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In a recent Essence.com column, a black woman married to a white man described her shock in discovering that her husband likes to use racial slurs during sex. In a Q&A penned by love expert Abiola Abrams, a woman who called herself “Black and Proud” shared these details.

“Dear Abiola,” she wrote. “My man keeps calling me a ‘n***er b****h’ during sex and I hate it.”

“Black and Proud” elaborated that she and her partner appear to have a picture-perfect lifestyle, but it has been spoiled by his recurring epithets.

“Every time we try having sex again, the slurs fly,” the woman wrote. “Our sex life is pretty much over right now because I pretend to be asleep every time my sexy, handsome man wants to be with me.”

Letter leads to controversy

This essay stirred up a great deal of controversy, and was shared 15,000 times on Facebook. On Essence.com, the roughly 480 comments over the quandary “Black and Proud” described were so irate, users accused her of being anything but.

“There is only one reason marriages between black women and white men last longer than other marriages,” one reader opined. “Black women become submissive to white men. They view his whiteness as the ultimate validation and their half white offspring as superior to black children.”

On Clutch Magazine, a popular web destination for black women, some site visitors were similarly critical — but others unleashed a bombshell revelation to explain the husband’s behavior.

These users suggested that “Black and Proud” might have been exposed to a fetish called “race play” — a form of sexual expression among people exploring fantasies that can include the use of racial slurs between partners of different races.

In a curious parallel, “Black and Proud” did write that her husband explained his behavior by saying “a Black woman he dated in the past enjoyed being called racial slurs.”

Was “race play” behind this issue?

It’s easy to dismiss such an idea. There is no way we can know the seriousness with which her husband might have made this claim — or that the practice of “race play” motivated this incident. Plus, many readers were resistant to the concept in the belief that no black woman could possibly enjoy such a thing.

Yet, one Clutch user countered: “Google ‘race play’ and you will find out just how common this is… Most black women won’t discuss it for obvious reasons. Many white men seek out partners who will agree to this type of racial abuse.”

I Googled “race play” to find out a bit more about this apparent subculture that had been brought into a collective discussion. One of the top search results led me to Mollena Williams, an African-American writer who also describes herself as a “BDSM Educator, Storyteller, fat Fetish Model and Activist.”

Williams has also enjoyed an interracial relationship in which she has played the submissive role to a white man, and explores similar experiences on her blog, The Perverted Negress.

She hardly gives off an impression of victimization.

The definition of “race play”

“’Race Play,'” she wrote in an email to theGrio, “is a form of consensual sexual role-playing in which the actual, perceived or assumed racial/ethnic/national identities of the participants is specifically the focus of the scene,” a scene being a scenario for fetish exploration.

“It might incorporate an assumption of supremacy based on race, and it sometimes even delves into troubling aspects of bigotry and privilege manifested in base racial slurs and exploitative scenarios,” Williams wrote.

This might make it seem as though a black woman would always be on the receiving end of aggressive energies in “race play,” but this is not the case.

“Anyone can be the aggressor, and some race play scenarios are heady ‘revenge fantasies’ against the institutionally advantaged, privileged individual,” Williams explained. “Race play can run the gamut from subtle to horrific. A scene could be something as subtle as people of the same ethnicity engaging in a teasing one-upmanship because the other is ‘lighter/darker’ and incorporate the conflict of intraracial politics. It could be as horrific as re-creating the interrogation of an Iraqi prisoner by a racist U.S. Marine Corps officer that then turns into an explicitly sexual scenario.”