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Race Play

Updated: JANUARY 15, 2024
Reviewed by Dr. Laura McGuire
on January 8, 2024

Race play, or raceplay, is BDSM play involving role play with racial imagery. It usually involves interracial partners, although it may be enjoyed by people of any race. It is a type of advanced psychological play.

Why People Are Into Race Play

Race play can be enjoyable for a myriad of different reasons. However, it is important to note that this kind of role playing is taboo, often even in BDSM circles. Practitioners say it’s less acceptable within the community than some other types of role play that sit outside social norms, such as age play and rape play. Even so, some people get sexual gratification from play that pushes these particular boundaries.

“Some people are drawn to race play because it's a form of power exchange that taps into societal structures and historical contexts, providing a unique thrill or arousal,” says Kat Winnick, a BIPOC certified sex educator with more than 10 years’ experience as a dominatrix in a New York dungeon. “It's like ordering an extra spicy dish at your favorite restaurant - not everyone can handle the heat, but for those who can, they find it quite invigorating!”

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Some people may use race play to process difficult concepts and trauma. Unfortunately, internalized racism may also drive some people's participation. A feeling that certain races are inferior and deserve to be dominated may inspire someone’s interest in race play.

Race Play Scenes/Dynamics

Race play scenes and dynamics are limited only by the imagination. However, they usually involve someone role playing as a dominant white character while their submissive partner takes the role of a submissive minority. In this dynamic, it can mean people of color role playing as slaves or people of Jewish heritage role playing as prisoners. However, race play can also involve white people stepping outside their usual roles, as with any kind of role play, and assuming the identity of a racial minority. A white person or someone playing that role may also prefer a racial minority dominating them.

The dominant may use physical or verbal strategies to control the scene’s submissive. They may tie them up, insult them - including with racial slurs - spit on them, or strike them using their hand or a tool, such as a flogger. They may also order them to perform tasks, from household duties to sex acts. Race play scenes may look to degrade or dehumanize the submissive.

People interested in race play without a willing partner may also find gratification online or with phone sex workers. Barb, who declined to have her surname published, is a Latina phone sex worker who delivers race play services. She says she’s participated in many different race play scenes.

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“I have white people into race play who tend to be submissive and ache to serve someone more powerful/dominant than themselves. Black men, even as abused in our culture and society as they are, are seen as strong, powerful, and very capable ... especially physically. And yes, big, black cocks (BBC) are always a part of the domination,” she explained. “These types of race play do not tend to use the N-word unless the black man is telling the white person to ‘Serve this ‘N-word.’ I have black folks who want race play, including using the N-word. I had one creative white client develop a ‘Black Lives Matter’ statement right before sucking the guy's cock. I have incorporated that into play with many of my clients. It soothes the pain, if there is any, with race play. One culture that thrives on race play is South Asian guys (always guys), usually Indian. They want white Mistresses/Goddesses/Queens and to be degraded with terms like ‘Sand N-word.’”

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More About Race Play

Race Play Controversy

Race is a controversial topic in BDSM circles, as the use of racialized imagery in kink can be seen as a way of eroticizing racism and subjugation. “It involves themes that have real-world implications and a history of oppression,” Winnick explained. “Imagine playing Monopoly with real money; suddenly every move becomes more significant and potentially damaging.”

As much of the BDSM community is white, race play is largely consumed by white people. This gets complicated as some people feel white people are disrespecting or fetishizing partners of other races. Winnick disagrees, noting that “consensual race play is like a well-choreographed dance between two partners who've agreed on the steps, while fetishization of race is more akin to someone obsessively replaying their favorite song without considering the feelings or comfort of others in the room.”

Barb is less confident that her clients are not fetishizing race, noting “I have a really hard time separating consensual race play and fetishization in my job. I don't know the guys and gals that well to know their motivation or inner desires. Most watch interracial porn, I know that because we talk about it or watch it together. But is that fetishizing? I'm not sure. In a dungeon it might be easier to differentiate.”

White people who assume the roles of racial minorities during race play may also be accused of cultural appropriation. The BIPOC community also tends to take issue with racial minorities “using” the trauma of their ancestors for sexual gratification or simply “selling out” to please a white partner.

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On the other side of the debate, some kinksters argue that race play is just another way of playing with taboos and pushing boundaries. They argue that what consenting adults enjoy in private shouldn’t be anyone else’s concern.

They also suggest that playing out stereotypes can be a way to counter racist narratives. They remind critics that race play is a consensual roleplaying activity where the submissive always has the power to agree to the scene, set limits and stop at any time they feel uncomfortable. This is a power that was never afforded to racial minorities dominated by white people in the past. When viewed through this lens, race play could be perceived as a way for racial minorities to reclaim power their ancestors didn’t have.

Supporters of race play also add that scenes featuring the dominance of white figures and the submission of racial minorities are not uncommon in popular media. While some faced criticism in some sectors, they were celebrated in others. For example, some critics condemned the 2014 film "12 Years a Slave" for failing to show black resistance to slavery. However, it also received a slew of honors, including Academy Awards, African-American Film Critics Association Awards, and British Academy Film Awards. If mainstream media can play out racial power dynamics, some supporters of race play argue, then people who enjoy race play and adult filmmakers seeking to satisfy them should be able to do the same.

Safety and Race Play

As race play is an advanced psychological play, it requires a dominant who understands this type of scene’s power to harm a submissive and has the knowledge, care and attention to reduce the risks.

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It’s also important for all parties to discuss their interest in race place openly and respect their partners’ limits. If race play is a hard limit, people can find other mutually satisfying ways to play. If it’s a soft limit, both parties should proceed with caution and stop or slow play if anyone gets triggered. It may take time to become comfortable with race play, and it’s up to the individuals involved to decide whether they’re willing to persevere.

And, while it's up to the individual to decide their limits and what's OK for them, listening to their body's response to this type of play may be important. While a person may agree to engage in this type of play on an intellectual level, their body may still be telling them no. As with any type of edgeplay, moving forward with something that just feels wrong is probably a red flag.

“In my real-life play, I was quite offended at race play,” Barb admitted. “When I started phone sex work, I couldn't do it for a couple of years, but once I figured out it was consensual and fantasy, I was able to do it. Even still, I cried after each race play call and felt I needed to wash my mouth out with soap. I am able to ‘play’ now without freaking out and take many of the callers that other operators will not take because they do not do race play.”

People should also understand that race play remains taboo, even in the BDSM community. For this reason, people who enjoy race play should be considerate of other people’s comfort levels. They may prefer enjoying race play in private, where they can avoid triggering others.

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“Kinks are as diverse as ice cream flavors - some might prefer vanilla while others go for rocky road! What matters most is consent, respect and understanding among participants,” said Winnick. “And if you're ever unsure about your own desires or fetishes, don't hesitate to seek guidance from a therapist or trusted expert in the field!”

Overall, it's a good idea to do some reading and internal work around racism and antisemitism before engaging in race play. This will help people take a more informed and mindful approach should they decide to move forward with this type of play. This is an area where a therapist may also be of help.

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