Jeff didn't always like black guys. He was prejudiced—he admits it. As one of the few white kids at his school in the southeast of Washington, D.C., he fought a lot with black kids and was occasionally beaten up. When he later ran a string of gas stations, he was robbed: A black guy held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger—but the gun didn't go off.
"Honestly, that experience helped me a lot," he says. "I used to be very conservative. I didn't spend much money. Now I enjoy life. I'm much more open. Especially sexually."
It's a measure of how far he's come that Jeff (not his real name), now 40, is telling me this while we're watching a black guy have sex with his wife, Amber (not her real name), 37, at an interracial orgy. In Jeff's house. On his bed. The man screwing Jeff's wife is Branford (not his real name), a 30-year-old massage therapist who's not holding back—this isn't lovemaking, this is a proper pounding. Forget Amber—that's just how Jeff likes it.
In some ways, Jeff hasn't changed at all—he's the same football jock with small eyes, a wide head, and a big man's shyness; he's still a staunch Republican with a firm handshake and a solid golf game. But after surviving the holdup and two failed marriages, he set off in search of a new life. He moved from D.C. to Clearwater, Florida, where he sells mortgages, not gas. He bought a $700,000 home on a fairway of a country club, where he's yet to see a single black member. And he met Amber, a divorcée with a sag of victimhood on her face. Jeff and Amber have been married for three years and in "the lifestyle"—as swingers like to call it—for two. At one point Amber started talking about black guys. "I wasn't thrilled," says Jeff. "Nope, wasn't a fan." But she persisted, and he decided to go along. "I like seeing Amber get off," he says with a shrug. "It excites the hell out of me. And it's better if they're black. All Amber wants is sex. Black guys get that. And I know that Amber would never date a black man."
Jeff's casual bigotry aside, tonight's orgy is fairly typical. Amber's two boys, 11 and 13, have been shipped off to their grandparents' house, and their rooms have been suitably modified—the posters are off the walls, the clothes have been put away, and the lightbulbs have been changed to red. By 8 p.m., the incense is lit, the Jacuzzi's bubbling, and the DJ is spinning Sean Paul and Jay-Z by the swimming pool. Within an hour or so, the guests—23 white couples and 3 black couples—have arrived, all of them here specifically to have sex with single black men often a decade or two their junior. There are 12 such men in the house tonight. They call themselves Mandingos. And this is a Mandingo party.
In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco and the killing of Sean Bell, an unarmed black man, by police officers in New York last November, America's relationship with race—notwithstanding the enthusiasm surrounding Barack Obama's bid for the presidency—remains troubled. For the Mandingos, meanwhile, the parties continue. The man who arranged tonight's event, Art Hammer (a name he uses solely for Mandingo parties), started the Florida Mandingo group four years ago, just after his divorce. An enterprising 42-year-old black swinger from Tampa Bay, he has since become the go-to guy when it comes to organizing gang bangs and orgies for couples—the vast majority of whom are white—with a fetish for black men. So it was Hammer who sent the Evites for this "pajamas and lingerie" party and secured the attendance of the guests; it was also Hammer who booked the DJ, paid for the finger food, and brought the "courtesy condoms." Amber and Jeff just had to open their home. An advertising-sales guy by day, Hammer has done a bang-up job of marketing the Mandingos among the swinger set. The name Mandingo comes from Mandinka, a West African tribe that, in the antebellum South, was prized and bred for strength and virility. (Not that Hammer necessarily has Mandinka roots; he has no idea—"I'm Art Hammer," he says. "Not Art Haley.") Mandingo is now a byword for black male sexual prowess. When Hammer established the Florida Mandingos, two other (unaffiliated) groups—the So Cal Mandingos and the NYC Mandingos—were already up and running. Today new groups keep sprouting—in Atlanta, Chicago, Oakland—but Hammer's is the most prominent, the only Mandingo group invited to host a "Chocolate Fantasy Suite" at N'awlins in November, the second-biggest swinger convention in the country.
"The fantasy goes both ways," he explains. "The women get to fuck our guys while their husbands watch, and we get to fuck rich white women, really mutt 'em out. It works! But people in this lifestyle are affluent—I'm talking judges, CEOs, FBI agents, important people—so before they invite a bunch of black men into their homes, they want to know they're safe, they're not going to get robbed, and everyone is discreet. So that's what I provide—a gentleman in the street and a thug in the bedroom."
Hammer's "A-team" comprises 20 of the more than 100 single black men on his books; many of them are here tonight. "They have to have at least eight inches, and most have a college degree. They have to be able to role-play, and most important of all, they have to be gentlemen. It's the difference between Notre Dame, where you're a student-athlete, and the University of Oklahoma, where you're an athlete-student. We don't just take jocks."
Hammer is a model Mandingo, if a little old. Chipper and Ivy League-educated, he was raised on Long Island and served with the Special Forces. Almost half of the Mandingos at the party are ex-military men. There's also an accountant, an engineer, and a software developer, all in their early thirties. The youngest, Charles (not his real name), is 25 and a second-year law student. While they all uphold a strict standard of behavior, their individual opinions of these parties vary widely. Oddly, the crassest among them is the oldest, John, 47 (ex-Air Force, now a software salesman). Ever since his divorce went through in 2003, after some 20 years of marriage, he has been relishing his opportunity to "sling dick" without any responsibility. "Couples, for me, are perfect," he says. "There's no girlfriend-boyfriend shit. You keep her when I'm done—thank you very much. No valentines, no birthday. I'm a pig."
By contrast, Jared (not his real name), 36 (a car and pet-cleaning-equipment salesman who's in the Army Reserve), likes to write poetry and refrains from using words like pussy and fuck. He describes interracial orgies as a "heightening experience," proof that prejudice may be on the wane. "I find the yin and yang of the two colors mixing very erotic," he says. "I believe the world is looking beyond color now more than ever. And people are getting more attractive. Sexier people are having more babies. Look around!"
It's not clear where Jared is looking. These women resemble Kathy Bates more than they do Kathy Ireland. As they hover around the snacks on the kitchen island, the Mandingos mill among them in silk pajamas. And almost instantly, while the women's mild-mannered husbands chat about real estate and the PGA, the games begin. Hands rove from chicken wings to breasts, from chips to hips, from guac to cock. One couple grind by the sink and feed each other meatballs. Husbands and wives start slinking off with their chosen Mandingos. The party has begun its carnal ebb and flow, between nookie in the bedrooms and foreplay in the kitchen.
Hammer himself won't have sex tonight out of principle—the swinger equivalent of "don't get high on your own supply." He's the host here and a diligent one, always circulating and making introductions—he's the one who knows everyone's sexual predilections. Meanwhile, Jeff will manage to squeeze in two brief blow jobs before the night is over. The rest of the time he seems to be cleaning up empties and replacing trash bags. He's an obsessively tidy man—"my OCD husband," Amber calls him affectionately.
"No one's having sex on the sofas," he says, looking pleased. "I left the throw cushions on to encourage people to use the bedrooms—a little something I learned at the last party. Especially because we've got a couple of squirters here tonight. You don't want that on the microfiber. Not good."
Watching the Mandingos in action, one immediately notices two things: that most of them are packing more than eight inches, and that they're better-looking than the women they're pleasuring. Jared, for instance, is a chiseled and muscular six feet, probably the best-looking of the men. His first encounter is a ménage à trois with Maryam (not her real name), a pudding of cellulite, and her chiropractor husband, Rick (not his real name), who's all back fuzz and belly. Rick adopts a lavatorial squat near Maryam's face and thrusts his penis at her. Jared's presence seems like an act of charity, not that he'd say so himself. "No, no, there was attraction," he insists. "They're very nice, polite people. It's an inner attraction."
"Listen, black guys like bigger women because they can tear it up," says Branford, the masseur who had sex with Amber earlier in the evening. "They might look like librarians, but look at them go from room to room, taking double-digit dicks all night. It's awesome." In comparison, he finds that younger, hotter girls are scarcely worth the effort. "They think lightning shoots out of their pussy—'Oh, you want sex, what are you going to give me?' Here you get the soccer mom who's like, 'I just want you to fuck the living shit out of me.' That alone is hot."
Branford is an evangelist for the Mandingos. At the last 70 or so parties, he's brought his table and given free massages. "I make great contacts here," he says. "This gets my name out there; that's why I don't charge." The way he sees it, interracial orgies are the new golf—a way to interact with rich folks. Charles, the law student, also sees the benefits. "When you network with someone, it's because you have something in common. Whether it's golf or tennis or . . . .interracial sex," he says. "I haven't used it to my advantage, but I'm not opposed—I've definitely had sex with lawyers in the past."
According to Charles, both black and white friends he has told are usually intrigued, even impressed, by the Mandingo party scene. Shelby (not his real name), Jared's ripped 29-year-old cousin (ex-Navy, now a firefighter), tells me that those who are repulsed tend to be for sexual rather than racial reasons—men by the thought of having sex around other men, women by the wanton promiscuity. This isn't to say that they chatter about it at the watercooler—most of the Mandingos keep their weekend activities a secret from their co-workers.
But the Mandingos themselves have their own issues with the lifestyle. For example, there's seldom kissing or going down. It's a rule for some—Jared won't kiss or come unless he's with someone "special." Of course, the no-kissing rule is a prostitute's code. Not that the Mandingos get paid for sex—it's against the rules. Each guest at Hammer's parties pays an annual membership—couples pay $30 and Mandingos $75. Everyone pays an additional fee of $30 for each party.
But occasionally the rules are bent. Some Mandingos confessed to receiving tips of $100 and more after private sessions with couples at last year's N'awlins in November swinger convention. Others brag about the vacations they've been taken on. "I've been to Vegas twice, all expenses paid," says John, the software salesman. "The Bahamas, Miami. One couple took me twice. After a while, you feel like a piece of meat. But hey, they're not using me to mow their damn lawn. They're using me to fuck the wife."
Jared, too, for all his idealism, has felt used in the past. Once, when he was with a couple from Sarasota, the husband directed all the action and the woman didn't say a word. "I felt like I was just—excuse my language—'a dick' for his wife," he says. Unfortunately, a similar thing happens tonight—a heavily medicated husband starts belching out commands—and Jared just walks out, leaving the wife frustrated and embarrassed.
Jared believes that, the stereotype of black male potency notwithstanding, the fundamental dynamic in the interracial swing scene—that of black men dominating white women—is fueled by a combination of white guilt and female sympathy. But Hammer, who is an impresario of these fantasies, sees another potent element at play: the humiliation of the white husband. Up to four times a week, Hammer is asked to arrange cuckold scenes in which the husband is submissive to his wife, who is, in turn, dominated by a Mandingo. "He can't participate, he can only watch," he says. "And afterward, he has to clean her up." Then there are the public-humiliation fantasies, in which a white man asks a Mandingo to kiss and grope his partner in public while he watches. Even here at the party, there's an air of humiliation. Some of the husbands I speak with confess that they're no longer able to satisfy their wives. And while others say they get off on watching, they're never fully committed. "It kinda kills me sometimes," says one partygoer, Kevin (not his real name), listening to the submission fantasies of his girlfriend, Gail (not her real name). "Because I'm not dominant. I'm really an easygoing guy."
What all this means for race relations in the age of Obama is difficult to say. Though he's had a disappointing night, an optimistic Jared still likes to think that the more the races share fluids, "the more these taboos will disappear and we'll all realize we're not that different." But as the clock strikes three and only the stragglers remain, you see the races pulling apart. The Mandingos are hanging out by the pool table, talking reverentially about the white women they've had—"Dude, she took, like, 12 guys; her husband has to let her go, there's no way one man can satisfy her . . ." The only white people still there are out by the pool. Neither Amber nor Jeff will be seeing any of the black men they've invited to their home tonight until the next party, to be held in a month's time. Though Jeff has allowed Branford to be intimate with his wife, he won't be calling him for a beer after work. And if they should see each other at the mall, they'll usually look the other way—it's all part of the swingers' pact.
I find Jeff at the end of the night, busy cleaning up the kids' bedrooms—their grandparents will be returning them in a few hours, and the sheets need to be changed, the lightbulbs switched, the evidence removed. Shining a flashlight underneath the 11-year-old's bed, he tuts and tsks. "There, look, a condom wrapper! I missed one of these once, and the kids found it. You know, I leave a trash can in every room, but still, some people . . ."