The Anti-Blackness of Interracial Porn

Thanks to Adrenalynn and Zoé Samudzi for feedback on the draft in clarifying ideas, correcting misconceptions, identifying missing elements and improving writing. Their contributions in no way make the following their fault. After finishing this draft a friend put me on to Mirielle Miller-Young’s book A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography. After quickly rifling through it seems to cover parts of what follows if from a different angle. It came recommended and I pass along the recommendation here for people looking for an in depth treatment of some of what follows, specifically the parts dealing with Black women.

 

The term “interracial porn” seems a little sketchy on the face of it. But what exactly is going on with the marketing and labor practices of interracial porn? An examination finds fundamental problems, specifically a baseline anti-Blackness. Here I lean heavily on Jared Sexton’s analysis in Amalgamation Schemes and, guided by numerous performers who have made public criticisms of interracial porn as a concept, read interracial porn marketing through Sexton’s analysis of miscegenation/antimiscegenation discourse. As per the industry, performers and consumers, I identify interracial porn as scenes between Black men and white women. Interracial porn represents both an aspect of miscegenation/antimiscegenation as well as its deployment for purposes of capital accumulation. Tracing the history of this discourse illuminates interracial porn’s ethical problems.

 

“Race” and “Interracial”

“Interracial” necessitates a pre-existing “race” so we’ll start there. The late Patrick Wolfe writes of anti-Black racism, “Though born of slavery, […] race came into its own with slavery’s abolition. So long as slavery persisted, race – for all its usefulness as a justification – was relatively redundant as mode of domination.” This rise of race, which is the same as saying the rise of racism, “means that the boundary that had previously separated a Free Black from a slave disappears, which is to say that, in place of the slaves, a new and more inclusive oppressed category emerges. […] In other words, emancipation cancelled out the exemption: you can be an ex-slave, but you can’t be ex-Black.”

Affirming the boundary of the newly unified Black racialization was achieved in large part through sexual politics. Democratic Party supporters from the New York World newspaper coined the term “miscegenation” (from Latin, ‘group mixing’) in 1863 in an anonymous pamphlet intended to sway the 1864 elections in favor of the Democrats. The pamphlet, titled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro, claimed a Republican Party goal of intermarriage between white and Black populations. While there was a debate amongst white people on whether or not to continue African Slavery, there was consensus against intermarriage and the newly popularized term miscegenation. This is to say that the concept of “miscegenation” is a product of a preexisting antimiscegenation (this also is an example of white supremacy being a manipulative power tool between groups of powerful white people more than between groups of white people with and without power as per the popular “split working class” theory of racism.). As examined further below, this applied/s to white women with Black men. White men with Black women, primarily via rape – consensual sex between enslaver and enslaved is impossible – was an accepted if unmentioned practice. Miscegenation/antimiscegenation is fundamental to biological racism and is inherently gendered, focusing as it does on reproduction and sexual encounters. Post-slavery (“post”…), miscegenation eventually becomes the sexual political concept today discussed as ‘interracial,’ the change stemming from the shift from explicit white nationalism to white nationalism under the guise of multiculturalism.

Jared Sexton writes on antimiscegenation and gets to the crux of interracial porn’s racist politics.

“If white racial identity has a public reputation as a form of purity, then antimiscegenation is the mode of production for the value of whiteness. […] However, antimiscegenation is not the essence of white supremacy or antiblackness. Rather, white supremacy and antiblackness are fundamentally relational processes unfolding between antimiscegenation and its necessary failure. White supremacy and antiblackness, in other words, emerge in the interplay between miscegenation and the forms of resistance to it. An important claim follows from this reasoning: rather than establishing themselves in vulgar opposition to miscegenation, white supremacy and antiblackness produce miscegenation as a precious renewable resource, a necessary threat against which they are constructed, a loyal opposition, a double exposure. They rely upon miscegenation to reproduce their social relations; their relations are, in fact, this very reproduction.

Miscegenation is thus taken to indicate processes of mixing, meddling, or mingling between the general and the particular, between the ephemeral body of white universality and the strangely dense corporeality of its dark-skinned others, imagined as a sprawling and overpresent, anonymous in their racialized particularity. […] Antimiscegenation is not a convenient rationalization for some other instrumentality; it is a vital component of the creation of race ex nihilo, a social contraction articulated as the form of white identity.

Sexton sums up noting that “miscegenation is a name for the imperceptible productivity of white supremacy and antiblackness.”

Miscegenation/antimiscegenation’s “mixing, meddling or mingling” describes Black as a contaminant, the contaminating element being slavery. One version of this is, in Wolfe’s phrasing, “the fact that the paternity of Black women’s children continued to have no effect on their status which remained rigorously matrilineal.” Enslaved mothers gave birth to slave babies no matter the father’s status. Per Barbara Fields, U.S. society and law “considers a white woman capable of giving birth to a black child but denies that a black woman can give birth to a white child.” This is African Slavery’s racialization where enslaved women were (re)producers of property and commodities through childbirth. Wolfe continues, “Thus Black women are not only barred from having white children. Along with Black men, they are barred from having any children other than Black ones.” Here white women are inherently violable and in need of constant guarding of their fragile purity, and Black women inviolable and ever receiving. By “inviolable” I do not mean “protected,” but that there is nothing that can be done that will be considered a violation. Nothing done to Black women will be termed harm. In Saidiya Hartman’s words, “No crime can occur because the slave statutes recognize no such crime.”

 

Anti-Black Pornography

Skin Diamond notes that, “Interracial is only ‘interracial’ if it involves a Black man and a white girl.” Sexton concurs writing, “to be considered interracial, especially in the U.S. context, [a relationship] must involve a Black person. This is not always the case, of course, and there are myriad historical examples of hysteria prompted by the prospect of sexual encounter between whites and nonblack people of color. What I sense, however, is that within the racist imagination, relationships with blacks, whether the other is white or a nonblack person of color, constitute interracial relationships par excellence.”

Diamond continues, “Technically, most of my porn is interracial but because I’m a Black chick, it doesn’t count. People only wanna see the taboo of a Black man with a white girl.” Diamond’s analysis of her scenes with white or other non-Black men ‘not counting’ speaks again to the inviolability of Black women and has two meanings. “It doesn’t count” in both marketing and accounting. This plays out in different earning potential for white and Black women performers.

The higher earning potential happens in two ways. White women performers, especially successful ones, often follow a progression of roles. Lexington Steele describes it, “There are situations where it could be the industry, whether it’s her boyfriend, her husband or management that suggests she either doesn’t do [interracial] at all, or waits until a certain time when her rates can appreciate over time. Where it’s: girl-girl to boy-girl to anal to DP [double penetration] to, and then the ultimate she can charge her most is when she finally does interracial.” This is career path is unavailable to Black women performers whose scenes are always already “racial” but never “inter” from an earning perspective, even when explicitly pointed out as such. For example Nyomi Banxxx recalled about a scene with a white male performer, “I had this conversation with my agent. I had this conversation with a director, because we were arguing about rate. I said, ‘I need to get paid for an interracial rate, IR.’ ‘No that’s not IR.’” This is one reason why Misty Stone says, Black performers “do the same amount of work but [white performers] get different opportunities.”

Another aspect of higher earning potential for white women is some performers (or their managers or agencies) simply charge more to do scenes with Black men, which is the same as saying they are racist. This is not universal and some producers, not to mention many white women performers, actively protest this specifically because it is so viscerally racist Unfortunately much of this resistance is articulated with demands to do interracial porn, to enact “the imperceptible productivity of white supremacy and antiblackness.” It is not asking white people to place their bodies in the way of racism, but to use them to (re)produce it. Further, it polices white women’s bodies to perform an ‘I’m not racist I fuck Black men’ action which proves exactly nothing.

Both the higher rate via career progression and higher interracial rate effectively place a ‘hazard pay’ rate or ‘burden tax’ on doing scenes with Black men. In other words, interracial porn labor schemes say ‘Black dick comes at a price’ and that price will be paid to white performers. It goes without saying, though needs saying, that Black women performers get no such ‘hazard pay’ for doing scenes with Black men because the perceived contaminant, the reason for miscegenation/antimiscegenation discourse and higher rates for white women performers, cannot affect Black women who are inviolable and already ‘Blacked’ as per the next section.

 

Black the Verb

This idea of the “one-drop rule” whereby any Black ancestry produces a Black racialization is the basis of miscegenation discourse and the fetish of interracial porn. The interracial porn website Blacked.com illuminates this. The name, Blacked, invokes Blackness as a corruption, as an action. ‘Blacked’ is not sex between equals, it is something that is done to someone, specifically to white women. It is white purity that is being ‘Blacked’. ‘You, white woman, have been Blacked’. There are numerous other examples like the 2012 Vivid title, Allie Haze’s Been Blackmaled. Sex with Black men is “Blackmaling”.

The public, especially though not exclusively the white public, approaches interracial porn with miscegenation/antimiscegenation enacting “the imperceptible productivity of white supremacy and antiblackness.” The Twitter mentions of popular white porn actresses are filled with demands for and condemnations of interracial scenes (search at your own risk and with plenty of sage to burn). Those condemning treat interracial porn as violations of white purity and clarify what ‘Blacked’ actually means in practice. The number of scenes and films with ‘cuckhold/cuck’ storylines is part of Black as a contamination, as a corrupting element. This weaponizes both Black penises and masculinity while giving logic to the laser focus on Black penises, colloquialized in interracial porn lingo as “BBC” (Big Black Cock). The motivations of those demanding interracial scenes are less clear. It appears to be a mix of demands to see Black male representation with popular performers and fetishization of the interracial encounter, often both.

The ‘Blacking’ racialization follows Black men performers. Whereas Black women performers are inviolable, Black men performers are always violating, except in scenes with Black women. Black men’s scenes are always already racialized. As Sexton notes, “The presence of Asian or Latino actors (nearly all of whom would be paired with white actors) would either leave the racial designation unchanged or move it into an ethno-specific label, such as Asian, Oriental, Hispanic, Spanish, Latin. Black films, in contrast, were those that starred only blacks.” Thus Black men can generally not do ‘normal’ porn except when combined with white men in scenes or films; they can only do Black or interracial. ‘Normal’ here means ‘white normative’. Yet, as ever under white supremacy, the ‘white’ is silent or, better put, unenunciated but clearly demonstrated. Thus scenes and films with exclusively Black performers are labeled “ebony/chocolate/Black” and scenes and films with exclusively white performers are not labeled “white/Aryan/snowblind.” This turns into disparate earning potential between Black and white men performers. Steele notes that “There is a differential between what I can accumulate versus someone else who is able to work with 100% of the talent pool.” Here he refers to the industry denying him normative white scenes and films as well as scenes with those performers who refuse work with Black men. With Black women and men performers the divergent earning potential compared to white colleagues is not simply the discriminatory pay rates common to racial capitalism, but a separate, racialized job profile. They are very nearly doing a different job altogether.

 

End “Interracial”

The problem of anti-Blackness is fundamental to interracial porn. Interracial porn is a present day articulation of miscegenation/antimiscegenation. Anti-Blackness is evident in the discursive fetishization of Blackness, the exploitation of (anti)Blackness for capital accumulation by porn companies and the divergent earning potential of white and Black performers. It cannot be fixed as its very premise is the problem. Ending interracial porn is not the same thing as ending scenes with Black men and white women. The encounter between Black men performers and white women performers is not the anti-Blackness; the use of the encounter is the anti-Blackness. To repeat Sexton, “white supremacy and antiblackness produce miscegenation.” White supremacy and anti-Blackness produce this “precious renewable resource” by turning specific porn performances into miscegenation/antimiscegenation, something “Blacked,” interracial. Interracial porn is the use of the racialized encounter as a means to accumulate profits. It continues from earlier regimes the idea of Blackness not as an identity but as a “position of accumulation and fungibility.” There is no way to reform it. Ending interracial porn is not the same as hiding or avoiding racism. Performers and companies could still make audience-specific films but it is indefensible that profits are today being made selling anti-Blackness.

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Law & Order: SVU – Pornstar’s Requiem (Season 16, Episode 5)

The following post examines gendered violence and sex work in the context of a recent Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode. I make use of narratives by two adult film performers, Belle Knox and Kayden Kross, who recently published articles that overlap with the SVU episode, one directly engaging the episode. For broader context I cite Incite!: Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans People of Color Against Violence and the Sex Workers Project and, while not quoted directly, analysis developed by Emi Koyama. Knox and Kross’s lived experiences provide fuller context and analysis than I cite below and Incite! and Emi Koyama’s work are central to the struggle against gendered violence against marginalized and criminalized populations and systemic violence more broadly. I strongly recommend reading their narratives and supporting their work and prioritizing it over what follows should you have to choose between them. Thanks to Megan Spencer for insightful feedback and to you for reading.

Like many Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episodes, the theme of the 22 October episode “Pornstar’s Requiem” is rape culture and the entitlement men assume over women’s bodies. This assumption is especially acute against women of color, colonized women, trans women and other communities marginalized by racism, patriarchy, capitalism and other oppressive organizations of power. Though SVU often centers middle class and wealthy white women, “Pornstar’s Reqiuem” centers one such marginalized community, sex workers. While all sex workers are marginalized or dehumanized in one way or another, an individual or group’s status as indigenous, working class, black, transgender or any other Other (including intersections of any or all of the above and more) means not all sex workers have the same experience. That should be read throughout what follows. (For this review I ignore the production value and storytelling quality, saving that for a later engagement. In brief, this episode suffers from the caricatured posturing and hero-villain hyper-polarization prevalent in the last few seasons of SVU though it is not as bad as some.)

“Pornstar’s Requiem” is one of the series’ ‘ripped from the headlines’ productions. It takes an element from popular media discourse and fictionalizes it to fit the half-police procedural/half-courtroom drama that is Law & Order ’s trademark. The episode takes inspiration from the case of Belle Knox, a porn star and Duke University student whose real name was exposed without her consent by a male fellow student leading to extensive harassment on and off campus.

In the SVU version, Hannah Marks plays Evie Barnes, a white, working class student at Hudson University (a frequent Law & Order stand in for NYU) and adult film performer under the name Roxxxane Demay. Two fellow Hudson University students watching porn on-line recognize Barnes and arrange to get her alone in a bathroom at a college party where they, invoking the rough sex of the porn clip they previously saw, proceed to rape her.

As is usually the case, SVU gets some stuff right while embedding the broader story in problematic politics. At its best numerous characters, especially Barnes herself along with Sgt. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hartigay) and Det. Amanda Collins (Kelli Giddish), over and again strongly reject repeated interjections from men trying to justify or rationalize the rape of Barnes due to her work in adult film. In one instance Barnes, her parents just having turned their backs on her because of her work, says, “I did nothing wrong and people need to hear that.” Barnes repeatedly invokes the principle of consent with no qualifications as to the job or social position of the person granting or withholding consent and how any violations of that are sexual assault.

Evie Barnes defends her right to withhold consent and perform in porn saying, “I did nothing wrong and people need to hear that.”

Evie Barnes defends her right to withhold consent and perform in porn saying, “I did nothing wrong and people need to hear that.” (Screen capture from “Pornstar’s Requiem”)

In her write-up of the episode, Belle Knox identifies closely with Barnes.

I know well the chilling rape culture entitlement that comes along with men discovering that I’m a porn star. This is the scenario that plays out on the episode. One of the frat boys accused in “Pornstar’s Requiem” even goes so far as to say to the police the following jaw-dropping line: “I didn’t think you could rape a girl like that.”

Have I heard this before?

Not in those exact words, but in actions and in snide remarks, in the assumptions people make with my body and my livelihood because they have watched me in porn or heard that this is my profession. One time a hotel provided a key card to a friend of another man I knew, and at 2 in the morning, this large and loud, older and incredibly drunk stranger wandered into my hotel room — with his own key. I was terrified. Did he think that because I was a porn star he could just come in? Did he think he could do something with me?

She continues, “There is this sense of ownership of porn stars from strangers, which is, quite frankly, chilling.” In a recent article for Salon, fellow porn star Kayden Kross describes her own nonconsensual outing as a college student and how, due to sex workers’ societal position, people outside the industry can’t even imagine how it is that she hasn’t been raped.

I have not been molested by an uncle. Not by a single one of them, if you can believe it. Yet strangers every day tag me with this scarlet letter because they can imagine no other circumstance under which I might choose the life I have chosen. Not only is this an insult to me, but it is an insult to all women who have made unconventional personal choices, because the go-to assumption is that a woman who doesn’t fit the mold has very likely been sexually damaged by a man. It is a comfortable way to explain away a disobedient woman.*

There are few keener descriptions of rape culture then how Kross describes the public as demanding her past rape in order to comprehend her. Rape is necessary for their engagement of Kross’s narrative, part of the “sense of ownership of porn stars” that Knox writes about. Kross describes the expected consequences in case of actual assault.

I sometimes wonder how deeply the assumption that the adult performer is somehow a lesser person really runs. Will our aggressor be given a lighter sentence in the event of a murder trial? Will the case be taken less seriously in the event that one of us disappears?

This is the result portrayed in “Pornstar’s Requiem”. After achieving the uncommon in real life result of a guilty verdict – according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network**, only nine out of every one-hundred sexual assaults are ever prosecuted in the first place – the judge sets aside the verdict and admonishes Barnes in the most condescending manner saying, “I hope going forward you find a way to respect your body and yourself.” Knox writes that the judge’s phrasing is “something I have heard so many times from my friends, family and peers it practically feels like my first name.”

The Patriarchal State and Accountability

SVU, like all cop shows, even more critical ones like The Wire, defines accountability as state intervention followed by incarceration. In the case of sex workers, people of color, colonized (including intersections thereof) and other Othered populations, interventions by institutions of state violence (the police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the military, F.B.I., etc.) frequently exacerbate rather than mitigate violence, including sexual violence.

The Sex Workers Project (SWP) at the New York City-based Urban Justice Center conducted a small survey of folks in the trade. Among their findings:

Thirty percent of sex workers interviewed told researchers that they had been threatened with violence by police officers, while 27% actually experienced violence at the hands of police. Reported incidents included officers physically grabbing and kicking prostitutes, as well as beating them; one incident of rape; one woman was stalked by a police officer; and throwing food at one subject. Sexual harassment included fondling of body parts; giving women cigarettes in exchange for sex; and police offering not to arrest a prostitute in exchange for sexual services.

Perhaps most obviously, that most sex work is criminalized means that agents of state violence generally seek to incarcerate sex workers, not offer any kind of protection or support. As Incite! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans People of Color Against Violence notes, “Existing laws that criminalize sex work often prevent workers from reporting violence, enable law enforcement agents to not take violence against sex workers seriously when it is reported, and facilitate police violence against sex workers.”

The vigorous defense offered by the (initially reluctant) District Attorney and police in “Pornstar’s Requiem” is anomalous in the real world though the lack of rapist accountability of any kind in the end, the paternalistic dismissal of Barnes by the judge, the exploitation of class differences between the rapists to turn the working class rapist snitch and the perpetual saving mission of the police all ring true.

Condemned to Porn

The end of “Pornstar’s Requiem” is filmed as tragedy. Kross writes about experiences outside of the porn industry bubble where porn stars are dehumanized and made punchlines. In a comedy class she is taking the instructor says, “Don’t worry, if you fail at this, there’s always porn.” It’s a common punchline. In their opening monologue for the 2013 Golden Globes, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler make a similar joke.

Tina Fey: I don’t think she has plans to do porn Amy.

Amy Poehler: None of us have plans do to porn.

Examples abound. Porn is not a career one chooses in such comments but a life one is condemned or resorts to.

The porn industry has no doubt been tragic for some of its workers. But so has the restaurant industry. So has accounting. So has professional American football. The “porn as last resort” narrative is another way of dehumanizing sex workers. Since, in patriarchy’s narrative, no one would choose it, those engaged in it must not be anybody nor any body. This is how “Pornstar’s Requiem” ends.

Evie Barnes broadcasts her social death. (Screen capture from "Pornstar's Requiem")

Evie Barnes broadcasts her social death. (Screen capture from “Pornstar’s Requiem”)

After the judge sets aside the verdict and frees Barnes’s rapist, Barnes commits what the show portrays as a kind of suicide, complete with suicide note, where she leaves university for porn. “Pornstar’s Requiem” narrates this as the failure of the agents of state violence to complete a saving mission. Barnes no longer exists, they lost her. Only Roxxxane Demay remains. Demay partially affirms her position telling Collins, “At least here when I say stop, they stop.” But does so on the verge of tears over a funereal soundtrack making that affirmation instead part of the “resort to porn” narrative. No matter that earlier in the episode Barnes expresses a certain fulfillment with her work in porn, “I signed contracts. I got paid. It felt good. I mean these guys [Barnes looks to each side at the men on campus] look right through me. They have no idea what I’m doing on set with hot porn actors.”

Evie Barnes self-medicates before her funeral. (Screen capture from "Pornstar's Requiem")

Evie Barnes self-medicates before her funeral. (Screen capture from “Pornstar’s Requiem”)

Evie Barnes’s social death is finalized on a porn set. Collins tells her, “You don’t have to be here,” and tries to offer her other options. Demay tell Collins, “Once you’re Roxxxane Demay, you can’t be Evie Barnes again,” takes some kind of pill, disrobes and walks to her burial, a gangbang scene with fifteen men as stand-ins for pallbearers.*** This, as with all saving missions, ends with the ‘saved’ being dehumanized by the saviors. The dehumanization that Barnes fights against earlier in the episode is finalized with the heavy, tragic soundtrack, Barnes/Demay’s tears and Collin’s desperate, sorrowful pleading. She is literally dehumanized in this narrative. The human Evie Barnes is dead and Roxxxane Demay, a fictional character invented by Barnes for stage purposes, now exists in a non-life as the title “Pornstar’s Requiem” suggests. Here Collins and Barnes’s rapists are no longer opposing parties, they find shared ground with Barnes’s dehumanization.

Roxxxane Demay approaches her funeral. (Screen capture from "Pornstar's Requiem")

Roxxxane Demay approaches her funeral and walks into the light. (Screen capture from “Pornstar’s Requiem”)

The episode’s end message affirms both agents of patriarchal state violence as sole recourse of accountability (though failed in this instance) to victims of gendered violence and the dehumanization of sex workers. NBC broadcast this message to over two million initial viewers. As with all popular culture, the episode did not invent this message. Instead it (re)produces it in conversation with broader media and popular discourse. “Pornstar’s Requiem” is another exchange in the conversation and in spite of its attempt at critical engagement, it ends up projecting and producing the real-life alienation described by Kross and Knox.

* Kross’s isolated quote can be read to affirm survivor stigmatization.

** Fuck RAINN for throwing a survivor under the bus in its horrible response to the recent Rolling Stone article on the University of Virgina gang rape story.

** The episode strongly suggests a social death and portrays Roxxxane Demay’s evolution as solely horror. There is another interpretation though the show does not point to it in any way at all, what Emi Koyama calls “Negative Survivorship“. Interpreting the scene this way is far better and appropriately positions the agents of state violence with the rapists while supporting Demay/Barnes. Based upon all previous episodes of SVU, this is not the intention of the writers.