Updated: Oct 24
BY VICTORIA SILVER
This past year has been a lot, to say the least. Pandemic aside, it has been a year of unprecedented trauma for the Black people of color in every American community. A year of seeking support from friends, family, and community as we watched Black lives be actively devalued by the legal system, police, and the nation as a whole. But how does that, and the political sphere of race relations, affect sex work and sex workers? Why, exactly, should that matter to you?
The Black Lives Matter movement changed a lot in the sex work community. It showed Black sex workers who, both client and counterpart, supported our right to exist peacefully, and showed us those who would rather remain “apolitical” while enjoying all that blackness has to offer them: from food and music, to sex and fashion. But sex work, and our right to exist as Black sex workers in peace, is inherently political.
Many adult content creators rallied to support each other in recent months, elevating the promotional content of Black sex workers via social media, sending cash to BIPOC sex workers directly, creating a sex work sisterhood of support, both emotional and financial. But is that enough in the wake of misogynistic and racist violence? I’d argue not. We need policy change, and that can’t happen without a unified front, and a fundamental understanding of exactly how Black sex workers are under threat.
Let me break it down for you. Sex work is an industry where Black women can be easily devalued for the color of our skin by both our clients and our peers. Our rates are often expected to be lower than our white counterparts, from full service to financial domination. We are seen as a subcategory, separate from the unspoken standard of whiteness—marketed as ebony—to be sought out and fetishized for the tone and darkness of our skin.
At the same time that our Blackness is fetishized, it is weaponized against us. Prospective clients who approach with words like “chocolate goddess” and “nubian princess” get rejected, and soon those phrases turn to the n-word, “white man’s whore”, and other race-based insults. It is a constant battle for basic respect.
One can not separate one struggle for liberation from another. All oppressed people are allies, and we must work together to secure and assure our freedom from said oppression. While we, as sex workers, seek decriminalization to protect ourselves from the police and those who seek to harm us, we need to understand Black people are inherently criminalized based on appearance. Compound that bias with anti-sex work policies, and we can see the discrimination clearly. Nearly 40% of adults arrested for prostitution are Black, and Black, transgender sex workers are more likely to be victimized in a violent attack than their white, cisgender counterparts, and 27% of sex workers have been assaulted by the police. Black people comprise 38% of arrests for prostitution, while only comprising 13% of the US population. Black transgender women are often assumed to be sex workers by police, just for existing.
Black sex workers face inherently more risk because they are black, and that can’t be denied.
The seemingly obvious solutions lie in decriminalization and wealth distribution. It is the only thing will keep Black sex workers, both cisgender and transgender, safer. Money provides food and housing security, access to medication, education, and transport. Decriminalization provides unrestricted access for Black sex workers to attain those things without the concern of arrest, police rape, or assault. The provision of resources to assure those in need get what they need is the bare minimum, so do the work. Get involved with your local sex work groups, and do the work to protect Black sex workers if you believe Black Lives Matter. Use your voice, and put your money where your mouth is.
WRITTEN AND EDITED BY VICTORIA SILVER
PHOTO BY LAURA CORINN