Yes, Pornography Is Racist

In Shira Tarrant’s blog post on race and porn, she interviews some well-known African-American performers to challenge my claim that porn is racist. There are some women of color who have been successful in pornography, but this doesn’t change the fact that porn is systematically racist. Systems of oppression are flexible enough to absorb some members of subordinated groups; indeed, they draw strength from the illusion of neutrality provided by these exceptions. Thus, the election of Barack Obama does not prove the end of racism, nor does Hillary Clinton’s success prove that politics isn’t patriarchal.

As a sociologist, I am interested in identifying and explaining patterns to help understand how systems of power shape the way the majority of people live. In porn, women of color are generally relegated to “gonzo,” a genre that has little glamor, security or chic status. Here, women have few fan-club websites, do not make it to pop culture and have to endure oral, anal and vaginal pounding that ends with the usual ejaculation scenes on the body and in the mouth.

Women of color are also paid less than white women. Well-known black porn performer Lexington Steele told author Lawrence Ross that:

In a boy/girl scene, one girl one guy, no anal sex, the market dictates a minimum of $800 to $900 per scene for the girl. Now a white girl will start at $800 and go up from there, but a black girl will have to start at $500, and then hit a ceiling, of about $800.

What makes regular gonzo different for a black woman is the way past and present stereotypes are dredged up and thrown in her face. Not satisfied to call her the usual gonzo terms of slut/whore/cumdumpster, she is often referred to as a “black ghetto ho” with a mouthy attitude who needs to be taught a lesson. This stereotype of black women as promiscuous, overbearing and in need of control is one that has historical resonance–from slavery to Moynihan–and continues to inform present day governmental policies.

Take, for example, the text on the site Ghetto Gaggers that accompanies pictures of “Vixen” covered in semen:

Vixen is a sassy ghetto fabulous beyatch with more attitude than Harlem has crack. She needed a learnin’ by some white cocks …. Ghetto Gaggers, we destroy ghetto hoes ….

In sites like these, the debased status of the black woman as a woman is seamlessly melded with, and reinforced by, her supposed debased status as a person of color. In the process, her race and gender become inseparable and her body carries the status of dual subordination. It is this harnessing of gender to race that makes women of color a particularly useful group to exploit in gonzo porn, since gonzo porn works only to the degree that women are debased and dehumanized. This sexualizes the white supremacy in ways that render the actual racism invisible in the mind of most consumers and non-consumers alike.

Racism in porn and the wider society is not going to change because some women of color are making their own porn. Racism and sexism are macro-systems of oppression, and the way to do battle with them is not to produce more porn but to instead organize against a power structure that allows an industry based on the degradation of all women to flourish.

Photo is of Dines’s new book: Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality.



Gail Dines, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of sociology, and president of Culture Reframed. Her latest book, Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked Our Sexuality, has been translated into five languages.