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Pornhub’s “Black Lives Matter” Genre and the Industry’s Brash Racism

Downtime

Pornhub’s #BLM genre and the industry’s brash, underexamined racism.

Photo illustration by Slate

Outwardly, Pornhub has joined large companies such as Amazon, Twitter, and Nike in the corporate rush to put out public statements that condemn racism. @Pornhub, the site’s popular Twitter account run by Aria Nathaniel, wrote that “Pornhub stands in solidarity against social injustice,” and encouraged people to give to organizations such as the Bail Project and the NAACP. The site also promised to donate $100,000.

Around the same time, Pornhub saw the rise of a new subgenre: Black Lives Matter porn. One such video is called “White Girl Moans Black Lives Matter While Getting Fucked #BLM.” Another is “Black Anal Matters.” There is also a subcategory called BLM Protest that mainly shows Black men penetrating white women during a supposed Black Lives Matter protest. Some of these women have “BLM” written on their backs, while others are in jail cells being penetrated by Black porn performers dressed as police officers. In a classic marriage of racist themes, one video purports to show a “black lives matter thug choking out a white cop daughter.”

Spencer Bokat-Lindell asked in the New York Times last month: “Are companies taking a meaningful, if overdue, stand against racial oppression, or are they just protest-proofing their bottom lines?” Time will tell, but one company that stands out as a sure bet to keep its brash brand of racism alive is Pornhub, owned by porn media giant MindGeek.

The porn industry has a long history of depicting Black men as hypersexualized predators of white women, a trope that has its roots in the terrorism and lynching of Black men on trumped-up charges of rape, or even just for looking at white women. This has long been neatly distilled in the porn category “interracial.” That might seem to imply performers of different races having sex, but in reality, interracial porn features mainly Black men and white (often blond) women, with titles such as “Black on Blondes” and “White Sluts on Black Snakes.”

These films are produced for, marketed to, and distributed mainly to white men. One producer has said his most popular movies are those where “the purity of the sacred white women is compromised.” Another pornographer told Adult Video News, “My customers seem to enjoy black men ‘taking advantage’ of white women: seducing their white daughters and wives. The more ‘wrong’ a title is, the more appealing it is.” This explains why interracial porn geared toward white men is more dominated by Black male porn performers than any other ethnic group. Pornhub is a particular showcase for such titles. It offers 50,000 videos under “interracial.” One very popular series hosted on the site is called, variously, “Oh No! There’s a Negro in My Wife,” and “Oh No! There’s a Negro in My Daughter.”

Black women in porn are also victims of ugly racist stereotypes. Depicted as having excessive and uncontrollable sexuality, Black women are often portrayed as living in a ghetto, a setting that is sexually lawless, debauched, and brimming with “hos,” “pimps,” and “gang bangers.” Virtually every porn scene talks about “booty” in its promo text, promising lots of “big black round asses.” Black writers such as Patricia Hill Collins have explored how this fetishization is rooted in the belief that Black women are especially promiscuous and that their “booties” are the only body parts worthy of notice, reducing them to sexual objects devoid of humanity, individuality, and dignity.

The “Black ho” and “Black ghetto slut” categories are classic moneymakers for porn. As these women are penetrated by any number of men, racist stereotypes are constantly pelted at them. During the body-punishing sex, male porn performers often make reference to the woman’s skin color, and her debased status as a woman is seamlessly melded with, and reinforced by, her supposed debased status as a person of color. In the process, her race and sex become inseparable. In Pornhub’s “ebony” category, it doesn’t take long to find titles about “nasty hood bitches” and others. These videos legitimize the rape of Black women from slavery to the present day.

As a platform, Pornhub hosts both amateur and professional porn, and while it’s largely user- or studio-generated and not produced by the site, Pornhub’s leaders like to boast that a human curator monitors every video uploaded. These curators make no discernable attempt to filter for racism, hate, and content that could incite violence. (They can barely stop porn featuring minors.) As one of the most visible, visited, and prolific porn sites on the internet, Pornhub functions as a gatekeeper for the industry and one of its most important vectors. And even as it pays hypocritical lip service to Black Lives Matter, the site is profiting from the insidious stereotypes and racist images that threaten those lives.

The porn business news site XBIZ recently hosted a “virtual town meeting” with performers of color who talked about the rampant racism in the industry, from being paid less than white performers to being marginalized in interracial porn. (The industry’s racism is hardly confined to its output.) A summary of the event included a series of action items for the porn industry, including “no more mockery of people of color.” It’s hard not to be cynical about such initiatives, given that the commercial porn industry’s depiction of people of color is always one of mockery and degradation. The recent subgenre on Pornhub that sexualizes and trivializes Black Lives Matter highlights the hypocrisy of this public relations effort: With more than 1,000 such videos already on the site, Pornhub is drawing revenue from the exploitation of the protest movement, with recycled racist themes to boot.

The pornographic images that meld the racial with the sexual breathe new life into old stereotypes that circulate in mainstream society. While these stereotypes are sometimes a product of the past, they are reinforced in the present every time a user masturbates to them. They’re a powerful way to disseminate and amplify racist ideology, as they not only display the supposed sexual debauchery of Black people but also feed white fears of Black people as a dangerous and predatory group to be controlled, policed, incarcerated, and shot to protect white innocence. As one white man who self-described as “racist” wrote on irmovement.com, a site where fans post about their fondness for interracial porn, “most racists do fear blacks”—“they see the black tendency for group violence. This fear builds up into anxiety and eventually all of that anxiety and fear needs an outlet.”

The commercial porn industry and its biggest vessels like Pornhub have been given a pass to harness overt racist ideologies that would immediately be called out should they appear in any other media. For too long, the industry has used the mask of liberated sexuality to shield its racist imagery and hateful ideology, which would not be tolerated elsewhere. As we see Black men and women continuously die as a result of this manufactured “fear,” the industry must be held accountable for its role in profiting from the use of racist tropes that put at risk the lives of all Black people.

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