Black B.E.A.T. University

Keynote Address

Black B.E.A.T. University

Baltimore, Maryland

By Master Taino

August 19, 2011

Latinos and Blacks: A similar journey

Good evening, dear brothers and sisters of Black BEAT.

It is an immense honor to be invited to address you this evening.

When I received the invitation several months ago, I wondered why Black Beat wanted a Latino Leatherman and Master to address this unique and special family.

I asked a prominent black friend what I should talk about and she told me to tell my story.

Well, that I can do. Those who know me know that I am a storyteller.

The invitation allowed me to go back and once again, reflect on my own life journey.

I was born in a small town in the heart of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. My town was mostly white, as the majority of Puerto Rican blacks settled in the coastal areas, particularly in the Northeast town of Loíza and in the southern city of Ponce.

We considered ourselves white because our ancestors were white Europeans from Spain. During my childhood, I can only remember one black family who lived not far from us. Looking back, I realize that there were more blacks than I thought at the time.

What happened is, that in Puerto Rico, we never had a big deal with mixing. There were many light dark-skinned families that were not necessarily considered blacks. We called them: “trigueños” or as Bobby Capó, one of Puerto Rico’s most famous musicians called them, “Piel Canela” or “Cinnamon Skin”, in his world-famous song.

There were some memories though. I think my first connection with blacks was through baseball, which is still today one of my passions. My late father used to talk a lot about the Negro Leagues and how the Negro baseball players used to go to Puerto Rico to play baseball in the island’s winter league. And God, were they good! Joshua “Josh” Gibson, Willard Brown, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, all played in Puerto Rico during the forties and fifties.

Then as a kid, our greatest Puerto Rican players already playing in the Major Leagues were also black, including our Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda.

Through baseball, I heard about Jackie Robinson and the integration of the sport. My father used to talk a lot about how until just before I was born, black players could not play in the Major Leagues. Then I heard the stories about how black and Latino ball players could not sleep in the same hotels in the fifties and sixties, or even eat in the same restaurants.

During my childhood, I began to hear the stories about discrimination in New York against Puerto Ricans. “No Puerto Rican, no dogs” was a popular sign at the door of many places in the Big Apple and other cities. I could not understand that discrimination. In Puerto Rico we were all Puerto Ricans and race was never a big issue, at least for most of us.

At age 33, this white Puerto Rican moved to the mainland, to Washington, DC, and all of a sudden I became “a man of color”.

Oops! How did that happen? I am still the same person and look exactly the same. But the reality was that in the mainland, I am considered a “man of color” just because I was born in Puerto Rico and have Latino heritage.

Even the US Census at that time labeled Latinos as a race. That changed in 1990, when the categories of “White not of Hispanic descent” and “Black not of Hispanic descent” were established. They had to separate those white Puerto Ricans who were not white enough to be in the same boat as the Caucasians, and at the same time, I guess we were not black enough to be considered African Americans.

I always wondered why so many labels. Why so many distinctions? Why try to separate everyone?

I can understand the need for statistics that somehow may improve social assistance for disadvantaged groups. I see the fascination to define people by the color of their skin or their ethnicity. But I always thought that we were only one race: the human race.

Then, as a gay man, I started exploring my sexuality in my new home city, Washington, DC, a city of an overwhelming number of blacks. So suddenly, race became a factor in dating, even in casual encounters or tricks.

Obviously people have their preferences. I realized that some black gay men were attracted to white guys. And the other way around, many white guys liked black men. Latinos were not yet a force, so not many talked about us back then.

What I realized then is that I had the best of both worlds.

What do I mean by that?

Well, I found out that for black guys looking for white, this Puerto Rican was seen as a white guy. And for many white guys looking for black men, I also was considered a man of color, so I fit that as well. And that has been a lot of fun!

I believe that Latinos in the United States have learned the pain suffered by our African American brothers and sisters.

For those who still discriminate against blacks, Latinos are just as black.

I have to admit that several years ago, just few blocks away from my home in Northern Virginia, I was surprised when a young man passed my car and screamed at me with the “N” word. That was an eye-opening experience. I heard and felt the hate. I got a taste of what most of you have endured all your lives.

So I really think that we – Black and Latinos – have more in common than we sometimes are led to believe.

We both come from deep, conservative, religious roots, that do not tolerate our alternative lifestyles. Latino roots are mainly Catholic; Black roots are mostly Baptist.

At the same time, in our conservative homes there is less acceptance and tolerance for our lifestyles, being gay, leather, or kinky.

So, for many of us, Blacks and Latinos, dealing with our loved ones and with our families, can be a very difficult and painful process.

Finally, as an advocate for a better understanding of our Master/slave Relationships, I would like to address, in this instance as an outsider, how African Americans have to deal with our modern consensual Master/slave relationships.

I remember 20 years ago, each time I placed a personal ad in the Gay Newspaper, the Washington Blade, and wrote something like “Master looking for slave”, the classifieds editor automatically changed it to “Dominant looking for a submissive”. Once, I had a chance to talk with the editor, a nice looking young Asian man, and he told me that the paper was very sensitive to the fact that DC was a town of mostly black people, and that the use of the terms Master and slave would not be appropriate.

During my journey, I have had the opportunity to meet and mentor many black men or like we love to call them “boys”. I should mention that in our gay M/s dynamic we call our slaves and submissive “boys” regardless of the color of their skin or their age. Some of these men struggled to accept and embrace their slavery because of the historical connotation.

Several years ago, I was training a young black man on his baby steps in the BDSM world. I knew he was not a slave. He was more of a boy although he early on displayed his dominant side as well. Out of his respect for me, he did not have a problem with calling me Master or Sir, but he begged me not to force him to call others ‘Sir’ because he was taught early on not to do so because it would bring memories of his ancestors in slavery.

Another black man in our community, a very good friend of mine, also has some issues. He is a boy, not a slave. I am again the only person he respects enough to call ‘Master’. But when I see him, the way he conducts himself, the respect he has for his elders and Dominants in the community, his correct use of protocols, I do not have any doubt that he is not only a slave but a really good one. I also respect the fact that he does not see himself as such.

It is sad that in the 21st century, we are still dealing with the effects and legacy of the forced slavery of our brothers and sisters who were brought from Africa as slaves and as free labor in America.

We are dealing with this in our daily lives and in our political system. I can’t help but wonder how much of the little cooperation that our first Black President has had is because of the color of his skin.

Our Kinky, BDSM, and Master/slave community also deals with this issue too often. I am glad to let you know that in the Master/slave Conference to be held this coming Labor Day Weekend, we have facilitated the presentation of a panel with three prominent African American Kinky folks – Mama Vi Johnson – Leather Librarian and Historian, Master Obsidian – the International Master 2010, and Mollena Williams – the International Ms Leather 2010. I think we need to continue discussing the topics that affect all of us as minorities so we can build a better community.

I am proud to say that there is more acceptance among our Kinky, BDSM and Master/slave Communities for the diversity among us, than in the population at large. And we have to be very proud of that fact.

I invite all of you to keep working hard, planting the seeds of acceptance and understanding of each other, so that one day – hopefully not too far away – we can proclaim that there is only one race, the human race. On that day, we will be more proud of who we are as human beings.

Thank you so much, my brothers and sisters.