Silent No More: A Black Feminist Meditation on Pornography

There is a silence within Black feminism, an empty chasm, surrounding the issue of pornography. There are reams of literature by white feminists on the subject of pornographic material and its place (or lack thereof) in an ideal feminist society. One of the most profound divides in the feminist community stems from the ‘Sex Wars’ of the 1970s and 1980s, which pitted pro-porn libertarian feminists against anti-porn radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, who sought to classify pornography as an offense against the civil liberties of women.

Yet despite the prominence of this debate there is a decided lack of theorising around the subject from Black feminists and a hush that cloaks this particular facet of sexuality. Porn has been viewed by Black feminists as a frivolous concern of white feminists with too much time on their hands and no real understanding of the more pressing concerns of women of colour. Whilst it may be true that prioritising issues of porn and sexuality—and seeing them as the apex of oppressive behaviour—is a flaw of white feminisms, that does not mean that Black feminism ought to entirely ignore the subject, as seems to be the norm.

Most Black women have sex. Most Black women have sex with people who have seen porn at least once. This is an issue that currently affects us whether we like it or not. Even if one personally decides to abstain from pornographic material, this does not stop sexual partners from viewing it, nor does it stop the wider world viewing it. It does not stop the transmission of the ideas in porn. It does not stop the multibillion-dollar porn industry and its less than ethical processes of production.

Porn is a conduit for racism, specifically misogynoir. It is made by men raised in a racist society and consumed by men raised in a racist society. It is shaping what people think of us, and what they will take into their encounters with Black women in the future—as well as what they will take with them into the classroom, the boardroom, the shop floor, and the senate.

So what does mainstream pornography say about Black women? It paints us as ghetto bitches who need to be taught a lesson and pacified. We are to be dominated, overpowered, and fucked into our place. We are insatiable, always up for it and ready to go. We are our exaggerated asses and our breasts. We are “ebony,” we are niche. We are a vessel to be filled with the only thing that can quiet us: white men’s penises. We are bitches, we are hoes, we are ratchet. We are born filthy, and so we are ripe for degradation. We probably like it anyway. We are never afforded innocence or purity because that is the domain of the white woman. She is the antithesis of us. She is cast in any and all roles. She is gifted default status. There is no constant backstory to the colour of her skin.

Since white men came into contact with Black women, they have been using us to project their immoral sexual behaviours onto. If Black female slaves were in a constant state of arousal then they couldn’t possibly be raped. White men were just giving them what they desired, what they needed. The onus of responsibility is passed. In Francis Bacon’s 1627 unfinished utopian novel New Atlantis, he describes the ‘spirit of fornication’ as a ‘foul, little, ugly Ethiope,’ and this conception has not changed much in the hundreds of years since. Black women fall short of the standards of beauty that white men impose but we still represent sex. We represent the furthest and most twisted realms of the sexual imagination. Colonial studies emphasise how white men link deviant sexuality with the exotic and the unknown. Black women represent the far off and forbidden sexual wants and fears and curiosities. We are libidinally out of control. We are what the white man is afraid of in himself.

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