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DON'T CONFLATE THE FETISHIZATION OF BLACK BODIES WITH THE CARE FOR BLACK LIVES

Don’t Conflate The Fetishization of Black Bodies With The Care For Black Lives

The white supremacist fetishization of Black bodies is often conflated with a care for Black lives, but white desire is no evidence of care for Black folks.

Sex is a utility. It always has a use and there is always an intention behind it, whether or not people are conscious of that use and intention. The way that sex has been framed in the social imagination strips it of this truth, especially in a society that is simultaneously hyper-sexualized and sexually repressed. After centuries of influence by and oppression through Christianity and colonialism, dominant ideas about sex are cultivated through misogyny, heteronormativity, queerphobia, compulsory monogamy, and more restrictive forms of thought and social practice. Very significantly, our ideas of sex and its functions are also incredibly informed by racism. 

I often write about sex as utility, even though I have not always named it as such. But “sex as utility” is what is at the crux of my thought process whenever I argue that de-centering and de-pedestaling sex—ceasing to falsely regard it as an activity that defines humanness—will serve us as a whole, but especially asexual and aromantic folks. I have now come to understand that “sex as utility” is also at the heart of my theorization when I argue that white supremacy itself is a sexual fantasy. And when I say “sex” here, I do not mean only the act of sex itself, as in the colliding of bodies in various pleasurable ways. I also mean everything surrounding sex—one’s sexual desirability or appeal, one’s sexual attraction, one’s sexual proclivities or “preferences,” one’s reproduction as a result of sex acts. 

The uses of sex are many. Anti-Black—internalized or otherwise—and white supremacist uses of sex seem to now stand at the threshold between taboo and socially-acceptable. People of all races are encouraged towards demonstrating their anti-Blackness through sexual expression or finding sexual gratification in racist spectacles, especially through pornography. A friend recently sent me a screenshot of Pornhub’s website with a banner saying, “We commit to stand in solidarity and take action with the Black community as they rightfully demand justice. That’s why from June 6th-12th only ebony videos will be available on our website.” I immediately questioned whether or not it was even real. Rumor has it that it was real, but Pornhub took it down after receiving complaints. I do not know whether those alleged complaints came from angry racists, from users who immediately recognized how problematic it was, or both.

The image was very likely created as a commentary on and an example of the absurdity of certain companies claiming solidarity with Black communities while profiting from anti-Blackness. Pornhub, like many other porn sites, is brimming with racist content featuring white performers saying “n*gger pussy” and “n*gger dick” during scenes with Black people, as well as videos with titles that intentionally play into hundreds of years of propaganda about the inherent sexual deviancy of Black people—particularly the animality of Black men and the sexual accessibility of Black women. Regardless of whether or not this image is real, what is remarkable about it is the fact that it is wholly believable and, frankly, unsurprising that a porn site would implement something like it as a form of “activism” for and “solidarity” with Black folks. 

We have had the misfortune of witnessing multiple people carrying signs that do the same kind of work at recent protests against police brutality. A white woman carries a sign embellished with an eggplant emoji which reads, “I only suck Black [dick]” and, at the bottom in much smaller text, “Fuck racism.” Elsewhere, a Black man proudly hoists up his own sign reading, “Your daughters love every INCH of us so why can’t you?!” And yet another person declares, “We just need to keep fucking each other until we’re one color.” A Black Power fist punctuates their words. I read these signs and I almost involuntarily begin to ruminate on the many ways that race gets wrapped up in sexual politics; how so many people use sex in ways that uphold racist ideology.

When we don’t acknowledge how the uses of sex can and sometimes do align with white supremacy and anti-Blackness, white people can easily convince themselves that fucking Black people and making children with them automatically absolves them of any racism. They feel confident in using their engagement with Black desirability and sex as a shield against any accusations of racist behavior. Moreover, they offer it as evidence of their anti-racism or support for Black lives. It also means that a lot of Black people are too easily convinced of the lie that white desire for Black bodies provides them with a value that, according to white supremacy, is not inherent to Black people. They can root their entire lives, being, and identity in that white desire and find themselves lost and without direction in the moments when they feel it is lacking. This need for white desire can and often does extend to other spheres of their lives. 

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Sex as utility is an integral and intentional part of white supremacy. The way sex is used and has been used to reify white ascendant ideals of personhood is revealed in the ways that entire Black communities and lives have been destroyed under the guise of protecting white women from Black men’s sexual appetites—consider Emmett Till, the Scottsboro Boys, the Central Park Five, and many more unnamed and unknown to us. It is also revealed in the practice of Black men beholding white women as “upper echelon” sex objects, usually as a (sub)conscious means of conquering what Black men have long been forbidden from, sometimes even under pain of death. We see it in the coveting of mixed babies, especially ones with light skin and “good hair.” Reproduction and building families becomes another means of valuing whiteness and proximity to whiteness while devaluing Blackness. 

The fetishization of Black people continues to be a mask for the dehumanization of Blackness itself, but so many have swallowed the lie that white desire is somehow evidence of care for Black life. White consumption does not grant us our humanity, it never has and never will. Rather, it is invested in segmenting and reducing us into easily consumable pieces for their pleasure. We become only our Black skin, only a Black phallus, only a Black pussy, only a Black ass, only a Black body. White folks have proven over centuries that they do not need to view us as human, or even alive, in order to find sexual gratification through the engagement with and degrading of our bodies. 

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How unfortunate that these ideas about white desire are so ingrained that so many people continuously use sex as a lens for understanding racial solidarity and activism for Black lives. Even though they may not name it explicitly as such, they recognize that there is utility in sex—however futile might it be; sex as an answer to racism, sex as a defense against accusations of racism, sex as a tool of anti-racism, sex as a means of creating a post-racial world. 

This is why it is entirely possible and believable that an entity like Pornhub would offer “only ebony videos” as a form of activism, because offering up Black people as conduits for sexual pleasure is something white folks do daily and have done for generations, and something that many Black folks, unfortunately, willingly participate in as well. It’s why people are unabashedly showing up to protests against anti-Black state violence and police brutality with signs that posit sex as a utility of racial solidarity and unity. People of all races have been duped into locating their humanity and value, and the humanity and value of others, in sex. It follows that some would put forth sex, and how they use it, as a misguided way to assert the value of Black lives. 

RECOMMENDED: How The Colonial History of Hypersexualization Obscures the Possibility of Black Asexuality

But Black humanity is innate. It exists outside of the scope of whiteness and it will never be evidenced by white desire. To buy into the myth that it will, to ever expect white folks to recognize the value of Black life simply because of their desire for Black bodies and fetish for fucking Black people, is a practice of futility and foolishness. I hope that the world will abandon it some day soon. 

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Sherronda (she/they) is an essayist, editor, and storyteller writing pop culture and media analysis through a Black feminist lens with historical and cultural context. They often find themselves transfixed by Black monstrosity, survival, and resistance in the horror genre and its many fantastical narratives, especially zombie lore. Read more of their work at Black Youth Project.

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