Once upon a time, men and women operated under the guise of this oft-forgotten principle known as discretion. Prostitution might be the oldest profession in the world, but it wasn’t until recent years that soliciting or offering sex for money — either overtly or in understood arrangements — became a glamorous proposition about which to publicly boast. These days, concepts like slut walks and sugar daddy-type websites have us believing not only is any exchange of money for sexual services as normal as buying a coffee at Starbucks, the practice is also as common as such.
To be honest, I’ve always had the perception that this kind of behavior is universally understood as a stepping stone to the role of trophy wife (or well-paid mistress) among some Caucasian women — not out of racial prejudice, but for the simple fact that white men generate more wealth than anyone else in this country. And older white men have been known to want young arm candy to show off that money from time to time. But a new exposé in Vanity Fair suggests a large number of young black women are sticking their hands in the sugar cookie jar, too, in hopes of sealing their financial fate.
In the piece, “Daddies, ‘Dates,’ and the Girlfriend Experience: Welcome to the New Prostitution Economy,” writer Nancy Jo Sales speaks with a number of “sugar babies” — male and female — who sleep with older men, or offer up some kind of sexual experience, for money, clothes, electronics, and other goods in return. The decision to join web sites like Seeking Arrangement, whose members include“sugar daddies” who pay “allowances” for the company of “sugar babies,” for many was born out of a peculiar mix of necessity and greed. A number of men and women universally understood to be white (though not identified as such, which matters later), explained hooking up with sugar daddies to pay their rent, pay off school loans, or avoid working to focus on their studies. Then there were others, like a small blonde who confessed, “I’m just looking for someone to pay for my boob job.” And another woman who proclaimed, “I do it for the Chanel.”
But an interesting notion came to the forefront when black women were brought into the conversation — most notably at first because their race was identified when no one else’s had been before. But as the writer goes on to describe the scene at a Seeking Arrangement event at a swanky hotel in Austin, she observed:
There are a lot of young black women here. “I’m kind of surprised,” says a young black woman named Nicole, 25, “but not really. They’re probably here for the same reason I am, which is there’s a lot of racism on the site, like guys will just openly say, ‘No black women,’ so maybe they thought they’d have a better chance in person.”
Nicole is lovely and has a job as an executive assistant. I ask her why she’s seeking an arrangement. “I want to start a handbag line,” she says. “I have all these great designs and ideas. And I just don’t see how I could ever get together the capital. So an investor would really help.”
She seems to truly believe the Seeking Arrangement marketing, that she might find that supportive, encouraging person here. We look around the room. There’s a John McCain with his hand on the behind of a young black girl. Her smooth skin looks so young and fresh in the lamplight, next to his wizened face.
There was a part of me that wondered, when I first began to put this article together, whether black women have been taking too many cues from white women. Whether more of us than we’d like to believe suffer from the Montana Fishburne syndrome of believing we can do the same things white women do (like build an entire empire on the strength of a sex tape) and yield the same results. And that the whole Instagram model phenomenon is just a manifestation of that syndrome coupled with African Americans’ equally detrimental new-money disease where showing rather than sowing is a way of life. But reading Nicole’s account filled me with a conflicting sense of disgust that, even in attempting to engage in such a questionable means of seeking success, racism was ever-present — as if a white man shouldn’t have to pay a black woman for sex — the same racism that breeds discriminatory hiring and loan practices that keeps young women of color from being able to raise their own capital in more socially acceptable ways and become entrepreneurs. White women are looking for breasts, black women are trying to start businesses — socioeconomics are always at play, even in what some would consider the lowest of professions.
But then I had to ask myself, who are all these black women seeking sugar daddies (since the author made a point to say there were a lot of them)? And does that match with the overarching image of the black woman that I know to be true? Further does it matter, if you consider the concept of sexual agency that in this day and age has removed a great deal of the stigma surrounding “sugar babies,” which are essentially prostitutes by another name. There’s also the school of thought that prostitution is just physical labor, no different from delivering packages for UPS or mopping a floor at night, just a bit more glamorous, perhaps from the outside looking in. In that light, it’s not all that hard to see why a young woman pressed for cash who’s probably spent more time scrolling through the ‘gram than Forbes would go this route. But for black women, knowing the rules aren’t the same — so much so that Seeking Arrangement has an offensively stereotypical guide to being a “Brown Sugar” Baby that suggests if you play your cards right your race can be a plus not a hindrance — has it really come to this?
Vanity Fair has certainly given me something to ponder as I question whether the author’s party observation might be replicated in cities across America or was just a half-assed attempt at inclusion. You know the type that always makes me wonder why this is the discussion someone made the decision to pull black women into when we’re left out of so many others? While I’m not naive to believe that there are no black women who’d classify as sugar babies, and perhaps even a large number, I need to hear about that life from us.