#trending

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 6.09.41 PM

Racism is a covert agent in our lives. Some claim that it is invisible to them; completely hidden. It is very infrequent that racism openly reveals itself for long enough to be identified, before disappearing, cloaked in discussions about “culture,” “socio-economics,” “sensitivity,” or “history.” Online prostitution is one venue where structural racism can be seen in plain sight.

That’s why I researched online prostitution in New York City for my college thesis. With the help of websites like Backpage.com and Craigslist.com, I became acquainted with the underground sex industry, where the value of a woman is in plain sight. Her worth is advertised without a hint of political correctness. No excuses are made about class, schooling or occupation. Every woman is simply a scantily-clad commodity who, with the click of a mouse, is deemed wanted or unwanted for purchase.

Although the playing field is leveled in that regard, race manages to be the biggest dividing line between the women who are highly prized and those who are practically worthless. I learned that online men are willing to pay the highest premium for “whiteness.” This is evident in the word choices white women use to self-advertise. The sex workers who charge the highest fees describe themselves as “blue-eyed,” “blonde,” “brunette,” “the girl next door,” “the Playboy-type,” or simply a “white girl.” Occasionally, white women refer to themselves as “hot” or “busty,” but more often they are “All-American.” These are the Barbies: perfect by definition and valuable.

 

 

 

Women of color, on the other hand, know that being black offers them very little bargaining power in the market. To compete in the online sex industry, black women use references to their assets to distinguish themselves from other minority women by describing themselves as having a “big booty,” being a “freak,” “exotic,” “mixed,” “curvy,” a “video-vixen,” “Caribbean,” “juicy,” “delicious” or “nasty.” I searched for descriptions that read anything along the lines of “All-American, black girl next door.” I didn’t find a single one in my research, nor do I expect to.

 

 

 

A Craigslist ad I found, “Applying to an Escort Agency (Tips/Suggestions),” illustrates this divide between white and black sex workers perfectly. It reads:

“When applying to an *upscale* agency – research other *upscale* agencies and *upscale* independent escorts – note their body types, age, race. If you are not like them or close to them, don’t apply. It’s simple business – fat, err, I mean thick girls cannot command upscale rates – black girls are RARELY considered upscale (unless you are a legitimate 10 and have caramel complexion). Again, simple business – supply & demand.”

 

Women of color may not be blonde, or brunette playmates, but we are upscale, we are classy and we are girls next door. Many of us are even born and raised “All-American.” Many believe that we have crested a post-racial wave in American history, but even a cursory visit to the Craigslist’s Casual Encounters section reveals a very different reality. Just as prostitution was criminalized and relegated to the dark underworld, racism has been sanitized with “colorblindness,” shielding us from the realities of what it means to be “colored” in this country.

Just like these minority sex workers, women of color are attuned to a heart-breaking truth that they are valued less than their white counterparts. This reality doesn’t only exist online. It’s reflected in the music industry’s divide between the All-American sweetheart, Taylor Swift, and the curvaceous, queen bee, Nicki Minaj. It’s evident in the constant references to Serena William’s “big booty” while Maria Sharapova shows off her “bikini supermodel” body on the cover of women’s magazines. It becomes apparent at the awe over Lupita Nyong’o because she is a beautiful, dark-skinned black woman who somehow made it onto a red carpet looking like a princess (obviously as astonishing as the first black president), while Jennifer Lawrence is readily accepted as a sexy “body-positive” role model. It does not take a critical eye to see that the bodies of black women are devalued not only in the sex industry but in almost every aspect of mainstream culture.

Of course, I expect rebuttal to this claim. There will be discussions about “culture”, “socio-economic status,” the fact that racism is a thing of the past and about my “sensitivity.” Perhaps there will be an argument that the sex industry is not a true reflection of our country at large. There are always “reasons” that circumvent the simple truth: America has a deeply-rooted, racist past, present and future if we do nothing to change.

To me, racism is never hidden, it never goes unseen. It’s my reality. It is the discrimination the black sex workers face as much as it is Jennifer Lawrence being put on a pedestal. It is the millions of black women and girls who feel no sense of self worth.

We must not allow racism to hide, even in the darkest corners of our society; we must relinquish its invisibility. When racial inequality creeps into public spaces, as it does in the online sex industry, it must be confronted. Only then will it begin to be defeated.

The Frisky

This post originally appeared on The Frisky. Republished with permission.

Tags: ,
Like Us On Facebook Follow Us On Twitter
  • Nerdstradamas

    I know there is a desire to see Black women in a more respectable light. There is also a desperation to shed the one-dimensional, hypersexual stereotype of Black women, which is why it’s so easy for some of you to dismiss this article.

    But the author brings forth an interesting reality. Sex work is a field generally looked down upon, regardless of race. Yet and still, white women have the privilege of being seen as “upscale” , “innocent” or “sweet” in this line of work. This privileged can help them escape the degradation and danger of sex work in ways a black woman can’t.

    My concern is less about the perceived desirability of Black women and has more to do with Black women’s safety. They don’t have the privilege of being on the more, idk, business/consumer base oriented side of sex work. So my worry is that WOC of are more susceptible to abuse and mistreatment (because their skin color somehow warrants further disrespect). I don’t know what leads someone down the path of sex work. But I suspect it isn’t a first choice.

    And while one may not agree with sex work, I don’t think complete debasement of these women should be accepted. Like others noted – this issue of judging women based on their sexuality or lack of purity bleeds into other areas of our culture as well.

  • Medusa

    Great article! Thank you for elaborating the nuances of how race, racism, and sexism literally infiltrates every aspect of our lives. Even if you’re not in the sex industry and don’t see how it “matters”, there are still (black) women in the sex industry, and this racism affects them. It’s just another manifestation of institutionalized racism.

  • vintage3000

    If a white woman is considered “wholesome, girl next door, All American”
    even when she is a hooker, it makes me think about how desperately so many caucasians need to believe that they are superior. For some reason this angle of racism is rarely discussed, because we are too often discussing these issues from a “woe is us poor colored girls” narrative.

    Aside from that, as others have mentioned, why should we care if Black prostitutes are not generally desired in certain circles? And on Craigslist of all places? We all already know the mainstream beauty ideal is Eurocentric, which is why there are so many White women walking around with Clairol Honey Blonde #5. Reminds me of how pretty Marilyn Monroe was with her natural dark hair, but she didn’t
    become a White Beauty Ideal until she dyed her hair an unnatural whitiish
    yellow color–because so many White people love the idea of whiteness so
    much they don’t care how artificial it is.

    Last week on this site we were supposed to be up in arms about Black transgenders notbeing comfortable in women’s bathrooms. Now we should be dismayed because Black prostitutes are not considered upscale amongst other
    prostitutes. I’m just a regular person like anyone else, and don’t
    understand why women who look like me are always being told who and what
    the phuck we are supposed to be compassionate about. And I know there are women and girls forced into sex trafficking-are they posting ads on craigslist?

    I don’t know if porn actresses are considered sex workers, but I have seen
    enough thumbnail photos of IR porn where Black women are fetishized by
    large groups of caucasian males. Are we supposed to be happy about that,
    cuz it means anonymous white men are watching videos of naked,
    sweaty Black women on their knees who are surrounded by grinning white males? Is that the desirability and equality we are supposed to be fighting for now? I’m supposed to be sistren with women who advertise their services with words like ‘juicy, nasty’ etc. to compensate for not being considered upscale by men who are paying for blow jobs. Please.

    • eve-audrey

      Thank you