Welcome to Part II of my Big, Scary Racism Post! Don’t worry, it’s the last part. I promise I’ll be hopping off my soapbox soon enough. You think you’re tired of hearing me (and half of Heaux Twitter) talking about how prejudices surrounding race and ethnicity affect us? Imagine living with those prejudices every day of your brown-skinned life. It’s exhausting, believe me. Anyway, last week we examined the why behind some of our problematic behaviors surrounding clients and sex workers of color*. This week I want to focus on some of the ways that those prejudices show themselves and what kind of actions we can all take to, well to be blunt, to make things a little less fucked up for everybody.
Oh, one last thing before we jump into it—let me save you guys the trouble of penning sarcastic essays or passive aggressive tweets in response to what you’re about to read. I promise you that I already know:
- It’s your body and your choice. No one (least of all me) wants you to do anything with anyone that you’re not comfortable with. I might not agree with your reasons, but I fully support your bodily autonomy and my intention is not to convince you to do anything that you feel makes you uncomfortable or unsafe.
- #NotAllMen feel/think/do the things that I’m talking about. If the things I’m saying don’t apply to you— great! Consider this a reference guide for you to use when you come across someone who isn’t as enlightened as you are. There’s really no need to DM me to let me know how many black girls you’ve seen because you’re so not racist.
Okay! Let’s do this.
So if you’re a client reading this, I’m going to assume that either A) You already see providers of color, but you want to make sure that you aren’t unintentionally doing/saying anything that is making them uncomfortable or B) You haven’t seen any providers of color, but you learned so much last time (what? A girl can dream!) that you’re ready to stick your toe in the vast ocean of magical melanin and you want to make sure that you don’t embarrass yourself when you do. Either way, this is a pretty good place to start. Truth is, at the end of the day, we providers are here to make money, not lecture you on microaggressions and uncomfortable truths. Well, maybe in our blogs, but definitely not while we’re on a date. So if you recognize yourself in any of what I’m about to say, relax. It’s okay. Most escorts of color have heard all this and worse. What matters now is learning why you don’t want to make those mistakes again. Here are some tips:
- Don’t fetishize women of color. Fetishizing is when you’re attracted to, not the specific person, but the stereotypes that you believe that person represents. For example, being turned on by the idea of Asian women because you assume that they’re sweeter, more docile, and more submissive than other women. Or wanting to see a Latina because you expect her to be feistier, more passionate, or more sexually charged. Look, it isn’t entirely your fault that you feel this way. We are all constantly bombarded with these tired ass stereotypes in our movies, on our television shows, in our porn… They’re everywhere. But that doesn’t make them true. So if you’re looking for a submissive woman, look for a woman who describes herself that way. Don’t be lazy and choose the first hot Asian provider you see because you assume that’s she’s going to be just like that porn star you saw in “Memoirs of a Gay-sha” or whatever last night on Skinemax.
- Avoid exoticizing women that don’t look like you. If I had a nickel for every time that a guy made some comment about how he’d “never been with a black/Latina/mixed girl before” I’d have…. like, seven bucks. Okay, that’s not a lot of money, but that is a lot of people making me feel uncomfortable as fuck. Fine, maybe you’ve never kissed a woman with brown skin, but is pointing that out supposed to make me feel special? Lucky? I’ll tell you how it actually makes me feel— like a Pokémon. Like something for you to collect. But unlike Pokemon women don’t have special powers based on what “type” they are. Sorry to burst your bubble, but an experience with a provider of color will not be inherently different than an experience with a white provider. We may not look the same, but we’re all sisters under the skin. “But Ava, I just really adore the beautiful shade of their skin/fascinating texture of their hair/fullness of their lips…” Well that’s lovely! I’m glad you do. But making a big deal out of all the ways we’re different than the women you usually see isn’t the compliment you think it is. Having you wax poetic about the darkness of our nipples is not sexy, it makes us feel as if we should be on display under a glass case somewhere. Think about it. How turned on would you be if the first thing out of my mouth was, “Do all white men have such thin hair? Can I touch it?” or, “You’re so good looking for a white guy!”
- Please stop telling us about other women of color you’re interested in or have been with. I know it feels like a cool thing to share and maybe a way to forge some kind of connection with us, but saying things like, “I have the biggest crush on Kerri Washington!” to a black woman or “I dated a Spanish girl back in high school” to a Latina provider is mostly just unnecessary. What you may think is a subtle way of saying, “See, I’m openminded! I’m down for the swirl!” usually reads as just another method of lumping all women of color together. The girl you dated in high school has nothing to do with the provider you’re seeing now. And I’m sorry, but you do not get a Seal of Approval from The Coalition of Brown Folks because you once made out with a with a Pakistani woman.
- Be aware of your language. It may not seem like much to you, but Spanish, hispanic, and Latina are not interchangeable. Describing someone as a “woman of color” will not get you a swift kick to the balls like the phrase “colored woman” will. Oriental is a fine way to describe a rug, but a terrible way to describe a human being. As we have evolved as a society, so has the language that we use to describe people. You’re going to have to evolve, too. I know some of you are shaking your head annoyed about what you consider to be a bunch of politically correct nonsense, but think about the cringey feeling that you get when you hear someone’s grandpappy refer to Michelle Obama as a negress. Well these days, you can bet your ass that someone is cringing every time they hear you use “Spanish” as a catchall term for anyone who speaks the language. Check out the links I’ve embedded for more thorough explanations of what I’m talking about. Yes, you’ll have to break some bad habits and learn something new, but I promise you it’s worth it.
To sum it all up, I’ll answer a question that I’ve been getting a lot in some form or another recently: “Ava, I’m just trying to be friendly. What else am I supposed to talk about when I meet one of these melanin goddesses?” Answer? LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE. Don’t believe me when I say that your awkward racial chit-chat is the worst? Guys, I want you to imagine having this conversation with a white provider:
It’s awful, isn’t it? Well that’s exactly how you sound to women of color when you start spouting all your weird fetishizing silliness. Still don’t know what to say? Try any of these:
“What’s the last book you read?”
“Would you like a drink?”
“Do you have any fun trips coming up?”
“When was the last time you played paintball?”
“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you all week!”
“Are you following Ava St. Claire on Twitter? You should be!”
“What are your thoughts on postmodern architecture?”
“Do you have any pets?”
“Can you speak Pig Latin?”
“When’s the last time you had a really good massage?”
“Do you have any food allergies I should be aware of?”
“What’s your favorite Robin Williams movie?”
“Who do you think would win in a slap fight: Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye?”
“Can you tie a cherry stem into a knot with your tongue?”
“Have you heard about the new plant-based beef substitute that ‘bleeds?’”
Honestly guys, it’s not that hard. You can interact with women of color without being weird. I know you can. I have plenty of friends and clients who do. If you’re really worried about it, print all of this out and keep it in your back pocket. Then, when you’re on a date and you feel the urge to reach out and pet someone’s hair, or compliment them on how good their English is, or say something goofy about how much you just looooove you some (insert ethnicity here) women– excuse yourself to the bathroom, slap yourself, and then re-read this essay.
As many, if not most of you know, providers aren’t exempt from exhibiting problematic behaviors when it comes to how they interact with people of color. Not just with their own clients (or would be clients), but with other providers as well. So what are some things that we can do to help?
- Amplify voices of color. This mostly applies to the social media end of the sex work industry. If you’re on Twitter, retweet their new photos, share their schedules with your followers, post their original content on your own platforms (with permission, of course). Find ways to help get their names, faces, and writing across to as big of an audience as possible. We ladies of color are already at a disadvantage as far as the percentage of clients that are willing to see us, so assisting us with casting a wide net can be a huge help. If you’ve used services provided by providers of color (photography, website building, etc.) recommend them to your friends and followers. Every little bit helps and for some providers, your signal boosting might make a real difference.
- Don’t be afraid to work with other races and ethnicities. Reach out and exchange banners with providers whose branding is complimentary to yours. Help your clients broaden their horizons by offering duo dates with people of color. Include us in your photoshoots. Recommend us to your favorite clients. As long as you’re being picky about the quality of providers that you’re working with (which you probably already are because, duh), your brand will not suffer by showing the world that you’re inclusive and value diversity. If you’re worried about working together because of a discrepancy between your rates, it’s okay to discuss it together and come up with a solution that works for both of you. But don’t let that be the thing that stops you from reaching out to providers of color and embracing them as partners.
- Let your clients know that you’re inclusive. If you’re a provider without prejudice, be as loud and proud about your willingness to see good clients of all backgrounds as some providers are about their refusal. Put it on your website. Tweet it. Write it on your ads. I’ve heard it time and again from clients, there’s nothing worse than having to ask a provider if they’ll see you despite your race. Make it clear up front that race and/or ethnicity is not a factor in your screening process. Seriously, can someone make a badge or something that we can all put on our websites next to the ones for like, P411 and Slixa? Tweet me your submissions.
- Challenge other people’s prejudices. I know this one seems a little hard to swallow seeing as how, for many of us, a huge part of our job is ego stroking and being delightfully agreeable. But there are definitely ways to gently challenge other people’s prejudices without risking losing business. For example, if a client makes a racist joke in your presence, sweetly ask them to explain it. You don’t have to be combative, just bat those beautiful eyes all innocently and say, “I’m not sure I understand the joke…” Your client will be stuck explaining whatever stereotypes or prejudices that the joke is based on while, hopefully, feeling just uncomfortable enough to never make the mistake of telling a you a joke like that again. If a client refuses a duo appointment with a provider of color, ask why. The point isn’t to try and change their mind necessarily, but to challenge their beliefs just a little. Some of these guys have never given any real thought to why they feel the way they do about people of color. Forcing them to consider it may be the first step towards enlightenment. Note: challenging people’s prejudices is uniquely helpful when done by white providers. Women of color (and especially African American women) tend to get labeled with a whole slew of nasty labels when we speak out about uncomfortable subjects like racism. We’re called angry, aggressive, militant, you name it. But oftentimes it’s a lot easier for white people to hear the exact same points come out of the mouths of people who look like them. White women, use this power for good!
So there we have it, my friends! The Big, Scary Racism post that was definitely big, but hopefully not too scary. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you all sticking with me while I did my best to tackle such a huge, complicated subject armed with little more than a box of colored pencils and a good wi-fi connection. I know for a fact that I haven’t covered everything that really needs to be said about this subject, though. So please, as always, feel free to Tweet at me with your thoughts and questions. If I can’t help, I have a big, beautiful network of friends and colleagues on there who probably can. I know it’s not the most fun topic of conversation, but it’s such an important one and I’m glad you’re open to having it with me.