Race, Gender, and Violence in Pornography 
 Race, Gender, and Violence in Pornography 

 Race, Gender, and Violence in Pornography 

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  • Published: July 29, 2021
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Pornography is an explicit form of media that is repressed as much as it is advertised. Porn reflects attitudes, biases, and structural violence that exists throughout society. Racism, misogyny, and homophobia are just some forms of institutional violence that are amplified and sexualized in pornography. Anti-porn advocates acknowledge the violence against women that is perpetuated by the porn industry. Throughout time, feminists have criticized the rampant harm and degradation of women that exists and is sometimes caused by porn. Although studied less often, racial hierarchies are also exhibited through porn. Any porn critique is incomplete without historical context. The ways in which various sexualities are portrayed in the media are integral to understanding porn. For instance, racialized categories in porn must be carefully compared with historical understandings of their status and accepted sexuality. Structural violence and direct physical violence that exists in porn are informed by, and inform, social reality.

The most studied and perhaps most acknowledged argument against pornography is hinged on its promotion of violence against women. Andrea Dworkin, a noted feminist and controversial anti-porn activist, predicated her work on exposing the link between pornography and rape. Since the 1970’s, Dworkin has written several radical feminist pieces that call for the condemnation of the porn industry. She argues that porn is just rape on film, and is an assault against all women. In her book Letters from a War Zone, Dworkin entitles an entire chapter “Pornography is a Civil Rights Issue.” She makes an impassioned plea to the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography.

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Her testimony was founded on the fact that as a woman living in America, women like her were living in an unequal society which profits from and protects their abuse. She asserts that pornography is sometimes a record of trafficking, forced prostitution, and other violent acts against women. These heinous acts are then recorded and protected under values of free speech and entertainment.

Dworkin condemns porn because of its violently misogynistic content. She claims that “Pornography is a civil rights issue for women because pornography sexualizes inequality, because it turns women into subhuman creatures” (Dworkin 284). If we accept that porn sexualizes inequality, then there is no wonder why racism is so evident in porn as well. Porn sexualizes and commodifies a structural inequalities that permeate society. In order to fully understand how pervasive and harmful it is, it is necessary to understand the history of sex and race in America.

Black people have long been the target of violent and deeply harmful stereotypes since their first encounters with Europeans centuries ago. With the development of chattel slavery in the Americas, whites used every dehumanization tactic possible to lower the status of black people and keep them in their place as property. Slave became synonymous with black in the 18th century, and white people used any and every justification to maintain that position. One such justification was equating black people with animals. This association has shifted through time but still remains today.

Another such association is between black men and penis size. There has been a cultural obsession with penis size and an unwavering myth that black men have

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large penises. Although seemingly trivial, this myth bolsters the idea that black men are penetrators, rapists, and naturally hyper aggressive. In fact, during the prime of lynching in America, rape was usually the offense with which black men were charged. Even if it was untrue the myths about black men’s aggressive sexuality and desire to “keep them in place” further fueled the lynching crusade. Sometimes the black man’s penis was cut off prior to lynching to reinforce the sexual and humiliating tone of the crime.

Daniel Bernardi, professor and director with numerous books under his professional belt, has written about the violence that exists in race relations and porn. In his text “Interracial Joysticks,” Bernardi directly confronts this association between black men and the penis. He analyzes the categories and titles of various porn sites attached to “Greenguy Link O’ Rama,” a web collection of free and low cost porn sites. On the website, words like ghetto, thug, stud, are codes that signify porn videos with black men. They are the penetrators, the ones doing the “fucking,” the sexual dominators. In pornography, black men are synonymous with penis. He writes that ““Black men provide the most virulent threat and subsequent pleasure sources in interracial articulations of sex” (Bernardi 233). Without the historic connection, it seems like the use of aggressively connotated words and dominant position may just be coincidence. However, the path between dehumanizing black men and exploiting those stereotypes for sexualized profit clearly shows the evolution of violence. Black men are consistently reduced to their genitalia and only defined by their ability to penetrate.

Andrea Dworkin and other anti-porn activists underscore how porn contributes to the oppression of women. It normalizes and sexualizes violence against women that can have real life implications. Dworkin insists that pornography leads to rape, however critics of hers including Daniel Bernardi look at the violence and porn issue from another lens. He believes that although porn may not directly cause rape, it does promote the consumption and/or ignorance of violent ideologies like racism. In fact, in her assessment of the violence porn can inflict on society, Dworkin acknowledges the racism that exists in porn. She likens black skin to female genitalia because of how explicitly sexual it is treated and simultaneously demeaned (Dworkin 280) . The violence and humiliation exhibited towards female sexual organs is also projected onto black skin itself. Naturally the intersection of racism and misogyny leaves women of color in porn extremely fetishized and victim to violence and shame.

Porn objectifies women of color and uses racially derogatory words and stereotypes to sexualize historic violence for consumption. Black women are described using words like ebony, ghetto and taglines like “It’s All Pink Inside,” dehumanize black women and invoke harmful tropes. The central focus of black women Daniel Bernardi found in his research, their butts. Several links advertized the voluptuous butts of black women, which was eerily reminiscent of Sarah Baartman. Saarjtie “Sarah” Baartman was a South African woman forcibly put on display across Europe. She was named the “hottentot venus” and advertised as a freak show because of her large body and ethnic features.

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