Metro: The dark and dangerous reality of racism in sex work
When you think about porn, racism probably isn’t the first thing on your mind.
But racism worms its way into every corner of human life, and the world of sexual fantasies, fetishes and sex work is no different.
A quick search reveals just how often porn sites use racist stereotypes, as mentions of ‘big, black c***’ for Black men or ‘tight Asian p****’ for Asian women are rife.
While some porn makers argue it’s a case of following market demand – last year ‘Japanese’ and ‘Korean’ were among the top searches on Pornhub – the truth is that labelling content in such a way eroticises and strengthens these stereotypes.
In a study of racism and sexism in interracial pornography, researchers found that racism was shown towards Black actors.
This might seem harmless – after all, this is porn, not ‘real life’. But we know that what we see in porn has an impact on the way we see the world – and how we interact with other people.
Ana J. Bridges, a professor at the University of Arkansas, has researched the impact of pornography on gender, sex, and relationships, and highlights the effects watching porn can have on our behaviour in the real world.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Higher use of pornography is associated with greater attitudes supportive of violence against women and greater aggressive behaviour against women. This is especially true for pornography that contains violent and/or degrading content.
‘Pornography causes or is associated with small but consistent increases in attitudes supporting violence against women and sexual aggression
‘Sexual scripts seem to be one of the mechanisms explaining the association – that is, pornography sets expectations for how sex should be, and these expectations then drive our behavior in sexual contexts.’
If this is the effect of seeing sexual aggression towards women, what might the impact be of seeing racist stereotypes played out on screen?
Camgirls – sex workers who set up a camera to chat to paying clients online – say they regularly face racist interactions.
Kitty Agiri, a camgirl for CamNClimaxxx, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The first experience I had with racism whilst camming was when I was wearing my leash and collar since I do pet-play. I received a comment saying, “I wanna pull your leash and call you n*****”.
‘I was incredibly shocked but didn’t react to it much. I said something along the lines of, “don’t call me that”, then blocked him.’
While Kitty is able to block abusive clients, users can then pay to be allowed back into chats, meaning they can keep being as racist they want.
She adds: ‘I knew I would get trolls, but I didn’t think someone would use such a heavily offensive slur towards me.
‘Later I found out that many African-American women in the industry are asked to engage in race-play. I hadn’t heard of it before then.
‘There was another time when I was using Chatroulette with a Caucasian friend and we connected with a group of Caucasian boys. They told me to leave because they only wanted the “white girl”.’
‘I always expected to get some nasty trolls, but I never expected to be called a racial slur in the name of a kink. It’s terrible, but I don’t let it hurt me personally.
‘It just makes me mad that a lowlife would think that slavery and oppression of an entire race is kinky. It’s more of an injustice. I personally don’t understand how my race, ancestors, history, and struggle can be a fetish. It’s an insult to me. Many of us have been lynched, shot, and killed. And that doesn’t just go for Black people, but other ethnicities as well. I respect people’s kinks, but that is one that I will not participate in.’
Aria*, a camgirl from Off The Record, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I’ve had a lot of white guys going on about big Black cocks – they’re obsessed.
‘It’s as if they see Black men as sexual objects/purely their genitalia etc. I also get a lot of requests for race play stuff – for example, a lot of men wanting to see me having rough sex with Black men in the fantasy.
‘I’ve had people asking for race play at which point I block them because I don’t like to encourage that type of behaviour. I’ve had a fair few people come into my chat room with ethnic slurs as usernames as well.’
Lorna*, another camgirl at the agency, has had similar experiences of the hypersexualisation of Black men.
She tells us: ‘Black men being sexualised is definitely a big thing. I have a regular white guy who is obsessed about the fact that my partner is Black and usually wants to talk about my sex life and how Black men are superior to white men.
‘I’ve had a lot of white guys talking about big Black c***s, purely using them as sexual objects. They also sometimes talk about how they would love to watch their wife with a Black guy. I always end the conversation when they start talking about anything like that, as I don’t feel comfortable with them fetishising race.’
For those sex workers who meet their clients in real life, away from the disconnect of the camera, racial abuse can pose even more of a threat.
As pointed out by sex workers Juno Mac and Molly Smith in Revolting Prostitutes, clients who pay for massage services with a masseuse wouldn’t think it’s okay to be racist or sexist or even violent towards the masseuse – so why should sex workers be expected to take on abusive behaviours and attitudes?
Complaining about these experiences can be difficult.
There is currently very little in place to prevent racism towards people in the sex industry, but the English Collective of Prostitutes – a campaign group aiming to decriminalise prostitution and improve the rights of sex workers – wants to combat that.
Liliana Gashi, a spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Racism in the sex industry means that women of colour, including migrant sex workers, get paid less, are more likely to be targeted for violence and police harassment.
‘Illegality and racism and the discriminatory prostitution laws, make it harder for those of us within the sex industry to address racism from other workers and clients.
‘The laws prevent women coming together to organise against them and for protection, labour rights and safety generally, and re-inforces racism. The more we are divided, criminalised and targeted for arrest, the less power we have to fight abuse from clients, or speak about our experiences.
‘Racism and discrimination drive Black and migrant women into sex work. We’re last hired and first fired, especially with the Covid-19 lockdown. About one-quarter of social care workers are Black and immigrant women, the average wage is £8.10 per hour, well below the living wage.
‘Asian women in Leicester’s sweatshops are being paid £3.50 per hour! Black women earn up to 31% less than white men. It’s no wonder we turn to sex work.’
The group is campaigning for decriminalisation, which would mean sex workers would be more willing to come forward to report instances of violence, including racial discrimination.
The English Collective of Prostitutes adds: ‘We have worked to make the experience of women of colour and migrant women visible.
‘We are against being divided depending on where we work, our race, nationality or whether we are migrant or non-migrant.
‘We have joined the calling for a Care Income for everyone doing caring work for people and the environment. Since 70% of sex workers are mothers, and grandmothers, aunties, and sisters caring for our families and communities, this would ensure none of us are forced into sex work by poverty wages and lack of other options.’
Psychology professor Dr. Daria J. Kuss, from Nottingham Trent University, has conducted vast research into addiction, problematic internet use, and how these issues can play out in real life.
She says that porn can exacerbate racism, which the sex industry needs to address.
Dr. Kuss tells us: ‘Similar to other industries, the porn industry is affected by racism, in such a way that Black actors are often paid less and receive fewer job opportunities.
‘Racism in porn is problematic because it may reflect and potentially perpetuate historic notions of racial supremacism both on and off the screen, including portrayals of sexual violence against individuals, often women, from BAME backgrounds. Racism is never okay, no matter if it’s on or off the screen.
‘Changes are needed in the industry to provide equal opportunity for all, irrespective of race and ethnicity. Equal employment, pay, and fair treatment are needed, whilst ensuring individuals or groups are not being discriminated against based on their race and ethnicity.’
Sex workers like Kitty may be disheartened by the lack of efforts to sweep out racism from their industry, but they’re hopeful.
Kitty adds: ‘As long as there are differences between people, there’s going to be hatred. ‘
But it’s everyone’s responsibility to call racist people out. Not doing so allows small-minded and bigoted people to take advantage of us.’
*Names have been changed.
Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2020/10/22/the-dark-and-dangerous-impact-of-racism-in-sex-work-13343977/?ito=cbshare