From The Grio — When imagining someone hurling racial epithets at you or treating you like their slave, you may be more likely to picture a Klansman than a partner or lover.

But for those who engage in “race play”, being called the n-word or role playing the scenario of a slave auction does more than conjure images of hooded men and hateful rhetoric — it also turns them on.

“Race play” or “racial play” is generally described as engaging in any type of BDSM (short for “bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism”) or kinky encounter that specifically incorporates the racial identity of the people engaging in it.

The act could involve both real and assumed racial identity, including racial role playing, and is not limited to the racial identities of the people involved.

Those who choose to participate in “race play” choose to consensually toy with racial perceptions, attitudes, and history as part of their BDSM experience.

The setting, context, and actors for such race play can vary greatly, as it can with any sexualized encounter. But some common examples of race play include role played interactions between a white master and a black slave, a “Mandingo” black stud and a white woman, or an intra-racial interaction between people of different skin tones, ethnicities, or tribal affiliations. It could also extend beyond black and white, relating to any racialized identity or scenario.

Mollena Williams, internationally known BDSM educator, writer, and Leather Community Titleholder (she was Ms. San Francisco Leather 2009 and International Ms. Leather 2010) suggests that “most people have fantasies related to being overpowered or dominated, but in the case of the BDSM community they simply turn it up a notch.”


Indeed, BDSM themes and images populate our pop culture psyche, even if they’re not always recognized or accepted as such. While touring last year, for example, Jay Electronica boasted that “all women enjoy being choked during sex” as part of a rumored bet between him, his DJ, and Nas for $20,000 . And Rihanna recently released a video “S&M”, which featured shots of her donning latex and tying a man to a bed (It was restricted by YouTube and banned in multiple countries).

What’s the appeal of talking about or engaging in BDSM play, especially in the public eye? And what happens when you add race play to the mix?

Williams, a black woman who identifies as feminist, says for her part that she used to think of BDSM as something that only gay white men did, and worried that there might be something wrong with her when she began to feel interested in it. But she soon came to terms with her own desires and fantasies.

“People ride rollercoasters to simulate an experience,” she said. “While they may enjoy the sensation of being carted up to dangerous heights and dropped with a rush back down again, they don’t actually want to fall hundreds of feet at high speeds. Instead, they desire the sensation, the idea of it, not the reality of it. Race play is the same way for me.”

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  • I really enjoyed this article. (ahhh I love this site) I think it did a phenomenal job in delving into the issues and fairly addressing any of the fears/misconceptions of racialized BDSM. I agree with with Williams, consensual adults engaging in what may appear to be dangerous role play should not be mistaken for that of actual harm.

    Unfortunately, we live in a society where people aren’t given the tools to critically think (i.e. Republicans asking to slash education funds while asking for American intrusion in Libya) about the complex dynamics of human functions. One great thing about human beings having higher functioning mental capabilities is our ability to simulate ideas/actions/performances with different intentions, consequences etc.

  • jade

    me and boyfriend(white) does S&M and we alternate back and forth but never would i ever do raceplay ever!!! i could never feel comfortable with that