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How Mainstream Porn Normalizes Violence Against Black Women

By July 2, 2020 No Comments
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This guest piece was written by Carolyn M. West, Ph.D., an expert in domestic violence and sexual assault. 5-minute read.
TRIGGER WARNING

Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative nonprofit that educates on the harmful effects of porn. This month during our #StopTheDemand campaign, we're shining a light on the porn industry's link to sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking. Click here to learn more.

Disclaimer: Some of the issues discussed in the following article are legislatively-affiliated. Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative awareness and education organization hoping to provide access to resources that are helpful to those who need support. Including links and discussions about these legislative matters does not constitute an endorsement by Fight the New Drug.

Why Racist Pornography is a Form of Sexual Violence

By Carolyn M. West, Ph.D., University of Washington

As a psychologist who has been teaching courses on Sex Crimes and Sexual Violence for more than two decades, here is what I know: Rape and sexual assault are real crimes that happen to real people regardless of gender, race, age, or sexual orientation.

I also know through intensive research that Black women are especially vulnerable to sexual violations during their lifetimes. In fact, national studies estimate that about 1 in 5 Black women, or 22 percent, have experienced rape at some point in their lives. Even more Black women reported non-contact unwanted sexual experiences such as being sexually harassed in public places or being forced to participate in sexual photos or movies.

Related: How The Porn Industry Capitalizes Off Of Racism And Racist Stereotypes

April 2020 marked the official 19th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. After producing the documentary film “Let Me Tell Ya’ll ‘Bout Black Chicks: Images of Black Women in Pornography,” I am convinced that it is well past the time for a critical discussion about how racism in pornography is another form of sexual violence against Black women. Here is why.

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Worse than animals

In Alice Walker’s short story “Coming Apart” she describes the realization that a Black husband has about pornography. He thinks, “…Black women are depicted as animals.” Sadly, there are no shortage of examples of this in contemporary pornography. Black women have been featured in cages and shown wearing dog collars.

Here are a few things I have learned about sexual violence against Black women when I studied the messages of mainstream pornography for my documentary film.

Related: Why Does The Porn Industry Get Away With Racist Portrayals Of Black People?

To further dehumanize them, degrading comments are made about all aspects of Black women’s bodies. For example, there is often a hierarchy of beauty in pornography. That is, lighter-skinned Black women were described as more desirable and beautiful. Referred to as “caramel honies” and “dimes,” they were considered to be the Perfect 10 on the beauty scale. At the same time, light-skinned, multiracial Black women also were called “mulatto mutts.”

In contrast, darker-skinned Black women were often relegated to “gonzo” porn, which are low budget films with little glamor. To further smear them as lower-class, women with deep brown skin tones were labeled “hoodrats” and “dark meat” who were cast in the role of prostitutes in videos entitled “Ebony Sex Workers” and “Black Girls Working the Streets.”

Related: Pornhub Refused To Remove Videos Of This Minor’s Sexual Assault—Until She Posed As Her Own Lawyer

Not satisfied to call them the usual gonzo terms of slut/whore/cumdumpster, darker-skinned Black women’s natural hair texture has been disparaged. For instance, in the video Nappy-Headed Hoes, the producers explained that the title was appropriate because the performers were “kinky-haired harlots.”

Because porn capitalizes on racialized sexism in the larger culture, the title was inspired by the radio host Don Imus who referred to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, which is comprised of eight African-American and two white players, as “nappy-headed hos.”

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Why history matters

Throughout history and in contemporary times the myth that Black women are hypersexual and animalistic has been used to justify enslavement, rape, forced reproduction, and other forms of sexual coercion throughout the United States’ history.

Related: Does Porn Really Decrease Rates Of Sexual Assault?

Ideas that originated in slavery continue to live on and be graphically depicted in pornography. For example, the 1985 interracial porn video Let Me Tell Ya’ll Bout Black Chicks depicted a Black woman was shown engaged in an enthusiastic sexual encounter with two White men who were dressed as Klu Klux Klan members, a White supremacist organization founded in 1866. More recently, the video series, Cum Bang described a similar version of what they described as “Hillbilly Hog Heaven” where multiple Confederate flag-waving White men ejaculate on one Black woman.

As we continue to unearth the stories of sexual brutality that were experienced by countless Black women, such as what happened to Recy Taylor, the aforementioned titles have eroticized, sanitized, and erased this long history of sexual terrorism against Black women in this country.

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Porn tells us that rape is sexy

Rather than a mutually pleasurable experience, porn too often describes the sex act as a form of violence in which “real men” seek to “tear,” “rip,” “pound” and forcefully penetrate women. The industry doesn’t even try to disguise sexual violence. In fact, it is celebrated. In the video Black Freaks of the Industry, the description reads: “This ain’t your grandappy’s porn—this is the new wave of hardcore jackhammering!”

Related: These Teen Boys Are Actual Heroes After Stopping A Man From Assaulting A Young Girl

The sexual violence against Black women is overt, graphic, and deeply disturbing as in the series Ghetto Gaggers, which shows Black women being beaten, choked, and humiliated. The website invites the viewer to “join to see White boys conquering Angry Black women.” You can even buy merchandise, including t-shirts and coffee mugs, with the Ghetto Gaggers logo.

As further evidence of the racial violence in porn, a review of videos featured on the largest pornographic streaming tube sites revealed that both White and Black women were sexually objectified in porn. However, Black women were more likely to be shown as targets of physical aggression, such as spanking. At the same time, Black women were less likely to be on the receiving end of displays of intimacy, such as kissing.

The message is clear: all women, and particularly Black women, are the appropriate targets for sexual aggression.

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How you can help, starting now

Although pornography did not create sexual violence, the content of pornography and sexualized media must be addressed if we want to combat this form of victimization.

Here’s what you can do to acknowledge April’s Sexual Violence Awareness Month, and remember that you can do these things throughout other months of the year, too.

Related: Middle Schoolers Sexually Harass Each Other Even Before Learning About Sex

You can become educated about all forms of sexual violence in the lives of Black girls and women. Learn about the stereotypes that portray young Black women as sexually promiscuous and unrapeable. Challenge these images at every opportunity within your community and among service professionals.

Normalizing Abuse Isnt Normal

Consider how pornography is a form of sexual violence. Young people are consuming porn as a form of sexual education, and this is especially problematic because porn promotes horrifically racist and abusive content in the name of sexual entertainment to anyone with internet access, even children. Parents and teachers can learn ways to have these uncomfortable conversations about porn with the children and adolescents in their lives.

Finally, start believing when survivors share their stories.

Together, we can make sexual violence more uncommon and less normalized. It starts with each of us making the choice to refuse to contribute to an industry that eroticizes racism and normalizes racist stereotypes.

About the Author

Dr. Carolyn M. West is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Washington where she teaches courses on Human Sexuality, Family Violence, and Sex Crimes and Sexual Violence. She is nationally recognized for her scholarship on gender-based violence in the lives of African American women, specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. She can be reached at www.DrCarolynWest.com.

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