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Black BDSM

Updated: JANUARY 11, 2024
Reviewed by Marla Stewart

Black BDSM is an umbrella term for sexual practices involving bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism enjoyed by people who identify as Black. The practices that fall under the banner of Black BDSM are similar to those enjoyed by the wider BDSM community. However, Black BDSM is closely linked to politics and a desire for freedom and autonomy over one’s own body. In an ideal world, Black BDSM can be about liberation and self-expression. It's a space where folks can explore desires and boundaries in a safe environment while also challenging societal norms.


History of Black BDSM

As BDSM remains taboo in the Black community, it’s difficult to determine when the history of Black BDSM began. The Black Leather Community, which formed at the end of World War II, was one of the first groups that were open about their interest in Black BDSM. This movement inspired the leather competitions of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1984, Ron Moore became the first Black man to become International Mr. Leather. In 1996, Jill Carter claimed the title of International Ms Leather.

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In the 1970s, bondage magazines and adult films often showed Black women engaging in BDSM acts. Many of these were created by white people aiming to titillate white viewers. However, some publications, such as Black Amazon Digest, Black Mistress Review, Obeah, and Black Leather in Color were created by the Black BDSM community, for members of that community.

The 1990s saw the Black BDSM movement grow to cities across America. This decade saw the formation of ONYX, a Black men’s leather group which endures today. In 2008, the group launched a group for Black women interested in BDSM, the ONYX Pearls. In 1993, the Black BDSM community also got its own leather competition, Mr. Ebony in Leather.

During the 21st century, Black BDSM has gained more visibility. The 2000s and 2010s saw Black BDSM practitioners gathering at in-person events like Black Beat, Weekend Reunion, and the Sex Down South Conference. In 2019, Jack Thompson broke more barriers when he became the first trans man of color named International Mr. Leather.


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How Is Black BDSM Different from White BDSM?

To an outsider, Black BDSM can look very similar to [White] BDSM. However, Winnick explains that "Black BDSM differs from [White] BDSM in that it carries an additional layer of complexity due to historical contexts and societal power structures. It's not just about exploring kink; it's also about navigating these elements with sensitivity and understanding."

However, not everyone in the community embraces the term, or even recognizes it. "Black kink is a thing, Black BDSM is not," says Mistress Mia Darque, a Black professional dominatrix. "BDSM is BDSM. The techniques are the same, the toys are the same. The knowledge and skill sets you need are the same; it's just that it comes in a different shade. There's no discernible lines. As long as folks are still calling it Black BDSM, we are being put outside of the norm. The feminist activist Avital Ronell said 'Revolution is an inclusionary process.' As long as we are put outside the norm, the BDSM community is held back from progress and acceptance."

Throughout history, Black people were enslaved, often bound and forced into a submissive roles. This gives them a unique relationship with power exchange, which is also the bedrock of BDSM. Taking joy from being submissive can be subversive for some Black people. Taking a dominant role subverts society’s expectations, so it’s also taboo.

Responsible BDSM is also built on consent. Being able to give consent and withdraw it at any time gives Black a space where their opinions and desires are respected, perhaps more than they are in the wider community. This freedom to consent, or not, can help Black people reclaim their relationship to submission, pain, and restraint.

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Black BDSM Porn

There is a variety of Black BDSM porn available, including porn featuring exclusively Black and other videos with interracial couples. Black actors may be dominant or submissive, indicating that a person’s race does not necessarily influence the role they’ll play in BDSM. Black BDSM porn can play an essential role in normalizing BDSM practices for Black people. However, white adult filmmakers create most of this porn. Some people have criticized this porn, especially when it features Black people in submissive roles, as it may perpetuate racial stereotypes and encourage fetishization.

However, there are also some Black people creating Black BDSM porn. Porn star Vanessa Blue mostly features Black performers, including herself, on her website FemdomX.com. She always casts these actors in femdom roles because she wants to give them back power after years of oppression.

Darque says that while "so much porn is always going to be the shallowest version", she appreciates the work of King Noire and Jet Setting Jasmine, noting that "They show a classier side of Black kink. They put production values and content over the amount of money they may make for the content. You're always going to get the same quality product and it's always going to be good, regardless of what they make from it."

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Winnick believes that Black BDSM porn "can be a tool for visibility and representation if done respectfully and consensually. However, like all adult content, it should be produced ethically without perpetuating harmful stereotypes or exploiting performers."

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More About Black BDSM

Decolonizing BDSM

Domination, one of the pillars of BDSM, has historically been a tool of colonization. This association can make Black people, who’ve been historically oppressed through colonization, shy away from BDSM. However, many Black BDSM practitioners say that their participation can decolonize BDSM. As BDSM is built on consent, for dominants and submissives, everyone has the power. This dynamic is very different from colonized minorities, for whom being dominated meant losing power. Black BDSM may also use tools that were used during white colonization, such as ropes and whips, for pleasure rather than harm. Repurposing these tools can diffuse their power.


The Interaction between the Power Relationship and Race

The power relationship between a dominant and a submissive can have extra significance for Black people. Taking a dominant role can be empowering for someone who has felt oppressed throughout their lives, especially if they have a white submissive. Taking a submissive role may be challenging, especially if the dominant uses terms like ownership or slave which are historically loaded. However, some Black people find being submissive is freeing, because they can choose to reclaim how they feel about giving up control. Some Black folks deliberately seek out white BDSM partners who can help them process racial dynamics.

"For Black and non-Black who play with them, communication is key – clear consent, open dialogue about comfort levels and triggers are crucial," Winnick adds. "Non-Black individuals should also make efforts to educate themselves independently rather than relying solely on partners for information."

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Read more: Race Play


Intersectionality

Kimberlé W. Crenshaw is a pioneering scholar and writer on civil rights, critical race theory, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law. In addition to her position at Columbia Law School, she is a Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. Foundational in critical race theory and in “intersectionality,” is a term she coined to describe the double bind of simultaneous racial and gender. The term has been further developed to include multiple and additional forms of oppression from various other identities surrounding social class, age, sexual preference, mobility and more. The concept of intersectionality suggests that classifications can create overlapping and connected systems of discrimination and privilege. Members of the BDSM community may feel further discriminated against due to their gender or sexuality. This discrimination can make participating in some activities, such as race play or humiliation play, more challenging, so couples should openly discuss their limits and potential triggers.

A 2022 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior found people of color were 16 times more likely to feel discriminated against at BDSM events. They were also 17 times more likely to feel fetishized. Respondents said they were subjected to racial slurs and microaggressions and felt isolated and dismissed. These reports suggest that organizers of these events, and the wider BDSM community, have some work they must do to become more inclusive. A 2020 study from the University of Colorado also found Black and biracial women had more negative experiences regarding their BDSM while seeking therapy than any other group. This points to the importance of therapists also being more open-minded to create a more accepting culture.

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Darque says she's experienced many of these problems first-hand. "I've been turned away from parties due to the color of my skin. We're watched with suspicion at events. People like myself are expected to be good all the time, even when sometimes others around us are on their worst behavior. In terms of the dungeon and one-on-one play, treat me with high standards of courtesy and respect as you would a regal white Dominatrix or Master. Have some empathy. I am a professional, and will respect your limits and needs as a proper Domme should. I'm here to give you what you like, but I'm not here to just beat you because of the color of your skin."

"While there's progress being made in addressing racism within the BDSM community, there's still work to be done," Winnick said. "We need more representation of diverse experiences as well as ongoing dialogue about race-related issues in this space."

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