Ain’t I A Human? Why Full Deregulation of the Sex Industry is Full Anti-Black
June 8, 2021
This post is a primer by Black women on Black women and the sex trade. This primer contextualizes racist tropes against Black women, racist depictions of Black men, and prison abolition. The American slave trade shapeshifted into two modern industries: prison and prostitution. Tellingly, only one industry — the one that disproportionately impacts men — faces widespread condemnation among organizers within the institutional American Left. Today’s sex industry — which disproportionately impacts women — is defended with humanitarian, harm reduction and “human nature” arguments similar to those used by 19th century defenders of chattel slavery. Fortunately, a revolutionary class of organized women is rising to expose how the sex industry is not socially necessary and not invested in any future without BIWOC as a permanent underclass.
AF3IRM is a multi-issue, grassroots organization for revolutionary feminist thinking, training, and movement-building in the United States and its colonies. AF3IRM opposes all racist traditions, including buying and selling Black women for sexual labor. AF3IRM opposes all racist systems including prison and prostitution. AF3IRM supports equal survival, safety, and liberation for Black women.
AF3IRM works to decriminalize the stereotyped, stigmatized and exploited — Black women, Native women, women of color, women with Disabilities, and proletarian women and LGBTQ people. Decriminalization of the exploited is urgent but inadequate. Lack of oversight and regulation on any destructive industry leads to mass destruction. We live in reality, not some theoretical simulation. In reality, even when regulated, an industry is always two steps ahead of public agencies and twice as powerful. We know that as long as the sex industry exists as a system, so will the systemic rape, torture, disappearance and murder of Black women. We want to break apart slave systems, not manage them. We call on readers to unite to create new, effective policies that actually advance Black liberation.
Who wrote this:
Kenzie, a Black woman and lifelong progressive. She asserts Black Lives Matter — pimps profits don’t. The slogan and political movement “sex work is work” is intrinsically anti-Black, even if some BIWOC participate. Abolition of the sex industry is the only policy compatible with ending anti-Black racism.
The whitewashed Pretty Woman fantasy sold around “sex work” is such a far cry from Black women’s reality that it is a grotesque mockery of Black women’s condition. We need to show the link between the sex trade and the slave trade in order to check well-meaning progressives who are promoting this abusive industry in the name of bodily autonomy. For Black women, the sex trade and slave trade are two male-led, white-led institutions that are actually one in the same. The sex trade is a direct continuation of the slave trade.
To hide this connection, today’s sex trade expansionists have lifted tactics straight from the handbook of slave-traders and their apologists. Just as the term “sex work” was deliberately introduced to sanitize prostitution, so the slavers tried to rebrand their trade as simply a job like any other. In a letter dated April 1st, 1789, a strategist for the slave trade based in the West Indies suggested renaming “the Negroes” to “assistant-planters” instead of “slaves” in order to quell the “violent outcries against the slave trade.” The same text argued that “work in the Plantations is not harder, or more oppressive, than that of our common labourers in England, such as miners, blacksmiths, founders, paviours, scavengers, coal heavers and many others” — sound familiar? “Sex work is a job like any other under capitalism. Sex work is work.”
Second wave Black feminist bell hooks explained how plantations morphed into brothels as American slavery took on new names and forms after abolition. Prostitution guaranteed uninterrupted access to Black women’s bodies after the 13th Amendment. Prostitution is the new plantation:
“Once slavery ended and whites declared that no black woman regardless of her class status or skin color could ever be a “lady”, it was no longer socially acceptable for a white man to have a black mistress. Instead, the institutionalized devaluation of black womanhood encouraged all white men to regard black females as whores or prostitutes. Lower class white men, who had had little sexual contact with black women during slavery, were encouraged to believe they were entitled to access to the bodies of black women. In large cities their lust for black female sex objects led to the formation of numerous houses of prostitution which supplied black bodies to meet the growing demands of white men. The myth perpetuated by whites that black women were possessors of a heightened sexuality encouraged white male rapists and sexual exploiters.”
The promotion of the sex trade in the name of the bodily autonomy of women is as asinine as the defense of the slave trade on the basis of the labor freedom of Black people —the sex trade is the antithesis of the very values liberals claim that it represents. Far from being women taking control of their sexuality, the slave trade and sex trade are expressions of men seizing control of women’s sexuality. Far from being women owning their bodies, they are men owning women’s bodies. And far from being women’s sexual liberation, they are women’s sexual subjugation. Nobody knows this better than black women who, in America and beyond, are overwhelmingly the ones selling sexual access.
Racial capitalism deprives Black women of opportunity and leaves us with nothing but our bodies to sell. If Hollywood “casting couch” culture is wrong, then so is the entire sex industry. If it’s an abuse of power to threaten someone’s livelihood to get consent to sex, then “consensual sex work” is an oxymoron. The point and purpose of the sex trade is to create a safe space for the exploiter class, almost always a man with privilege and power, to coerce the exploited, usually a Black woman or girl of marginalized status, into sexual acts. Specifically, sexual acts that the woman does not want and otherwise would not partake in without the threat of impoverishment, homelessness, starvation, or even worse.
The push for “sex work” is as racist as the institution itself is. The “sex work is work” narrative centers an elite minority of bougie, middle to upper class Western white women whose careers are built on the backs of the silent majority of impoverished, racialized, colonized women, whose exploitation the sex industry depends on to exist.
The insistence that we focus on examples when the sex trade is a “choice” perpetuates the exact racist stereotypes that contribute to Black women’s oppressed condition. As Black women and other women of color are over represented across the industry, this dogma logically insinuates that we are naturally hypersexual and electing en masse to give strange men sexual access to our bodies. Obviously, this damaging and dangerous myth about black women is not true, and neither is the neoliberal rhetoric promoting it as empowering.
The sex trade is a key source of racist tropes against Black women. This applies to the United States and globally. There is no evidence that a legal sex trade reduces stigma against Black women. Here are sex buyer attitudes about Black women from men in countries that have “decriminalized sex work:”
“Last week I went to Italy. Colleagues at our branch office quickly educated me on where to find them. Lots of women from Africa are in street prostitution here, because they don’t get much money from the state, unlike they do in our country Germany. Those nigger-sluts offered themselves starting at 30 euros and didn’t know a thing about condom use or simply didn’t have any. Had to bring my own condoms.” — German sex buyer
“The nigger sluts have been standing next to roads in Italy for over thirty years now. Used to tour around there in a truck. All you gotta do is open your eyes and you will find them standing by nearly any arterial highway near big cities. [Addressed censored] by the freeway exit was pretty infamous during my time and frequented by up to 50 Africans.” — German sex buyer
Once driven into the sex trade by systemic racism and socioeconomic factors, the white supremacist, male supremacist onslaught on black female bodies only intensifies. Buyers, most of whom are well-to-do white men, often select women on the basis of racist and colonialist stereotypes, imposing their doubly degrading fantasy onto them:
“‘African girls’ are very popular with ‘dominant’ men who want to ‘try things out’ without being thrown in jail — said things being extremely rough sex, marketed…as something black women ‘enjoy’.”
The engrained racism of the trade is the inevitable result of the inherent sexist objectification of Black women in it— once human beings are reduced to products, the next step is ranking and categorizing them as such. The color of the women’s skin is used as a selling point. Skin color as a selling point proves that “sex work” is not the commodification of “labor” or “services,” but people and bodies.
Esohe Aghatise is an international lawyer who founded the non-profit Iroko in the Italian city of Turin, which is a support and advocacy service for women and girls trafficked from Nigeria into Europe. According to Esohe:
“This is a classic racist stereotype about black women. Black women are considered as exotic sexual objects that white men buy and use in ways that they would not use other women. The kind of “sexual services” they would demand from these “savages” is reliant on a mythical belief that they have a high threshold for pain, so they can carry out different kinds of atrocious activities on their bodies because [black women] are not seen as human, they are closer to the apes.”
Sure as the commodification of women degrades all women, Black women and girls in particular are first in line to be bought and sold — and the world responds accordingly. Many civilian Black women have stories of being mistaken for prostitutes, recounting how degrading and humiliating it is. Black women and girls know that we are being viewed as a plaything and not a person. Black women are hypersexualized, with black girls as young as six being perceived as older and more knowledgeable about sex. Black girls’ overrepresentation in the sex trade is a direct cause and consequence of the racist “adultification” of Black girls. Many pimps specifically target Black women knowing that they will be unbothered because Black women are so unprotected and uncared for. Hundreds of missing Black girls disappear into prostitution rings every year. The pornography industry is so racist that it literally produces sexual minstrel shows that look like Black Lives Matter protests — it sexualized BLM to make it less serious. The porn industry shamelessly eroticizes our oppression, sexualizes racist tropes that get black men lynched and black women raped, promotes Black men as hypermasculine brutes who can’t wait to get their hands on and dicks in white women, and Black women as ghetto sexpots who live for sucking cock. And, to add insult to injury, across the industry Black women are paid less for worse treatment.
Prostitution is as white supremacist as it is patriarchal, pornography is as racist as it is sexist, the sex industry is as anti-black as it is anti-woman. The commodification of women’s bodies comes down to men controlling women’s bodies, white people appropriating the very lives of Black people, and yet another way the Global North exploits the Global South. Of course decriminalize women and LGBTQ, but the rest of the sex trade is beyond reform.
Prostitution is a system based on wealthy white men weaponizing privilege and power to force sexual access to impoverished women of color. The continued existence of the sex trade is antithetical to women’s liberation, to Black liberation, to queer liberation, to worker’s liberation, to national liberation, to decolonization, to self-determination and autonomy of both the individual and the collective, and to a broader people’s liberation. If there ever was such a thing as “white feminism” or “radical liberalism,” it is embodied in the prioritization of the pleasures and profits of a privileged few over the safety and lives of the marginalized majority. These confused ideologies afflict the “progressive” endorsement of “sex work.”
Hearten. Our revolutionary movement is growing as we link arms from Hawaiʻi to New York. To my sisters, brothers, and siblings, like a certain socialist King once said: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”