Discussing racism and privilege in the poly community

Capital Letter In addition to writing this blog, I also co-moderate a community list here in the SF Bay Area. One of our members brought something to my attention today that I’d like to re-post here, to allow for further discussion (since the other list is an Events-Only list, and not a place for general discussion.) Names have been obscured so they don’t themselves obscure the larger discussion.

Thanks for reading and thanks for thinking about this important issue. I welcome discussion.

~♥ Dawn

I wrote this morning:

Subject: On welcoming speech as well as actions

List member [T] brought this to my attention, and I wanted to both thank him, and take this opportunity to underscore my attempts at making the PPP (and all of the events I’m involved in) a “welcoming” and safe space for all. At the bottom of this post, you’ll see [T] ‘s perceptive message about how a single word can alter the perception of a sentence, and by that, a whole post. And from there, whole groups of people might conclude that this event, and possibly also the entire poly community is not a safe space for them.  I think most here would agree that it’s not desirable to exclude—or cause feelings of exclusion in—anyone via casual racism/classism/sexism/etc. As a reminder, my own policy is this:

WELCOMING OF ALL: Please note that our parties are welcoming to people of all sizes, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, backgrounds, spiritual beliefs, political thoughts, etc. Guests are expected to behave in a manner that is courteous, respectful, and accepting of this diversity. (It’s perfectly ok to have personal preferences, of course, as long as those preferences don’t interfere with your ability to behave courteously towards others at the party.) If you have any questions about this policy, or about any other issues pertaining to our party, please feel free to contact us privately.

Racism in particular is a hot-button issue, and I hesitated to post [T] ‘s message at first in part because—as I have stated many times—this [events list] is not a discussion list.  However, upon reflection, I realized that he was right, and that I didn’t want to cause discomfort and exclusion by failing to speak up when appropriate.  Hence my post now.

Please note I’m not intending to place any particular blame or shame upon [the OP] for posting that sentence. I’m sure he intended no harm, and he did nothing different than many others before him (or after him) might have done.  In manner of speaking, “racism happens,” and his post is just an example of a wider issue.

However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the problem.  [T] was right to point it out, and I apologize for not spotting it before approving the posting. The problem with racism, especially the deeply enculturated kind (and some would say there is no other kind), is that it is subtle, pervasive, and nearly invisible. In fact, if you’re unfamiliar with it, I highly recommend that you read this classic essay by Peggy MacIntosh on the topic of how racism is “invisible.” It’s well worth the read.


As poly people (especially those of us who are activists or organizers of any sort) we’re essentially asking the world to become aware of their assumptions, preconceptions, and biases around “monogamous privilege.” Ultimately, though, it’s not just about monogamous privilege, but about FAIRNESS FOR ALL. Supporting (actively or tacitly) one form of oppression is supporting all forms of oppression. Speaking out against one form of oppression helps to dismantle all forms of oppression. It therefore behooves us as poly people interested in fairness and equality, to work toward the betterment of ALL, and to attempt to dismantle prejudice wherever we find it, even if all it is, is one word.

[ETA: [T] provided this very illuminating link in private mail, and I think it’s well work taking a look, to see how these tiny things add up to an oppressive environment: http://microaggressions.com/.]

I ask everyone here, then, to please be mindful of your speech as well as your actions. Do they create an environment of ever-greater equality and fairness? How would another person “hear” what you have to say?  It’s hard to step outside of our own privilege to examine such deeply ingrained behaviors—but it’s the only way that we as a society will have a hope of eventually growing beyond this pernicious inequality that belies our own founding principles of “justice and liberty for all.”

Some of you may have things you wish to say on this topic—and/or on the topic of “-isms” in the poly community in general. That’s understandable. However, this is still not a discussion list.  I could be flip and say that “racism is not up for discussion!” but in truth, I feel I have a duty to stick to my own list rules as much as possible, as well as to speak up about inequality.  Therefore, as I did once before, I’m going to repost this over in my blog (http://blog.loveoutsidethebox.com), which IS open for discussion. Feel free to discuss to your heart’s content over there. It’s a topic well worth talking about.

Thanks to [T] for pointing this out, and taking the extra time to respond a second time to get my actions in line with my principles.

And in all seriousness, thanks also to [the OP], for providing the excellent example to discuss. Such a little word, ‘but’, with such big potential ramifications.

And thanks to all of you for making this a community where we can feel free to speak up, and strive to be better.  I appreciate you all.

with best wishes,


On Mon, Aug 8, 2011 [the OP] wrote:
> It is in a nice, but mostly Latin neighborhood, and only about 12 blocks to downtown ….

I’m curious to know more about what you meant by this sentence. What does the word “but” add to your housing listing that wouldn’t have been communicated by the same sentence, minus the word “but”? How would you expect a poly person of color to interpret this sentence? Do you think it would make them feel like your housing listing was aimed primarily at people who would believe that a “mostly Latin” neighborhood would be a bad one unless a further clarification was given (as opposed to, say, people who wouldn’t need the clarification, because “mostly Latin” would mean a neighborhood where most people looked like themselves, and thus wouldn’t be a negative thing)?


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8 thoughts on “Discussing racism and privilege in the poly community

    1. dawnd Post author

      I suspect this comment of being spam, but I liked the sentiment, so I decided to post it. I’d like to think that shining more light on our practices around oppression and racism will indeed, help us to observe reality. And in being able to observe it more clearly, we will then be able to take action. My efforts on this are small, but I hope I can contribute to overall betterment of our society in this small way.

    1. dawnd Post author

      Thanks, Juanatango, that is indeed an awesome link. I’ve spent some time looking at it in the past, and it’s quite amazing how many subtle ways racism (and other “-isms”) is supported in our culture through day-to-day speech.

  1. Dawn Davidson

    A response from the OP, and my response in return.

    On Mon, Aug 8, 2011 [the OP] wrote:


    All I did was point out the population and make-up of the neighborhood as it could be a factor in someone’s decision (positive or negative) to move here.


    My response:
    The issue wasn’t the statement about the population, [OP]. It was your framing it as a “but,” which implies two things:

    1) You yourself are not Latin and consider Latin people to be “other.”

    2) You don’t normally consider “Latin” neighborhoods to be “nice” neighborhoods.

    It’s subtle, but there.

    FWIW, a NEUTRAL version of what you wrote, would have read:
    “It is in a nice, mostly Latin neighborhood, and only about 12 blocks to downtown ….”

    Same sentence, no ‘but.’ With it, there are racist overtones. Without it, it’s just a statement about the makeup of the neighborhood. I’m sure you were aiming for the second one.

    Best wishes,



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