Reading Race, Reading Pornography
Over the years, a ritual has evolved around my work. Every time I tell curi-
ous strangers that I am writing a book about pornographic representations
of black women, I am met with great interest. There are often follow- up
questions, some titillated and some inspired by a kind of racialized curi-
osity, a desire to know what is distinctive about racialized pornography,
and, at times, a desire to know what is distinctive about black women’s
bodies and pleasures. The most consistent response, though, is praise for
my courage, for my brave willingness to expose pornography’s racist ex-
ploitation of black women’s bodies. My interest in how black women are
depicted in pornography is often heard—or misheard—as an interest in
how black women are violated by pornography. These experiences of being
misheard prompted me to wonder if a black feminist project on pornog-
raphy could articulate a theoretical and political stance that avoided a con-
demnation of the racism imagined to underpin racialized pornography.1
What would it mean to read racialized pornography not for evidence of the
wounds it inflicts on black women’s flesh, but for moments of racialized
excitement, for instances of surprising pleasures in racialization, and for
hyperbolic performances of race that poke fun at the very project of race?2
The Black Body in Ecstasy’s engagement with these questions requires a
critical interrogation of black feminism’s approach to representation,
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