black spaces. While they are mostly social, class is a major issue that comes up as they are in areas of South Los Angeles where class (and race by its relationship to class) is one of major issues. One of the observations I’ve noticed of my community is the participants are much younger than the members of our publicly touted poly groups, which could pose a barrier for members of the community I participate.
    I guess this just reiterates a lot of what has been said already. POC poly community sometimes occur within the larger context of that community and most of the issues we discuss are often not specifically about being poly.

    • pepomint Says:

      Hello Angel, welcome to the blog!

      Thank you for those observations. I had assumed from earlier comments that queer communities of color would include poly people, but would not necessarily include straight (or otherwise non-queer) poly people. But from what you’ve said I can see how it would actually happen in queer-friendly spaces.

      If you haven’t seen my post on age and polyamory, it may help explain why the public poly groups are older, though I didn’t include race analysis in that essay.

      Tribe Rialen is a good site! Please keep up the good work.

      Pepper


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