In compiling resources for this site and looking for representations of polyamory in literature, I came across this list on Goodreads. Kevin Patterson’s Love’s Not Color Blind was the only book on that list that explicitly addressed race in its title. I was eager to add it to my reading stack, as someone with—for full transparency—no Black partners in a predominantly-White polycule. The book also intrigued me as someone who, like a lot of people right now, has been focusing a lot of her energy and attention lately to educating herself on becoming more anti-racist, a task feels more accessible within my own personal communities.
Patterson, creator of the blog Poly Role Models, breaks up the book into a few different sections: discussing the barriers for entry for people of color into alternative lifestyle communities, analyzing people’s discomfort in talking about race, and offering ideas for fostering diversity in community. He integrates research by including anecdotes from well-known folks within poly and kink spaces to support his main ideas, which I found valuable because it also gave me more people to seek out and follow for further exploration of different experiences.
I appreciated Patterson’s acknowledgement of racial issues in polyamory outside of the Black perspective. One unexpected thing I learned was the debate around using the word “poly” as an abbreviation for both polyamory and Polynesian, which can make it difficult for Polynesian people to find cultural resources and community online. He quotes writer Jess Maher of the blog Polyamory on Purpose, who describes her experiences trying to advocate for these folks:
I went online and found people who identified as Polynesian and presented their voices to the group. All those people that the group said didn’t exist. I brought it up and it mostly fell on deaf ears. People were content to just talk over people of color; to erase their experiences. Usually white people will listen to white people. It shouldn’t need to be white people who stick up for people of color, in these cases. People of color should be able to say things and be heard, period. But…they don’t.
While I’m embarrassed about my previous ignorance of this issue, I’m also grateful for his inclusion of that discussion here. It has given me a lot to think about as I consider the ways in which we—a group that already uses the “poly” abbreviation in our name and brand—can be more sensitive to the needs of this community as we grow our site and engage on social media.
Love’s Not Color Blind is a book that belongs in the category of essential reading for anyone doing research about alternative lifestyles. The current poly canon, which includes books like Opening Up and The Ethical Slut, is made up of books primarily written by white women, which Patterson acknowledges. “But where are the people of color?” he asks, “If the topic is about love and acceptance, why is the scope of representation so limited? Why are so few respected names using their influence to raise the voices of marginalized people?” These are important questions we should be asking, because, as he notes, “if you aren’t being actively inclusive, you are being passively exclusionary.”
It’s a slim volume—the paperback is 184 pages, but I got through the eBook version in just a few hours. It’s not a book that aims to solve racism and representation in the polyamorous community: it’s unfair to expect that of any single book and especially unfair to place that burden on Black people and other people of color.
What the book does do is raise awareness. “Now that you’re more aware, take this discussion with you,” he writes in closing, “Include and project the voices of underrepresented people in the spaces where their access is limited. Go love, and build, and restore, and speak, and engage, and create. Go be better and do better.” This spoke to me, as a person aiming to create an inclusive space here on Poly in Place. It’s a book that has given me a place to start: the tools and language to be able to take on that necessary work.
Love’s Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities by Kevin Patterson
Published 2018 by Thorntree Press
Listen to the author on the following podcasts:
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