I’m writing a long story about something stupid I did when I was a probation officer. In that story I dom two – consenting – Samoan women. I took a whip to one of them.
When I say, “two Samoan women”, I don’t mean at the same time. That was never going to happen. Ana and I were probably up for it, but Sa’afia would have found the whole idea embarrassing: they were cousins, for god’s sake. Anyway, and leaving threesome fantasies out of this, my point is that there are a lot of people who’d be angry with all three of us, but especially me, because they were women of colour and I was a white man. With a whip.
I’ve written about those scenes without worrying much about race, because it was never much of an issue for us in the moment, or afterwards.
I think one of the reasons that the race issue seemed to us mainly to be a matter of skin colour – we liked each other’s skin colour, and the contrast between us when we were naked – and not something more traumatic relates to Samoa’s history.
Samoans were never slaves (except that, in pre-European times, some Samoans were enslaved by Tongans, Fijians, and other Samoans). Later, the country was colonised, and that was a disaster for Samoa, with the worst villains being, unusually, the New Zealanders. They administered the Western islands from 1914 to 1962, and in 1918 they killed a fifth of the Samoan population by arrogant stupidity when they broke quarantine, letting a ship with flu victims aboard land at Apia.
Mind you, exactly the same stupidity killed about the same proportion of New Zealanders when they did the same to their own country in 1918. But stupidity isn’t available as an excuse for the machine-gun massacre of unarmed and peaceful demonstrators in December 1929. The New Zealand Prime Minister formally apologised over that and the epidemic in 2006. It took them long enough. Normally I think New Zealand is a cool country, but that’s a pretty shameful record.
But there’s no shame for Samoans in either story. They were exposed to a deadly disease by fools, and they bravely faced guns held by cowards. The shame’s all New Zealand’s. For the Samoans that history is justification for anger, and in practice an impressive level of forgiveness.
So I could enjoy the differences of browner skin, flatter noses, and fuller lips, for what they were. Sa’afia and Ana could enjoy my pale skin against theirs and my – to them – skinny pointy nose.
Of course I had various kinds of power that they didn’t have, as a white male. I was never going to be harassed by police the way Ana was. Even Sa’afia, who was better educated and better able to set her own rules about how people would behave around her, had had bad experiences with LA’s finest.
But I think we could take it so very easily and casually, our interracial dominance and submission, because there’s no history of slavery in Samoa. When I dommed them it didn’t echo any historical scene, anything that haunts the past and is still raw in the present.
But a couple of years ago, I played with a black American woman. And that turned out to be much more complicated.