The Mandingos

Details, Apr 2007

Why do a group of successful young African-American men spend their weekends having sex with soccer moms?

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Photographs by Dana Lixenberg

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JEFF DIDN’T ALWAYS LIKE BLACK GUYS. He was prejudiced, he admits it. But he had his reasons. As one of the only white kids at school, growing up in the south east of Washington DC, the black kids used to beat him up and take his money. And when he later ran a string of gas stations, they robbed him there too. Once, a black guy held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger – 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’s telling me this while watching a black guy have sex with his wife Amber at an interracial orgy. In his house. On his bed. His name’s Branford, he’s 30, a massage therapist and he’s not holding back – this isn’t love-making, this is a proper ball-slapping, hold-tight-Gladys pounding. But that’s just how Jeff likes it.

In some ways he hasn’t changed at all – he’s the same beefy football jock with small eyes, a wide head and the bashfulness of a big man; he’s still a staunch Republican, a firm handshake and a keen golfer. But when that gun went click, he set off in search of a new life. He moved from DC to Florida, about half way down the shaft in Clearwater, where he sells mortgages not gas. He bought a $700,000 dollar home in a rich white suburb, backing onto the fairway of the Countryside Country Club where he’s yet to see a single black member. And he met Amber, a dowdy divorcee with the sag of victimhood in her face. Jeff and Amber have been together for four years, married for three and in ‘the lifestyle’ – as swingers like to call it – for two. The swinging was Jeff’s idea.  They had both been cheated on in their former marriages and this time, he promised, would be different. Then Amber started talking about black guys.

“I wasn’t thrilled,” says Jeff. “Nope, wasn’t a fan.”

Amber persisted. “It’s the taboo,” she tells me later. “I grew up in a very white suburb outside of Detroit, so I never had any black friends or black boyfriends. Breaking taboos is what the lifestyle is all about.”

So Jeff went along. “I like seeing Amber get off,” he shrugs. “It excites the hell out of me. And it’s better if they’re black. Sometimes, white guys want to date her afterwards, like ‘let’s go out for a drink’. But all Amber wants is sex. And black guys get that – they just want sex too. 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, and their rooms have been suitably modified – the posters are off the walls, the clothes folded away and the light bulbs have been changed to red. By 8pm, the incense is lit, the jacuzzi’s bubbling and the DJ is set up by the swimming pool, spinning Sean Paul and Jay Z. And within an hour or so, the guests have all arrived, 23 white couples and 3 black couples, in their 40s and above, all of them here specifically to have sex with single black men often a decade or two their junior. There are 12 such black men in the house tonight. They are known as Mandingos. And this is a Mandingo Party.

In the wake of Katrina and the killing of Sean Bell, an unnarmed black man in New York last November, America’s relationship with race – notwithstanding the enthusiasm for Barack Obama’s presidential bid – remains troubled. For the Mandingos, however, the parties have never stopped. Tonight’s host, Art Hammer, started the Florida Mandingo group four years ago, just after his divorce. An enterprising black swinger of 42 from Tampa Bay, he has since become the go-to guy for organizing gangbangs and orgies for couples, the vast majority of whom are white, who have a fetish for black men. So it was Art who sent the Evites for this ‘pajamas and lingerie’ party, and secured the attendance of the guests; Art who booked the DJ, bought the booze, paid for the finger food and brought a job lot of “courtesy condoms”. All Amber and Jeff had to do was open their home. And in this instance, Jeff also provided the mood-porn for the 3 widescreens in the bedroom, lounge and patio. Art forgot to bring any, so Jeff plundered his stash. Tellingly, it’s all white stuff – nothing interracial.

An advertising sales guy by day, Art has done a sound job of marketing the Mandingos among the swing set. The name ‘Mandingo’, for instance, has the ring of slavery where the taboo is rooted – it comes from ‘Mandinka’, a west African tribe who, in the antebellum South, were prized and bred for their strength and virility. (Not that Art has Mandinka roots, he has no idea – “I’m Art Hammer,” he says. “Not Art Haley.”) Now Mandingo is a byword for black male sexual prowess – there’s a porn star called Mandingo, a blaxploitation film starring James Mason about a slave who secretly schtupps the master’s wife, and when Art established the Florida Mandingos, two other (unaffiliated) Mandingo groups were already up and running – the SoCal Mandingos and the NYC Mandingos. Today, new groups keep sprouting – in Atlanta, Chicago, Oakland – but Art’s is the most prominent, the only Mandingo group invited to host a ‘Chocolate Fantasy Suite’ at the Nawlins in November orgy, the 2nd biggest swing convention in the country.

“The fantasy goes both ways,” he explains. “They get to fuck our guys while their husbands watch and we get to fuck rich white women, really ‘mutt ‘em out’, you know, treat them like sluts. 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 very discreet. So that’s what I provide – a gentleman in the street and a thug in the bedroom.”

Of over 100 Mandingos on his books, Art has an “A-team” elite team of 21, many of whom are here tonight. “They have to have at least 8 inches and 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 Oklahoma University where you’re an athlete/student. We don’t just take jocks.”

Art’s a model Mandingo, if a little old. Chipper and Ivy League educated, he was raised in Long Island and has traveled the world with the Special Forces. Almost half of the 15 Mandingos at the party are ex-military men (“must be they do something to us,” said one.) There’s also an accountant, an engineer and a software developer, all in their early 30s. The youngest, Zeus, is 2nd year law student – he’s 25. While they all share a certain standard of manners and conduct, their individual approaches to these parties vary hugely from Mandingo to Mandingo. Oddly, the crassest among them is the oldest, John, 47 (ex-army, now sells software). His chatroom name is slitslapper1, his email is boneitlikeiownit. 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 and good night. No Valentines, no birthday. I’m a pig.”

By contrast, Jared, 36, (ex-Army, sells pet cleaning equipment) likes to write poetry – his email tag is poetgermany and he refrains from using words like “pussy” and “fuck”. He describes interracial orgies as a “heightening experience”, a symptom of an improving world, proof that prejudice is 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 look more like Kathy Bates than Kathy Ireland, with their meaty calves and heaving jubblies and lingerie pulled tight like a truss. As they hover around the lurid spread of snacks on the kitchen island, the Mandingos mill among them in silk pajamas. And almost instantly, while their mild-mannered husbands chat about real estate and the PGA, the games begin. Hands rove from the chicken wings to the breasts, from the chips to the hips, from the guac to the rack. A couple grinds by the sink and feeds each other meatballs. Faces chew as fingers slither from cheese plate to crotch and couples start slinking off with their chosen Mandingos. The party has begun its carnal ebb and flow, between nookie in the bedrooms and foreplay around the food.

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Art 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 – only Art knows everyone and their sexual peccadilloes. Meanwhile Jeff will only manage to squeeze in a brief blowjob before the night is over. The rest of the time he seems to be cleaning up empties and replacing bin bags. For all the filth he invites into his home, 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 – 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 microfibre. Not good.”

Watching the Mandingos in action, one immediately notices two things – that many of them left the 8” threshold behind a long time ago, and that they’re better looking than the women they’re with. Jared, for instance, is a chiseled and muscular six one, with a hint of Vin Diesel about him. Probably the best-looking of the men, his first encounter is a ménage a trios with Maryam, a pudding of Persian cellulite and her chiropractor husband Rick, with the back fuzz and the belly, who adopts a lavatorial squat near her face and attempts to feed her his Oscar Mayer. Jared’s presence looks 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.”

Not everyone is so generous. Shelby, Jared’s musclebound 27 year old cousin (ex-army, now a fireman) says he’s just here to hang with the guys. When a woman offers him access to her fiftysomething uterus, he makes his usual excuse: “’Sorry baby, I just got done playing. I need to recover a minute.’  Hey, it’s a lie but I can’t be rude. I can’t say ‘you’re too fat and old!’”

But for every Shelby, there’s a Branford, the 30 year old masseur who did it for Amber earlier in the evening. “Listen, black guys like bigger women because they can tear it up,” he says. “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 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 was secure financially and emotionally when you were shooting blanks. I just want you to fuck the living shit out of me.’ That alone is hot. Anyway, why go hunting, when McDonalds is right here?”

Branford is an evangelist for the Mandingos, one of the party faithful. At something like the last 70 Mandingo parties, he has brought his table and given out 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 of networking with rich folk. Zeus, the law student also sees the networking advantages of the Mandingos. “When you network with someone, it’s because you have something in common. Whether that’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 female lawyers in the past.”

The Mandingos aren’t in the least embarrassed by their secret lives. According to Zeus, the friends he has told, both black and white, tend to be intrigued, even impressed by the Mandingo party scene. Shelby tells me that those that are repulsed tend to be for sexual reasons rather than racial – men by the thought of having sex around other men, women by the wanton promiscuity.

But the Mandingos themselves have their own issues with the lifestyle. For example, there’s seldom much kissing or going down going on. For some it’s a rule – 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 any of the Mandingos get paid for sex, it’s against the rules. The only person who makes money out of this is Art, via his website floridamandingoes.com – every guest at his parties, including the Mandingos pay membership, with an additional fee for each party of about $30.

But occasionally, the rules are bent. At the Nawlins swinger convention last year, some Mandingos confessed to receiving tips of $100 and more after private sessions with couples. Others brag about the vacations they’ve been taken on. “I’ve been to Vegas twice, all expenses paid,” says John. “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.”

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Jared too, for all his idealism, has felt used in the past. Once with a couple from Sarasota, the husband directed all the action while 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 drunken husband starts belching out commands – and Jared just walks out leaving the wife frustrated and embarrassed. But she won’t go hungry for long. Liz is a plus-size corporate travel consultant, a woman with an appetite for sex and snacks in equal measure. She’s Doris from accounts with the chafing thighs and she’s got that Christmas party look on her face. Come the end of the night, Liz will have dropped her flimsies a total of six times on various trips to the Mandingo buffet, often helping herself to two or three portions at a time.

Liz’s fantasy doesn’t require blackness – her parents are liberal, she’s had black friends. Black’s no biggie. She’s more in it for the big cocks and stamina, something of a treat in a lifestyle dominated by older men and their wilted chipolatas. Of course big stamina cocks are just what the sexual myths about black men promise, so Liz believes them to be true. Other women think it’s just a Mandingo thing – they’ve been handpicked, after all. A few, like Amber, mention “Viagra? I mean, there’s just no way…”

But for others, blackness alone is an aphrodisiac. Take Gail, a college recruiter who grew up in Alabama. For much of the party she sits legs akimbo in an armchair while her boyfriend organises a succession of five Mandingos to take turns at piledriving her, making her feet twitch and flay over their shoulders like early experiments with electricity. She tells me afterwards, “I like ‘em using me. I like being in a mix of ‘em and doing whatever.” Gail’s fantasy is typical – she wants multiple black men to dominate her. Black male dominance and white female submission is the predominant dynamic in the interracial swing scene. In Gail’s case, she wants black men to fuck her ragged, to call her a slut and a whore, and even to pee on her. She hasn’t yet tried a mock-rape scene or gone ‘airtight’ (all holes) – both popular choices on the Mandingo menu – but she’d like to. It seems her ass isn’t quite ready to be Mandingoed.

Jared understands this urge to be dominated as a combination of white guilt and female sympathy – “women would see the slaves being mistreated, so they wanted to be mistreated by them.” Branford believes white women simply “admire our strength – after everything that’s been thrown at us, we’ve persevered.” But Art, who is a hub for these fantasies, sees another potent element at play – the humiliation of the white husband. Up to four times a week, Art is asked to arrange cuckold scenes in which the husband is a sub and the wife is dominant. “He can’t participate, he can only watch,” he says. “And afterwards, he has to clean her up.” Then there are the public humiliation fantasies, in which a white man asks the Mandingos to dress his wife like a whore and take her out in public, kissing and groping her, while he follows along behind, paying for it all. Even here at the party, there’s a background hum of humiliation. Of the husbands I speak to, some confess to not being able to satisfy their wives any more. And while others say they’re getting off on watching, they’re never quite fully committed. Just as Jeff has reservations about blackness, Gail’s boyfriend Jim has them about dominance. “It kinda kills me sometimes,” he says, listening to Gail’s submission fantasies. “Because I’m not dominant. I’m really an easy going guy.”

Quite what all this means for race relations in the age of Obama is difficult to say. Despite an unsatisfactory night, Jared the optimist still likes to think that the more the races share fluids, “the more these taboos will disappear and we’ll all realize we’re all not that different.” But as the clock strikes three and only the stragglers remain, you can hear the races pulling apart like Velcro. 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 remaining white people are out by the pool. There’s even a whiff of disharmony in the air. Amber overheard one of the black women making snarky comments about “stupid white folks”, so Art is busy apologizing to her and promising that she’ll never be invited again.

Neither Amber nor Jeff will be seeing Art or the Mandingos until the next party in a month or so’s time. Though this is the third party Art has hosted at his home, Jeff won’t be calling him for a beer after work. Though Branford fucked his wife, Jeff won’t be inviting him over to see the game. And if they should see each other at the mall, they’ll look the other way – it’s all part of the pact between people like Jeff and people like Art. “My life outside of this is white,” says Jeff. “I don’t have any black friends or associates or neighbours. So nothing against Art or anyone, but they just wouldn’t fit in.”

I find Jeff at the end, busy cleaning up in the kids’s bedrooms – their grandparents will be returning them in a few hours and the sheets need changing, the light bulbs need switching, the evidence needs to be removed. Shining a torch 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 trashcan in every room, but still, some people…”

[Some of the names have been changed]