The poly minority equation

At PolyDay 2017 in London, I gave a talk about being a minority within a minority. It came about after the organisers took two years to find a person of colour (PoC) to talk – and me accidentally getting involved. It got me asking – why isn’t there better representation of PoC in poly – and what can we all do about it? 

As an icebreaker task, I asked the PolyDay audience to write on anonymous comments on cards about PoC and poly. In 2018, I used those cards to base my talk about musings from the PoC side. This year, I’ll be back for PolyDay 2019.

That first year my tech played up and I started late – but it was an important watershed moment. I was the first PoC speaker! I wanted to include statistics on how many PoC even practiced poly, but couldn’t find any – as if we were the hidden, erased part of the scene.

So what do you do when you don’t have the figures?….Create an equation that’s what!

The Poly Minority Equation… (r+sx)+P=? r-Race sx-Sexuality P-Poly

On more than one occasion I’ve asked ‘surely I can’t be the only one?’ As it turns out, I’m not. But it’s easy to get that perception when you can’t see any representation of PoC in poly.

Last year, a book by Canadian author Kevin Patterson came out called Love’s Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities. But still there’s nothing from the UK. No dialogue or support that takes into consideration our unique intersectionalities this side of the pond.

And that’s how my PoC & Poly facebook group came about. If the space didn’t exist, then it would be up to me to create it. To be the driving force behind greater inclusivity within poly spaces and the representation of our authentic selves.

‘Intersectionality’ is a term coined in a 1989 paper titled ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex‘ by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. It’s a theoretical framework for how race can intersect with overlapping vulnerabilities that create specific challenges. Basically, ‘if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you’re likely to get hit by both’ – Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.

‘Is it soft, greasy or wiry?’ – a throwaway comment has become one of my most pondered on scenarios. Why is it that people are drawn like moths to a flame to touch my hair? Where does that feeling of entitlement and disregard for consent come from?

My people were owned – possessions. Traded like objects.  Being objectified evokes that time. But the fetishisation of my body and my heritage is not only limited to my hair…’

I began to investigate proxemics, the study of how physical proximity is influenced by cultural identity. Looking at how different cultures can be more tactile than others, how the traditional narrative in the UK is to be distant to respect personal space. But this doesn’t seem to translate to seeing if my hair is soft to the touch…

A similar scenario occurs when pregnant people are subjected to constant ‘bump’ attention from strangers. These instances encouraged me to consider the ways that privilege, consent, entitlement and bodily autonomy intersect.

I thought about how my people were owned – possessions. Traded like objects. Being objectified evokes that time. But the fetishisation of my body and my heritage is not only limited to my hair. If I’m shouting I’m an Angry Black Woman (just ask Serena Williams). If I’m quiet then why don’t I speak up?

Other false representations include the illustration of PoC’s as hypersexual beings, aggressive and predatory when we ask for what we want or need, a trophy to some and a curiosity to others. ‘I do have to always be wary of being tokenized and fetishized. I have to listen for key buzzwords to figure out, are you into me? Or are you into getting a stamp in your ethnicity passport?’ – Kevin Patterson.

I had forgotten that poly spaces are often exclusionary of PoCs. Is that exclusion deliberate or unintentional?’

Racial politics even inhabit BDSM. Race play is a variation of a scene in which the participants replicate the power dynamics of typical historical and contemporarily relevant representations of race. In 2019, should we still be having conversations about how blackface performances are cartoonish, dehumanizing tropes of the systematic social and political repression of PoCs throughout the ages?

When I was looking for ‘us’ in poly, where were we? I had forgotten that poly spaces are often exclusionary of PoCs. Is that exclusion deliberate or unintentional? Either way, once the weight and responsibility of privilege are reconciled and evaluated, we can all do our bit to increase the visibility and representation of PoCs in our spaces.

‘Polyamory is a privilege, a privilege that most black people are not able to explore’ – Alicia Bunyan-Sampson. So how can we increase the representation and visibility of PoCs in the poly world? We can create and foster spaces that increase representation without typical barriers of entry for PoC.

We PoCs need to be our own champions, calling out and challenging gaslighting and othering, the needless writing off of concerns and feelings that have prevented PoCs from speaking up before.

Non-PoCs should be seeking out our voices. This adds to add to the rich tapestry of experiences and helps to accurately portray us. Non-PoCs should be encouraging PoCs to tell our personal stories, giving us a platform to be heard, while facilitating open discussions on the type of facilities to provide and changes necessary to help us feel supported. In the words of Kevin Patterson, ‘if you’re not being actively inclusive, you’re being passively exclusive’.

We PoCs need to be our own champions, challenging the needless writing off of concerns and feelings that have prevented PoCs from speaking up before. 

Othering describes the reductive action of labelling another person as someone who belongs to a subordinate social category. It’s exclusionary to those who identify themselves as a heritage as different than yours. Different is no indication of the hierarchical topography of privilege and we should be more congruent towards shared cultural heritage. We need to recognise the act of othering and call it out – all of us.   

PoC don’t want pity – we need a platform to encourage growth of all. Be brave enough to be the change we want to see. Step aside from guilt and the downplaying of the significance of how PoC have been treated previously. This equation is one our communities need to recognise – and take action to solve. 

Zayna Ratty

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