Analyzing “Sex Work” Through Black Herstory: Slavery by a new name

This piece was originally posted on August 23, 2020, in observance of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition.

The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition is annually observed on August 23 to remind people of the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade. It gives people a chance to think about the historic White supremacy, the methods, and the consequences of the slave trade. However, as transnational anti-imperialist feminists, we know that the abolition of the slave trade didn’t end the trafficking of Black women.

The sex trafficking of Black women is at the core of American capitalism and empire. Black women’s reproductive rights were continuously violated, as their bodies were utilized to expand the slave population and grow the American empire. The modern-day global sex trade is a direct manifestation of these practices.

This 1870s engraving depicts an enslaved woman and young girl being auctioned as property. Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The sex trade — particularly the “fancy trade” — still existed and furthered the exploitation of Black women under White settler patriarchy after the formal abolition of slavery. To this day, we can still see the patterns of slavery era practices. Now Black women and gender diverse folks are disproportionately concentrated in the sex trade.

As long as the sex trade exists, Black women will be dehumanized.

We must decriminalize all people in prostitution, but especially Black women and gender diverse people in the sex trade.

We do not whitewash the sex trade. We do not glorify it and we will never find power and liberation in it.

We do not accept the colonial slave era practices of sex buying. We deserve full liberation and will settle for nothing less.