It’s previous midnight, November 2016, in Dunstable, a small city in Bedfordshire. My good friend Miranda has accompanied me right here for ethical help. We scale a no-frills metallic staircase on the finish of an alleyway behind the excessive road, the place a weary blond girl is ruling a site of coats, money and lists. She has a defeated method, like the one sober particular person at a celebration when everyone seems to be drunk. I’m carrying a too-big purple gown stitched collectively by a really mediocre tailor in Senegal greater than a decade in the past. I don’t know why I made a decision to make myself look so dowdy. Miranda is doing significantly better; she has obediently placed on a basque, together with a skirt a lot shorter than mine, and boots that elongate her lengthy legs. She’s calmer than me, too. I’ve given the organisers faux Jewish-sounding names. It was the best means of manipulating our precise names with out revealing the truth that we’re each black. Had we sounded black, I’m unsure we’d have been allowed in.
As it’s our first time, Eddie – a stable black man, dressed within the standard-issue go well with and a bouncer’s armband – has been requested to indicate us round. His presence is reassuring; he looks like an island of sanity in a sea of grotesque chaos. The very first thing I see, as soon as Eddie has led us previous the dancefloor and the bar, is a shaven-headed black man on his knees on a big mattress, with a white girl on all fours, doggy-style. He is carrying an unbuttoned shirt, and nothing else; she is in a basque, suspenders and boots. Another man is kneeling subsequent to him, ready his flip. To the left, on the identical sateen mattress, a lady is kneeling together with her again to us, bare from the waist down. A person has his hand on her ample butt cheeks. Other males hover across the mattress, beers in hand, watching. “This is one of our playrooms,” Eddie says helpfully. “It’s not too bad now, but it gets very busy later on.”
I assumed males on the membership can be intercourse staff or strippers. But these are unremarkable, middle-class black males
Arousals is like no place I’ve ever been; half nightclub, half seedy brothel and half all-out orgy. As Eddie continues his tour, we move countless non-public rooms – locked, for who aren’t within the temper for an viewers – and bogs, a bathe, a cinema the place 5 white males are half of watching porn.
Soon we’re in “the dungeon”. There is a gold throne and a sequence of skulls that belong in a baby’s Halloween social gathering. In satisfaction of place is a swing. “The sex swing is very popular,” says Eddie.
Welcome to the Black Man’s Fan Club – a month-to-month swingers’ evening for white girls who wish to have intercourse with black males, and their white husbands or companions who wish to watch. In the ethnically undiverse world of swingers, the BMFC is marketed as a neighborhood of people that “appreciate the extras black men bring”. Tonight’s flyer options an intensely fake-tanned white woman carrying briefs that learn, in giant letters throughout her crotch, “I heart black”. Members of the neighborhood – each white girls and black males – are lively on Twitter, the place they share photos of exceptionally giant black penises and tough intercourse during which a black man clearly dominates.
BMFC, the punters inform me, is one in all a form, however the sentiment doesn’t finish in Dunstable. In an period of mass porn consumption, black male porn actors having intercourse with white girls is a well-liked subgenre, and BMWW (black man white girl) erotic novels particularly cater to the fantasy of crudely stereotyped black male aggression and sexual domination. It’s as if the web commercialisation of sexual fantasy has globalised racial stereotypes and despatched them freewheeling backwards; it doesn’t take any creativeness to surmise precisely what swingers imply after they say they respect the “extras” black males deliver.
“There are three reasons why the women come here,” explains Wayne, one of many black males who’re right here to be “appreciated”. Wayne has simply come out of a playroom, and has barely bothered to place his garments again on – his flies low, shirt open, and tie hung nonchalantly round his neck. He’s a handsome man, with a toned physique and neatly twisted locks. “One [reason is], black men have bigger penises.” That’s a stereotype, I argue. “It’s not a stereotype!” he replies. “Black men are built differently. You have to acknowledge nature. Number two,” Wayne continues, “black men have better rhythm in bed. That’s also a fact. And thirdly, they are just more dominant. You know, a lot of these women are not satisfied by their husbands, who want them to do all the work. They want to feel a strong man inside them, dominating them. They want an alpha male. That’s what they get here,” he smiles at me, knowingly.
Wayne is leery, drunk, and tends to lean precariously in the direction of me. I can see Miranda wanting equally unnerved.
She’s chatting with Wayne’s good friend Darren, who – she later relays – works as a carer for aged and disabled individuals in a nursing house. He describes himself as “a freak” and says BMFC is the place he involves indulge his sexual fantasies. Both males are surprisingly completely happy to reply my more and more probing questions. I knew there can be older, suburban white . But I assumed the lads can be intercourse staff, strippers, or in any other case incentivised friends, whose position was to carry out the required companies. But these are unremarkable, middle-class black males.
When I ask in the event that they really feel fetishised due to their race, they vigorously deny it. “I come for the sex,” Wayne says. “Where else can you go and have sex as many times as you like? Plus, there are no pretences. Everyone is here to get laid, have a good time, it’s really friendly. It’s not like a normal club where everyone has a poker face on. No one’s judging.”
Swinging will not be my factor, however I couldn’t care much less what consenting adults stand up to behind closed doorways. It’s not the intercourse on the Black Man’s Fan Club that bothers me, it’s the racial stereotyping. It feels as if it’s simply the most recent chapter in a historical past of sexual stereotyping in the direction of Africans – a historical past so lengthy and loaded it stands other than different modern fetishes, similar to blondes or explicit physique varieties.
Why are black males prepared to embrace the myths of hypersexuality and abnormally giant endowment? “The number of things that have been said about black men in this country for the most part have been about as negative as you can possibly get,” says professor Herbert Samuels, an American knowledgeable on sexual want. “If someone says that you are good at sex, or that your penis is bigger than anyone else’s, that’s about the only positive you can get out of all those negatives. And I think some black men have bought into the myth that they are hypersexual, that their sexual prowess and the size, the physicality, is greater.”
This is what actually unsettles me in regards to the Black Man’s Fan Club. Not simply the truth that black males’s shallowness could possibly be so low that this might be a fine addition, however the truth that everybody in Arousals is, a technique or one other, unquestioningly complicit in a set of beliefs which have historic and horrible roots.
When Europeans first got here into contact with the African continent, they indulged in an imaginative riot of fantasy. Elizabethan journey books contained a heady mixture of reality and pure invention, which confused English readers and popularised wildly fictional variations of the place and its individuals. “Like animals,” 1 account reported, Africans would “fall upon their women, just as they come to hand, without any choice”. African males had huge penises, these accounts advised. One author went as far as to assert that African males had been “furnisht with such members as are after a sort burthensome unto them”.
Stereotypes in regards to the sexual prowess of black individuals have an equally illustrious presence in literature, journalism and artwork. Even a left-leaning British publication just like the Daily Herald ran front-page stories with headlines such as “Black scourge in Europe: sexual horror let loose by France on the Rhine”. The author of that 1920 splash complained that the “barely restrainable bestiality” of black troops stationed in Europe after the end of the first world war had led to many rapes, which was particularly serious because Africans were “the most developed sexually” of any race – a “terror and a horror unimaginable”.
They think we’re all sensual, all of us are Rihanna. They are very threatened but secretly, they want to be with us
Black men are still unfairly portrayed as rapists – not least by US president Donald Trump, who in 1989 called for the death penalty for five black teenagers, the so-called Central Park Five convicted of raping a female jogger in New York. Their convictions were later overturned and the miscarriage of justice these young men had suffered exposed. But in 2014, Trump still refused to accept their innocence. He told a journalist this stance would help in his campaign for the presidency, and he found many receptive audiences for his racially loaded claim that Mexico was sending its “rapists” to America.
Stereotypes of black and other ethnic minority men as sexually threatening on the one hand, and sexually desirable on the other, are two sides of the same hypersexuality myth. The former continue in inaccurate data spread virally on social media, pointing to false statistics about the prevalence of sexual assaults by black men. The latter have filtered into popular culture, such as the sayings, widespread when I was at school and university, that white women who have sex with black men have “jungle fever”, and that “once you go black, you never go back”. They are implicit in the belief, internalised by Wayne at the BMFC, that black men have “extras” in bed.
My friend Sarah has no time for anything like BMFC. She knows a lot about the swinging scene because, together with her husband, she has been a keen swinger for a decade. If there is a stereotype of your average British swinger, Sarah is not it. She is black, as is her husband, in a scene that is known to be predominantly white. Throughout their years of marriage, they have frequented swinging parties, and as their age and earning power have increased, they’ve developed a taste for high-end events which require expensive annual memberships and rigorous vetting of one’s appearance, income and background.
Sarah loves these parties. She describes the pleasure of slipping on expensive underwear and a cocktail gown, looking and smelling exquisite, knowing that every ounce of effort will be explored and appreciated by numerous partners of both sexes. She talks about arriving, and the breathtaking impression of the venues – imposing stately homes in landscaped gardens, her husband in black tie by her side, being served champagne and oysters, and meeting other like-minded and often impressive couples. Then, she explains, the lights are dimmed, and people begin retreating to a series of decadent playrooms.
Sometimes Sarah and her husband notice, when they arrive, a sharp intake of breath. “We don’t tend to have issues with people of our generation – the ones who went to the same schools as us, and probably had girlfriends who were black or white,” she explains. “But when it comes to the older generation who are probably racist by day – the CEOs, the managing directors – we have walked in and literally felt them, looking at us and thinking, ‘Will I get a chance with them?’ It’s gross.” Sarah shakes her head. “We are not here to be fetishised.”
But a risk of being fetishised is a hazard of the hobby. “We have had weird experiences,” Sarah admits. “I remember there was this one French couple; the woman was writhing against the wall in her Agent Provocateur underwear. And her husband was the one who found people for her. He came up to me and was like, ‘Your husband… can we? My wife loves black men.’ And I was like, ‘No, he’s not available.’ When people say to me, ‘I love black men’, instead of saying that they just love men, that tells me it’s a fetish.”
In contrast to the Black Man’s Fan Club, at Sarah’s high-end swinging parties, black women have just as much exotic appeal. “They look at me as if they are thinking, ‘Oh my God, what’s she gonna do, backflips?’ I keep telling people, we all have the same anatomy. I have a vagina, you have a vagina. What, do you think it’s got a flipping motor in it?
The boys at the elite school next to mine made jokes about black girls – a lot for a self-conscious 14-year-old to bear
“These people are so repressed,” Sarah laughs. “You just have to talk to them sometimes, and they’re shaking. I know as a black woman I am always going to be fetishised to an extent – and the darker you are, the more you are. “They think we are naturally very sensual, all of us are Rihanna.” She laughs at the absurdity. “They are very threatened but secretly, they want to be with us, they want to be like us, they want to taste us and touch us. If they could, they would have one of us in their houses in a room, just kept there, for when needed. That’s exactly what they did not that long ago! And they’d love it again.”
It’s strange to hear an educated British person speaking in such crude racial stereotypes, “us” as these forbidden black fruits that “they” are salivating over. But then sex and relationships are one of the last remaining bastions of unreconstructed racial prejudice.
But it’s not just about sex. Sex is, in some ways, a very tangible expression of the deeper currents of prejudice in this country. As a brutally self-conscious mixed-race teenage girl in suburban London, one of my earliest experiences of having a black identity was the way boys behaved towards me. Teenagers from the neighbouring boys’ school – one of the most elite private schools in the country – were among the most merciless. They made jokes about rumours they’d heard, that black girls “give good head”, and have “more pussy”. It was a lot for a 14-year-old girl, just waking up to her sexuality, as well as her increasingly confusing racial identity, to bear.
These boys and I had more in common than any of us probably realised. We were all living out – albeit in very different ways – the complex and painful legacy of slavery-era sexual ideologies. They manifest in a number of surprising ways.
Take dating, for example. The vast majority of people, in all countries and from all cultural backgrounds, enter into relationships with people from the same racial, ethnic or cultural-linguistic group. But in Britain, black people are far more likely to enter into interracial relationships than other people of colour. However, it’s not a case of black people entering into a rainbow of interracial relationships; the statistics show it’s black men entering into relationships with white women.
That creates, in simple terms, a shortage. For black women, doing what most people do and seeking a partner of the same ethnic background as them, the odds are not in their favour. One consequence is that there are many black women in Britain with no prior experience of interracial relationships, now seeking them, only to find their newfound open-mindedness is not reciprocated.
One anecdotal example of this is my friend Yvonne. Frustrated at being single in her late 30s, Yvonne invested several thousand pounds in an expensive matchmaking service. She’s a strikingly attractive black woman, impeccably groomed – hair and nails always freshly done – with a well-paid job in banking. She decided it was an investment worth making to find a partner who, like her, works in the City and would share her ambition. With two black parents, and a mainly black social circle, she had always imagined herself with a black partner. But the paucity of single black men with similar lifestyles led her to consider dating someone of a different race. The problem was, she never received any expressions of interest from the single white men she knew. Perhaps she wasn’t giving off the right vibes, she told herself.
None of the men on one matchmaking database was willing to date a black woman
In the hands of a bespoke matchmaking service, which spent hours eliciting intimate details about her personality, interests and views on relationships, a good deal of time-wasting would be stripped away. At least, she thought that’s what would happen. In the end, the service ended up refunding her money because, they told her apologetically, they could not find her a date – not one single match. None of the men on their database was willing to seriously date a black woman. Some were open to casual romance, but had stated that they would not consider a black woman as a long-term partner. “Most of the men have homes in the country and do rural activities at the weekend,” the matchmaking company had told her. They were matter-of-fact, as if it was somehow obvious that a black woman might dissolve when exposed to a non-urban environment, like Dracula in sunlight.
Studies suggest that this is happening on a wider scale. Data drawn from 25 million user accounts on the dating site OkCupid in 2014 found that black people face a unique penalty in online dating – with men of other races rating black women as up to 20% less attractive than average. “[It’s] no coincidence,” says OkCupid founder Christian Rudder. “Beauty is a cultural idea as much as a physical one, and the standard is of course set by the dominant culture.” The content of these ideas is familiar – a previous study found, for example, that single men regard black women as “too bossy”.
The problem with these kinds of stereotypes – other than that they originate in racist ideology – is that they both repel and attract people for the wrong reasons. Yvonne didn’t want a boyfriend who would feel hostile to a fictional, perceived “bossiness”, based on her race, any more than she wanted a boyfriend deliberately seeking it. Many black women are aware of being seen through this stereotype-laden lens, in turn making them feel suspicious of the men who do approach them.
I remember this suspicion as a teenager, feeling that white boys and men, for whom I was often the first black woman they had ever met, did not see me, but whatever it was that they were projecting on to my blackness: I was exotic, freaky, strong, supernatural.
It’s an experience that has transcended generations. Women who arrived in Britain as part of the Windrush generation of Caribbean migrant workers, recruited by the government to work in the public sector after the war, were met with hurtful sexual expectations. “The white men in Cambridge didn’t want us as girlfriends, they just wanted to sleep with us,” Barbara McLeod, who arrived in Cambridge from Jamaica in the 1950s as a 17-year-old nurse, told the Guardian in 1999. “[They] would say: ‘I’m sure you’re good in bed’, because there was this false assumption that black women were sexually voracious.”
Those remarks seem almost innocent now, in our era of race-based porn for mass consumption, and “race play” – humiliation-themed, racially based sexual fantasies, which some claim is the fastest-growing trend in the American swingers’ scene. If the Black Man’s Fan Club is anything to go by, they are gaining ground in the UK, too. Fifty years ago, the sinister beliefs that underpin these fantasies would have shocked the people who had suffered from them most; now, they’ve been normalised.
At the Black Man’s Fan Club, I keep asking Wayne the same question, searching for an answer that makes sense. “Why do you come here?” I repeat.
“Black men do have extras,” he laughs.
• Brit(ish): On Race, Identity And Belonging, by Afua Hirsch, is published on 1 February by Jonathan Cape, priced £16.99. To pre-order a copy for £13.99, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846.
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Afua Hirsch from theguardian.com