I never do this out of respect for the original writers and to get people to read their material, but this entry from lonesomeyogurt is so great that I am compelled to post it in its entirety. But do check out Gender Detective as well.
Imagine you’re at a party. You’re tired out after a night of dancing, or maybe you’re equally exhausted after a night of sipping on your drink while white guys with gauged ears tell you repeatedly about their new bands, their philosophy degrees, or how veganism has really helped them to feel more in tune with nature. Or maybe you’re having a combination wine tasting/Dr. Who viewing. I don’t know what kind of parties you go to, nerd.
Anyway, in between songs, episodes, or ill-informed discussions of Dostoyevsky, you strike up a conversation with someone standing next to you. He seems nice, even charming. You’re just now meeting and you try to make small talk. “So, um…what’s your favorite movie?” you ask.
“Oh, probably Birth of a Nation,” he responds.
You’re taken aback for a moment. There’s no way he means that movie about Ku Klux Klan defending white women from rapacious black men, right? Couldn’t be. So you press for more information. But he responds, “Yeah, that one. It’s really great, a good one to put on and just relax to.”
Now you’re confused, but not quite upset yet. You tell yourself that maybe he’s a film geek (albeit with quite the blind spot for racial politics), or maybe another hipster trying to out-irony everyone else. So you ask him why he likes it, what his favorite scene is, hoping he’ll have a good explanation for why a white supremacist propaganda is so interesting to him.
He thinks for a second. “I don’t know, I’d say probably the one where all the Reconstruction-era black senators get drunk and eat watermelon together. Or maybe that one scene where a Klansman lynches the slobbering black rapist after a white woman leaps to her death in order to escape him.” He pauses. “Actually, no, I think it’s probably that classic wide-angle shot where all the black people show up to vote but get turned away by armed white militia. The speech the guy gives there about ‘the former enemies of North and South united again in defense of their Aryan birthright,’ man, that’s awesome.”
He nods and turns back to you. He’s about to move on with the questions – favorite band, favorite food, all that – when he sees your face contorted with disgust. Immediately he puts on his best condescending white guy voice: “Oh no,” he says, “Don’t worry. I’m not a racist. None of it was real! All the black people – you know, the one who gets lynched, the rapist, the fried chicken-eating drunks, all of them – most weren’t even really black people! Mostly it was white guys in blackface. And the black guys who were in it actually got paid really well, and they loved being in the movie. Don’t worry!”
At this point, you’ve moved from confused to offended to furious. “What the fuck does it matter?! How could you enjoy The Birth of a Nation?!”
He shakes his head. “Look, you just don’t understand. When a lynching happens in real life, it’s terrible. But when an actor does it, and gets paid to do it, and really likes it, it’s totally okay, and there’s nothing weird about white people enjoying it. They even gave the black actors special words they could use at any time to stop the scene!”
“That analysis completely ignores the fact that all black people, especially black people in the incredibly racist film industry of the early 1900’s, don’t have the institutional, economic, social, or political power to set up boundaries when allowing white folks to violate them is the best chance at success and safety! Besides, even if all the actors really were happy – and they weren’t – it doesn’t change the fact that the white people who watch it are simulating their violence and domination for fun!”
He shakes his head. “Actually, I think you’re the racist one! By telling black people that they can’t be in movies where they play rapists, idiots, and drunks, you’re doing the same thing as the Ku Klux Klan did; you’re telling black people what they can and can’t do! I think if a black actor wants to play a slobbering rapist who is lynched by Klansmen, then that’s an expression of his agency and it has nothing to do with racism.”
“That’s fucking crazy,” you respond. “This has nothing to do with what black actors ‘can and can’t do’ – it’s about why white guys enjoy watching those black actors portray stereotypes that were constructed specifically to aid in black people’s oppression, and why anyone who claims to hate racism would find a story about it to be pleasant or enjoyable!”
“Hey,” he says, putting his hands up, “Sometimes people just want what they want. If you don’t enjoy dramas about the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, that’s fine, but you don’t get to hate on people who don’t have such a narrow view of what black people’s roles in film can be! It’s not like I would ever lynch, intimidate, or harass a person of color, after all. And as long as I’m fulfilling my interest in watching blacks lynched, intimidated, and harassed by white supremacists in a healthy way that doesn’t hurt anybody else, then you don’t have any right to criticize me!”
You open your mouth to respond, but before you can speak a bearded man in a v-neck sweater walks up and taps you on the shoulder. “Hey,” he says, “Sorry to interrupt, but the new single from my acoustic solo project is coming up. Would you like to hear me talk about it for the next forty minutes, using terms like ‘sonic experience’ and ‘soundscape?’”
“Oh, Jesus, thank you,” you say to yourself, and follow him off.
I think the vast majority of those in the social justice world would agree that the man in the above scenario is definitely a racist and almost certainly an idiot. And yet every single line of dialogue was taken directly from arguments pro-BDSM apologists have used against a radical analysis of sexual sadism. The reference to specific situational conditions, to agency, to a deterministic view of desire, to a false equivalence between oppressive and revolutionary prescriptions of behavior – all of these rebuttals that appear so patently absurd when applied to race are the central defense of BDSM. That a white person enjoying a filmed reenactment of white racial violence is actually significantly less terrible than a man enjoying the actual performance of male sexual violence makes the entire double standard even more incomprehensible. I must be missing something, right? If so, please help me out! Seriously.
I issue a serious question to any advocates of BDSM who read this post: Do you agree with the man in the above scenario? If not, tell me where the two situations diverge. Tell me what the difference is. Tell me what possible belief system you could hold that makes one okay and not the other. I’ve been asking these questions for a long time now and I have not encountered even a single attempt at an answer. The reason, of course, is obvious: There isn’t one.
Both cases are fundamentally identical. Both are members of an oppressor class using simulations of their oppressive violence to achieve physical and emotional satisfaction. It is a seriously held tenet of many male Leftists that a commitment to women’s liberation can coexist with the practice of eroticizing rape. This is, as a concept, fucking crazy, and such nonsense would never be tolerated among anti-racist whites. It would never be tolerated among allies to gays and lesbians. It would never be tolerated among Marxists in solidarity with the proletariat. And yet the right of men to utilize our terrorism as a sex aid is actively celebrated by many who honestly claim to support feminism. A belief that BDSM is compatible with women’s liberation requires a belief that there are thousands of men out there who truly hate sexual violence and support women’s freedom, but also find it arousing to pretend to tie them up and pretend to rape them. Call me crazy, but I really doubt it.