Porn and Racism

Another problem with the representations in pornography is that men and women of colour are often depicted in stereotypical and degrading ways. This is because those who produce most porn — and indeed, most media in general — are located within America or Europe, where being white is considered “normal.” When non-white people do appear in the media, they are often shown as being different or strange. This is not by accident — there is a long history to these representations, which is discussed in more detail below.

Black Identities

Racism in porn is probably most apparent in the depictions of black men and women, whose appearance is often reduced to a single body part: the penis (men) or the butt (women). The idea that black men have extra-large penises and that black women are especially bootylicious is a common theme not just in pornography, but in popular culture as well.

And while large penises and round butts might be considered seminajxually
appealing in Western society, the reduction of black men and women to a single body part means that these individuals — and this social group as a whole — come to be seen as “less than human.” They are sexual objects to be looked at and used for pleasure and nothing more. Black men and women are also often depicted as “hyper-sexual” — as having a sexual appetite that is above average and often out of control — and this representation serves to create the idea that black men and women enjoy being treated as sexual objects and “can’t say no.”

Again, while pornography certainly makes use of these themes, it did not invent them. The notion of black men and women as super-sexual beings and the intense focus on their body parts is rooted in the history of slavery. As Patricia Hill Collins explains in her outstanding book, Black Feminist Thought, “Contemporary portrayals of Black women [and men] in pornography represent the continuation of the historical treatment of their actual bodies.” The institution of slavery was built upon the view that black men and women were not fully human and that their bodies were mere objects of nature to be put to work in the service of their white owners — whether sexually or in the fields.

Humanity was therefore reserved for white bodies, and black bodies were viewed as something “other,” something less civilized and in need of taming. When slavery was abolished, these ideas were put to work in other ways, as white society was not ready to give up their power over black people, and so, as Hill Collins explains, the idea of the “black rapist,” and the “black prostitute” emerged. Black male and female sexuality were viewed as dangerous and wild, threatening to white men and women everywhere, and needing to be contained. The rumours of black men’s over-sized penises and black women’s out-of-control lust and hyper-sexual, bootylicious bodies developed in this racist context, and continue to circulate today, both in porn and everywhere else.

This video by spoken word artist DeDe Hunt on the life of Sara Baartman — an African woman put on display in Europe in the early 1800s — speaks to the history of black female sexualization.

Asian Identities

Racism in porn is not reserved for black identities — Asian identities, and in particular, Asian women, are subjected to very stereotypical representations as well. The most common representation of Asian women in porn is that they are passive, submissive, child-like and exotic. Asian women, in contrast to black women, are often shown as having no sexual desire or urges of their own, but rather are there to simply and sweetly please the men around them.

Sexy-asian-girlIt has been argued that this fantasy of Asian woman as passive and submissive is rooted in the history of Western colonialism — the process whereby European and American nations went into “other” countries and seized control of their land and resources for economic gain, while at the same time imposing Western cultural values on the people they encountered. The local populations and economies of the colonized countries were often devastated by this process and many Asian women were forced to find work in the sex industry, servicing Western men. The stereotype of the submissive Asian woman is arguably a stand in for the idea that the non-Western “other” wants or needs to be dominated.

On the other hand, Asian men rarely make an appearance in Western-produced porn. Whereas the black man is represented as hyper-sexual, the Asian man has been constructed as lacking manliness and sexuality, and this idea is epitomized in the notion that Asian men have small penises. In the same way that Asian women were constructed as being passive and submissive to further the project of colonial domination, so too were Asian men. And since masculinity in the West is associated with power and domination, Asian men and their “small penises” are not considered “truly masculine” and are therefore not depicted in pornography as legitimate objects of desire.

But remember: representations of racial minorities do not realistically depict the experiences, identities, hopes or dreams of these individuals or social groups. They are simplified fantasies that those in power keep circulating in order to maintain their power — and because it’s just easier than bringing complicated stories to the screen. This rant by stand-up comedian and spoken work poet Beau Sia on Asian identities gives you a little taste of what it looks like when minorities get to frame their own experiences.

For more info on what an alternative, anti-racist pornography can look like, check out the section on feminist porn.

Go to next page: Porn, Heteronormativity and Patriarchy

Works Cited:

Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge: 2008.

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