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A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography Paperback – December 8, 2014
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studies of pornography usually begin with images and representations of women, often grounded in european art forms. mireille miller- young instead chooses to open her study of black women in pornography with the black female body received for the visual and tactile scrutiny, under the gazing eye and probing hand of the slave master. for miller-young this was the first pornographic use of the body of the black woman. the black woman enslaved and used as `sexualized labor' is followed, historically, by the freed black woman who chooses to become an agent within photographic and cinematic pornography. once the black woman has entered the porn industry, the inquiry extends to address her reasons. the black woman in porn was silent until the 1980s, there are no documents of their identities or what happened to them after leaving porn.
the actresses working in porn, beginning with the 1980s, are the women miller-young interviewed, a few of them made careers in porn. their reasons given for entering the porn industry fall under three categories, money, exploration of one's sexual self, and fame. the actresses talked of what they want from the industry and the racist barriers facing them, citing lack of respect for black women as vested workers within the porn industry.
as a side note, the nature of respect is a continuing troubling paradox within the text, clearly stated when the author overhears at an adult video convention denigrating remarks about black erotic dancers spoken by a producer of extreme porn, who only hires white women for his films, films in which women have their heads shoved in toilets and are made to vomit. this is the industry in which actresses are subject to patently sexist remarks. however, discrimination becomes an issue when the remarks become racist. roles in which black actresses portray maids are found equally offensive and stereotypical as roles portraying ghetto whores, while black actresses believe they should not be excluded from race neutral roles such as having their heads showed in toilets if those are the roles they want to perform.
if you're asking wherein lies respect of anyone, actress or producer, white or black, within such an industry, you have to accept miller-young's distinction between `respectability' associated with women not engaged in sex work and other forms of offensive unladylike behavior and `respect' expected within the workplace as a valued worker and economic parity for work done without being penalized by race.
unfortunately, without discussing respect fuller as applicable to content and acts performed, or the meaning and importance of self-respect, or the contexts of respect, miller-young, though as she may have rightfully believed, such a discussion would have expounded on a topic too lengthy for her book, does not render her paradox any less troubling by her explanation.
`When adult films like South Central Hookers and Ghetto Hoes exploit fantasies of black women, they capitalize on historical ideas about dependent black women trading on their sexualities--sexualities that black women do not deserve or have the right to mobilize for their own pleasure and liberation. The symbolic and material impoverishment of black women's value in the sexual marketplace informs these fantasies.
In turn, this impoverished valuation of black sexuality creates the rationale for sexual economic exploitation, thus sustaining a hierarchal system of embodied worth.'
the author's inquiry is less provocative when addressing the gaze. the gaze of the spectator shifts from the male producer and consumer of porn to the black female performer who gazes outside the confines of role, as we first see her in porn clips from the 1930s, the silent performer with a saucy mischievous gaze directed beyond the camera seemingly at the male spectator, and again the 1977 when in the film, SEX WORLD, when desiree west's gaze comes near the end of the film, a look delivered by a black woman who controlled her every situational moment on screen. in recent years, the gaze of the black woman in porn is shown as moving from in front of the camera to behind the camera, as black women become directors.
miller-young uses a phrase which could describe her own method of inquiry, `discursive binary'. what topics she puts forth as her unfolding thesis are paralleled and sometimes only shadowed by perspectives from some other studies and sources. her chapter on the alliances of ghetto porn with rap videos, i recalled recent rapper and video director, 3d na'tee (nee samantha davon james) comments on some of the responses of viewers to her video WHO CAN WE RUN TO? as she wondered why her message on racism delivered in the slurred rapid paced invective filled vocal trope of the rap culture, is lost on her viewers of the video who choose to focus on her nude body as inhabiting erotic space instead of a symbol of vulnerability situated in imagery of racial violence.
mireille miller-young's inquiry shows black women in the porn acting with `erotic sovereignty and agency' using `tactics of illicit eroticism' to negotiate changes in their profession. finally, her inquiry appeals to black feminist activists to consider the porn site as a workplace wherein black women are entitled the rights and respect due all workers, whatever their workplace.