What does being Sex Positive have to do with Racism?

Nicky Endres

By Nicky Endres

A big part of Sex Positivity, for me, is not just having an expansive, inclusive, and constructive mindset about sex and sexuality, but about the diversity of the human condition as a whole. A blog post discussing racist attitudes and behaviors recently made the rounds again in my social media, and the issue of “Colorblindness” – see Blog Post’s Item #1 – inspired me to share my own experiences with Privilege and “Colorblindness.”

Please consider the following from a Queer Person of Color who is adopted and has White parents and grew up White in a predominantly White small town in the Midwestern United States:

Until I was in my mid-20s, had moved to Los Angeles from small-town Wisconsin, and had made friends with more people of color — both International folks and Americans (especially Black Americans) — I completely took for granted how “Asian” I appear to other people. See, on the inside, I felt White. I was raised White, with White traditions, and I reaped the benefits of not just White privilege (from my parents; their middle-class money and their access to things like private lessons, country clubs, vacations, healthcare, etc.), but also Diversity Initiatives (scholarships and the like). And because I was a “Person of Color with White Privilege,” I considered myself in a special position of bridge-building perspective: that I was enlightened somehow because I could clearly see the distinction between judging or mistreating people based on skin color vs. horrific hate crime shit, which was glaringly and obviously Racist with a capital R. But you know what I was missing? The very definition of Racism:

Racism = racial prejudice + systemic, institutional power

Yes, the biology of human anatomy and genetics might be interpreted as a “colorblind: we are all one species” attestation, but actual Racism in society is much more insidious than simply skin-color prejudice. “Skin-colorism” is only one symptom of a much broader, much deadlier societal disease. Micro-aggressions, Prejudice, Segregation, Slavery, and even Hate Crimes are actually the “easy” topics to talk about, because they can address specific histories [and to be fair, in some cases, the “White” version which further compounds the issue] and behaviors without having to delve deep into the very cognition of Racism and how it is perpetuated in myriad, subtle ways… ways so subtle that in some discussions, “colorblindness” has prevented people from even being open to considering other points of view.

Now in some ways, I can understand the resistance a “Colorblind” person feels, as I was once one of these people. There is not just “White Guilt”/”Privilege Guilt” at play, but the entire existential crisis of one’s identity as a “Non-Racist” realizing that they harbor Racism in spite of themselves… at least it was this way for me. So I feel a lot of compassion for, and very one-to- one empathy with the defensive anxiety that comes with being confronted by one’s own “Racism But Not On Purpose!” Now, according to some people, the anxiety of this kind of confrontation is supposed to be arresting, distressing, and difficult. But being a storyteller who has experienced both discrimination as a Queer Person of Color and also the benefits of White Privilege, I offer an imagination exercise to more gently illustrate the point for those who might feel resistant:

Let’s pretend that you are the only one on earth who knows about bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic pathogens. The rest of us refuse to wash our hands or brush our teeth and we all think you are crazy – talking about shit we cannot see making us sick and even killing us! We all think you are weird, but we give you a little bit of room to prove yourself to us. How shall you do it? Invent the electron microscope? Get a portion of the population to participate in a study where we all wash our hands and brush our teeth and isolate ourselves when we are ill? Invent penicillin and show us how it can feel like a magical panacea? What do you do? Do you give up and let us suffer and die in our ignorance?

This is what it is like trying to describe the deeply insidious truth about Racism to people who unwittingly perpetuate it with their ignorant but good intentions. Racism infects society, culture, government, economics, history, art, education, our very patterns of thought — EVERYTHING. And despite the best treatment for it being expansive, inclusive knowledge, so that we may work to change the way we think, a lot of people choose to remain ignorant. The thinking may go along these lines: “Racists are bad people, and I am a good person, and I treat everyone with dignity and respect; therefore, I am not a Racist.” Yet this is another insidious facet of Racism and why I think of it as a disease: it perpetuates itself, fooling some folks into thinking it is not there, or that it has already been cured, or that because they have no obvious symptoms, they will test negative for Racism. Being a “Non-Racist” accused of or even thought of as a Racist comes with such a shame-filled reputation that even some of the folks who would make excellent anti-racism champions, advocates, and allies are so afraid of facing their own unwitting racist thought patterns that they become insufferably recalcitrant, digging in their heels and balking at the very notion that they are – as Louis CK said in a Saturday Night Live set – “…Not a Racist, but suffer from mild Racism.”

It was really hard for me to confront my own unconscious Racism. As an Adopted Queer Person of Color, I  assumed that being the victim of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and both the daily bullying as well as unequal legal rights somehow made me immune to being Racist, at least with a capital R. It took many years – and still something about which I am continuously conscientious – to unpack and deconstruct the tropes, stereotypes, and assumptions I unwittingly absorbed over the years from a racist culture that I accepted without fully questioning because I had the Privilege of not having to worry about enough of the issues each and every day. Again, like Louis CK brilliantly said: “I’m not a Racist, but I suffer from mild Racism.” I would argue that we ALL suffer from racism – philosophically, as a human species, it is a plague that divides us and perpetuates discord; and at the individual level, we all are a mixture of our genetics and our environment. If we grow up in a racist culture, we will absorb that racism to some degree, in some form. The good news is that we can fight Racism in both ourselves and in our culture. For me, it started with not judging myself for my own ignorance, and being gentle with myself as I opened up to ideas that made me feel defensive and angry and challenged my sense of identity.

I’ll conclude with a true personal story about colorblindness. When I was six – kindergarten age – I went to daycare and there was this 4th or 5th grader named Missy whom I befriended. I thought she was the coolest and funniest and she was so nice to me, which felt extra special because most kids were mean to me. One afternoon, several years later, when I was a 5th grader myself, I was walking out of the grocery store with my mom, through the parking lot to the car. A high-school girl rode by on a bike and said “Hi Mrs. Endres; hi Nicky!” And I was confused. I asked my mom who that was and how she knew us. My mom said, “You know her — that’s Missy, remember? From Daycare.” And then I realized what had happened between being a kindergartner and being a 5th grader: we learned about the civil war and Black slavery in America, about the Ku Klux Klan, and Martin Luther King Jr. I could barely believe it: Missy was BLACK! I previously had no idea, which was kind of strange, because I’m Asian and my parents are White. It’s not as if I didn’t know that people of different ethnicities had different skin colors, or hair textures, or eye shapes. Genetic diversity was not a new concept for me. But what was new was all the shit I learned about Racism in America. Black High-school Missy was, to me, cognitively speaking, a fundamentally different person than 5th Grade Daycare Missy. As a six-year- old, I was genuinely “colorblind” in that I knew that my parents were White, my sister and I Asian, and Missy Black, but it didn’t mean anything. It was superficial. But after realizing Missy didn’t just have darker skin than I did, but that she was Black, my knowledge of racial injustice now informed me that her experience of life was fundamentally different from my own, and that learned (and passively absorbed) racial prejudices collected in my brain sometime between kindergarten and 5 th grade were responsible for my not recognizing the girl on the bike as my old friend.

Seeing color is important – it honors the victories and the struggles and the progress we make, and also addresses all of the work we must continue to do. As much of that work is inside ourselves as it is in our culture, our government, our entertainment and media, and the world.

If you’ve become a member of Sex Positive World, we invite you to join us in unpacking racism and creating community that is inclusive not only of sexual diversity, differing desires, and consent-based choices, but that is safer and more welcoming for people of all ethnicities.

An actor and model, Mx. (“Mix”) Nicky Endres has long defied convention. A transfemininegenderqueer, and genderfluid martial artist and an adopted child, she* has always challenged cultural categories to forge her own way.

As evidenced by her German surname, Nicky is a convergence of contraries: East and West, masculine and feminine, laughter and lethality. A character actor with a specialty for gender transformation, she is cast as much for her androgynous look as for her versatility; she is adept in both comedy and drama as well as in characters across the Trans* and gender-fluid spectrum.

Nicky has enjoyed a wide variety of roles in film, television, and theatre: from vampires, assassins, and warriors to intellectuals, jokesters, and even ingénues.

Nicky grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and majored in English and Theatre at Lawrence University. She studies martial arts, enjoys hiking, video games, quantum physics, Xena: Warrior Princess, and also works as a graphic designer and digital artist. She is fond of dogs, dark chocolate, hair & makeup, and intricately-choreographed violence.

Transfeminine: Often a genetic male or male-assigned-at-birth (MAAB) whose gender identity is feminine but who may not medically transition or identify as unequivocally female (as most transwomen do).
Genderqueer: A gender-expansive and inclusive term that describes the breadth of non-binary and non-cisnormative gender identities, including Transgender and Gender-Non-Conforming (GNC) identities.
Genderfluid: When someone’s gender expression changes over time, or varies within different contexts.

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