From The Tricky Business of Being Submissive:
I’m not going to go into the history of slaves as a being subjected to cruelties and hardships. We all know these things existed and exist today. It happened to every race and every generation has suffered in some way, either directly or by way of the trickle down effect. This sort of slavery has nothing to do with a woman or man who calls himself slave in the BDSM style.
I have to disagree somewhat. After reading Marcus Wood’s Blind Memory and Slavery, Empathy and Pornography, as well as the references to slavery in Robinson Crusoe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Krafft-Ebing’s case histories, I believe that the BDSM idea of slavery evolved out of reactions to the idea of real life slavery.
Pro-slavery groups tried to idealize slavery as a means of uplift or a more equitable social arrangement than living in market capitalism. E.g. Crusoe’s domination of Friday is seen as right and just, an example of natural order asserting itself.
On the other hand, abolitionist texts, which endeavored to communicate the horror of slavery, had a strange interaction with the cult of sensibility, what we today would call sympathy. This is the idea that a heightened capacity for vicariously experiencing the feelings of others was a sign of mental refinement.
For example, Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass wrote:
All this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine,
I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there.
The disdain and calmness of martyrs,
The mother of old, condemn’d for a witch, burnt with dry wood, her
children gazing on,
The hounded slave that flags in the race, leans by the fence,
blowing, cover’d with sweat,
The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck, the murderous
buckshot and the bullets,
All these I feel or am.
I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs,
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksmen,
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn’d with the
ooze of my skin,
I fall on the weeds and stones,
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close,
Taunt my dizzy ears and beat me violently over the head with whip-stocks.
Agonies are one of my changes of garments…
Whitman’s passage and other abolitionist fiction become a kind of exercise in which the poet (and by extension the reader) exercises his/her capacity for sympathy by imagining a slave, the most abject of people, and projecting into that role. You could compare it to a person who practices transvestism, constructing an alternate social role which allows people a different range of personal expression.
Arthur Munby was a prime example of this, a minor poet and author man who spent a lot of time and mental effort studying and imagining the interior experience of women who were at or near the bottom of the social ladder, and who developed a master-slave relationship with Hannah Cullwick. Munby would sometimes imagine himself, the gentleman, as the decorative, effeminate, dependent counterpart to the unadorned, masculine, protective servant woman.
Munby and Cullwick were both imaginative, and understood that their roles of master and slave were interdependent. However, the particular details of their fantasy scripts grew out of the pro-slavery and abolitionist media that were prevalent during their lives: novels, poetry, abolitionist propaganda, “Tom shows” in the streets and theatres, and the lingering residue of slavery in Britain. I’d even go so far as to say that without Atlantic slavery, BDSM as we know it today would not exist. BDSM is one of those “trickle effects” mentioned above.
From Mr. Meow’s LJ, more thoughts on interracial fantasy and BDSM:
Is race play becoming common in our PC world? Or is it relugated to some fringe groups, with people who have obvious problems. Why would any self respecting black person want to be owned by a white master? And additionally be called derogatory names. They must be SELF HATING is the first thought that comes to mind. I Feel sorry for these misguided souls.
What white domme would admit in a public forum his desire to own a black slave in the 21st century.
Or is it perhaps something that is deeper. Maybe this so called “Race Play” as I’ve heard it called is actually just the tip of the ice berg for racializing sexual fetishism that only those few in the so called “fringe” groups are bold enough to admit to themselves and in public. Whereas a plethora of race and sex politics exist and coincide in relative isolation in the deepest recess’ of a modern first world persons’ brain. Too unpleasant to admit even to oneself.
There are those who say that race is color blind and that its the individual not the race that one sees. Most often such statements are spoken by those who not subjected to the treatment ‘otherness’ brings.
If the historical roots of BDSM are the reactions to Atlantic slavery, then it is unsurprising that there are people today who fantasize about racial stereotypes. BDSM fantasy is built in a legacy of colonial literature and art, among other things, and we still, to this day, see the same archetypes and scenarios played out, over and over again.
Will there ever be a day when, say, an Asian woman can be seen by white people without the lingering influence of Madame Butterfly or the Dragon Lady? I don’t know. Maybe those archetypes exist in the human psyche, independent of and prior to any specific historical context. Centuries from now, those archetypes could attach themselves to some other social division.