Race and Porn

How the Porn Industry Banks on Our Collective Shame. Photo Credit: Canva

When pondering American institutions that are deeply entrenched in racial separatism, we don’t often think about the porn industry. What might come to mind is banking, the education system, the job market, the housing market, television, film, the hair care industry and yes, the government. You might wonder if the porn industry should even be held to the same standards as the aforementioned institutions and, to me, the answer is a resounding yes. Porn, in all of its WWE-style posturing, fantasy fulfilling, glorious and/or debasing sleaziness (depending on when you last went to church) is in fact popular media.

According to Pornhub’s 2019 Year in Review, “there were over 42 billion visits to Pornhub worldwide, which means there was an average of 115 million visits per day.” The United States ranked number one for highest daily traffic two years in a row. With these numbers, the Porn industry is not far behind Hollywood, a business that notably thrives on its ability to influence.

What we wear, the types of people we find attractive, and the possibilities of science have, at one time or another, been influenced by the media we consume. For example, after the film Day After Tomorrow (2004) was released, a Yale researcher conducted a survey that revealed that 83 percent of people who saw the film were “somewhat” or “very concerned” about global warming. Even more, Amanda Bynes’ 2006 comedy, She’s the Man, nearly convinced me that I needed to join an all-boys soccer team in order to find a boyfriend with freckled shoulders like Channing Tatum…. At any rate, popular media has the power to affect how we view ourselves and society which puts porn, particularly its perpetuation of negative stereotypes against Black and Brown people, in a dangerous position.

It’s no shock that if you venture onto a porn site and search ‘Black’, ‘Ebony’ or ‘Interracial,’ you’ll find titles with keywords like “thug” “hoe,” “ghetto,” “slave,” “beast,” “animals,” and “bitch.” You might also find triggering scenarios depicting “slave and master,” or  “police and thug.”  These “special interest categories,” a term used in Alice Mayall and Diana E. H. Russell’s essay titled Racism in Pornography, exemplify that, “where white women are depicted in pornography as “objects” Black women are often depicted as animals…as shit.” In a Rolling Stones article, Black adult performer Isiah Maxwell notes that, “Porn has always been a reflection of American values, so if these are the titles you see, these are the titles people are buying.”  Harmful stereotypes can be found for most women and men of color. Keywords like “geisha” are often used to describe Japanese women and “terrorist” to describe Arab porn.  If Day After Tomorrow could influence its viewers to consider the severity of global warming, imagine what masturbating to a video of a Black woman being portrayed as an animal will do to your view of Black women in reality. It’s no wonder that Black women are often either overlooked or fetishized in the dating world, particularly on dating apps.

In light of recent conversations around racial injustice sparked by the killing of Ahmaud Aubury, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McLane and countless other Black men and women, numerous high profile companies within the entertainment industry and beyond have shown solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement, posting words of support on their websites and social media channels. Pornhub even showed their support in a highly controversial twitter post announcing that they would “donate $100,000 to organisations actively fighting for equality.” While one can appreciate the sentiment in theory, without evolution in action and rhetoric, the needle will never move in the right direction. It’s important for Pornhub, and many companies who stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, to prove that their solidarity was a change of heart, not a trendy Band-Aid. 

Is porn racist? It likely depends on who you ask, but that’s the point. Who are we going to ask? Porn is the secret industry of our lives – the unspoken pastime, the thing we do in the shadows. Because it lives in the shadows, it arguably doesn’t exist, not really. How can we apply racial standards and demand the same level of accountability as we do the mainstream media if no one dares to talk about it out loud? The porn industry understands this and therefore can continue to profit off of our collective shame. . Protected under freedom of speech, the porn industry can get away with exploiting the dark past of our society without consequence.

So, how do we hold an industry accountable for perpetuating harmful ideas and stereotypes? I argue that we first look at the larger issue at hand: Our society’s inability to talk about sex. Our fear to confront human sexuality in all its forms prevents us from moving away from shame, and thus the shadows where toxicity can thrive and fester. Whether you enjoy porn or find it repulsive is your business, but as a Black woman, racism (and sexism – we’ll save that for another article) is my business. Activists fighting for justice within the entertainment industry must not overlook this relevant medium.

In light of the aforementioned killings of Black men and women, we as a nation have proven we can mobilize to enact change. Like most causes, we have to be willing to use our voices and platforms and make sacrifices for greater change. Celebrities, influencers, pornstars, consumers, and nonconsumers alike must find the courage to tweet and post about this issue, write letters to industry creators, production companies and agencies, and even boycott popular pornsites – bring this fight out into the daylight. 

Now is the time to get out of the shadows and have these uncomfortable conversations, because those are the conversations that will ultimately create a more just, accepting world.The porn industry won’t see it coming. (pun-intended)

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