Race and Polyamory

I did do my homework; I did read the research piece I found on Polyamory and Diversity. I wanted to include my personal thoughts and my thoughts on the piece in one entry, but I just can’t do it. My approach of the topic, and the approach of the author of the paper, are much too different to mesh. A review of her piece will be next, but first, my own personal observations, thoughts, and questions.

I once read in the livejournal polyamory community that someone had written somewhere that one could not identify as polyamorous without an internet presence. The polyamory identity was so entrenched in internet newsgroups, blogs, communities, forums, etc. that it was impossible to be polyamorous and not be involved online.

I don’t agree with that sentiment: I believe that someone can most definitely identify as polyamorous without being “plugged in;” though, I have to admit, I think most people discover the word polyamory on the internet, which does make it hard for people who are not on the internet to identify as polyamorous. If you’ve never seen/heard the word, how could you identify with it?

What’s more, having internet access wouldn’t have guaranteed exposure to the word even just a few years ago. Until recently, there were only a few places where people could gather to talk about this “polyamory” thing. Mostly, again, in blogs, newsgroups, forums, and communities. . . you know, where bloggers hang out.

When am I going to get to race? I’m glad you asked.

I don’t think I’d be surprising anyone if I said that I suspect that a majority of active bloggers are white. If that does surprise you, please do let me know, and I’ll try to dig up some research. It might be changing these days (or not), but the formulating years of polyamory coincide pretty darn well with the heydey of blogging, and let me tell you something about blogging conventions: they lacked color. It was more than a little noticeable.

If polyamory is, primarily, an internet movement propelled by bloggers and other online community members and activists, is it really any surprise that polyamory conventions have a suspiciously similar palate to that of blogging conventions?

And so, we have begun the discussion. Now. . . why haven’t we branched out? Sure, there have been issues of visibility until recently, but I do suspect that there may be other things at work here:

1.) There ARE white AND non-white polyamorists out there; they just don’t call it polyamory. They haven’t discovered the word. They’re doing it though, just like people have been doing it for centuries without the word existing. I’ve met them. I’ve talked to people who are in happy, open, “triangles” and “Vees”, as we call them. They called them “relationships.” They say it works for them. They don’t have special words for them, but they are doing. . . it. Polyamory. What’s even funnier? I share the word polyamory with these happy people for funsies, and often, they’re uninterested. “I don’t have the time for that,” they say, “I’ve got a life to live and lovers to spend time with.” Hah!

2.) There is hesitation due to the “representing my race” complex. It’s that whole “white privilege” thing. If a white person gets interviewed as a polyamorist, they will be “judged” by viewers based on what they say about polyamory. If a non-white person gets interviewed as a polyamorist, they will be “judged” by viewers based on what they say about polyamory, AND, in all likelihood, on their race. “Those crazy [insert race here] people; look what they’re up to now!” would be uttered in the privacy of (racist) people’s homes across the country.

3.) But, to be fair, [insert race here] could be [white]. One (nonwhite) friend who I excitedly told about polyamory when I first discovered it said, “Why do white people always got to name stuff? Why do you publicize it on the internet and do news interviews? Why would you want people all up in your business? Just do what makes you happy, and stop over-analyzing everything all the time!” Are we just “crazy white folk?” Is this what we are known for? Most active bloggers are also intelligent and usually have at least some college under their belt – is our love for academia and nerdiness part of what makes this seem like “our thing”?

4.) It’s a white wo/man’s world. I might be stretching with this one, but, the most popular and active blogs are about news and politics (That’s not the stretch part; that’s actually true. Here’s the stretch. . .); news media and politics are still run mostly by white people. It’s not very welcoming. The fact that there was SO much celebration, joy, tears, and overwhelming expression when Obama was elected shows that we still FEEL how hard it is for a non-white person to get “up there.” It doesn’t feel accessible. If that’s the world bloggers and polyamorists are operating in, we’re just doing the same thing that’s been done all these years – remaining exclusive, because we don’t know any differently. It’s, unfortunately, in our culture. (We do need to work to change that, by the way.)

5.) Is time constraint an issue? Another friend suggested that, historically, middle-class white females have often had the time to spearhead movements that non-whites didn’t have, since non-whites generally made (and still make) less money and had to work harder. I haven’t looked into this deeply enough, and something about it makes me feel. . . iffy, but I thought it was worth putting here. I do think back to the friends from my first point, but I think that’s a time thing mixed with a lack of interest for the reading, writing, researching, and debating that is part and parcel of the blogosphere. (What are the numbers these days on race demographics among college grads, anyway?)

And now, I am forced to ask myself and the polyamory community in general: Why did we name this thing, anyway? I know that it’s so we could talk about it, but honestly, I wonder if we should have to. Couldn’t we just do it, like everyone else who isn’t calling it polyamory is doing?

It’s a scary thought for me; if the word hadn’t existed in 2007, I wouldn’t have found the polyamory communities that helped me on my path of self-discovery, but perhaps what the world should really be talking more about is actually being true to ourselves, and allowing those around us to be true to themselves, and giving people permission to feel what it is they want without being told what they want.

There are actually times where I hesitate to use the word “polyamory,” because I know that I’m in company that will never have heard it, and it’s a label that I have to explain, and honestly, I’d much rather just say, “oh, well, yes, I’m dating this person, but that doesn’t mean you and I can’t date. No, it’s okay, I’ll let him know that you’re picking me up Friday at seven. Awesome!” Why use the word “polyamory,” when I can just. . . do it?

Best part of this post: I’m doing exactly what I’m writing about. Creatures of habit, we are, we are.

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4 Comments

  1. Nyda Simmonds

     /  March 2, 2012

    Babes, lets just call it an open relationship the way our parent did.

    Reply
  2. I’m a minority and I definitely did need to find a term to open up to. The idea that minorities are out there just doing it because they just do and white people need to find a term for it and explore it academically it is a bit offensive in itself. I’m not more able to organically figure out what I want to do with myself than you are because I’m a minority. I’m sure that’s not what you mean at all, but it does read that way a little. I hope I haven’t caused offense.

    Reply
    • Not at all; I apologize if it read that way! I wrote this a while ago, so it’s less fresh in my head right now, but I do remember it being quite a difficult idea to wrap my head around. I didn’t mean to make it seem like minorities are able to figure things out more easily simply because they are minorities, just that more White people had the word “polyamory” in their vocabulary, due to the internet movement, and the higher participation of whites in online communities at that time. The feelings and actions are relatively the same across the board, i bet – there was just more written communication moving more quickly for one race than others.

      Reply

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