Have you ever watched porn after masturbating? Have you ever, while your discretion isn’t clouded by raging hormones, taken a clear and analytical look at what’s on display? The first time I really noticed what I was watching — the first time a hilariously terrible script and blatant racism shocked me out of my sexual stupor and into lucidity — started off fairly routinely.
I stole the usual furtive glance over my shoulder to confirm my solitude, my fingers hit my most familiar keyboard shortcut (control + shift + N), and I started the video with the usual elevated heart rate and ragged breathing. I paused it five minutes later, stifling incredulous laughter in deathly fear of attracting attention.
The actress, whom I knew (because I watch a lot of porn) to be American-born Chinese, declared in a laughably obvious faux accent that she was a Japanese exchange student in search of some big, white, American cock. She explained that her friend had told her about the prodigious size of white penises, and she had to see it for herself. “You see, Asian men penis very small,” she giggled, bringing her hand up with thumb and forefinger implicatively close together. Seemed like a good enough reason to him. He pulled down his pants and whipped it out. Between exaggerated moans, she continued to monologue endlessly on the tiny Asian penises of her supposed home country, their inadequacy and the big, white cock’s superiority. My testosterone was largely drowned out at this point. I had to stop and think, “For Christ’s sake, why?”
“What you do in the privacy of your bedroom is your business.” We don’t want to know about one another’s fetishes, because it doesn’t matter. This sentiment isn’t entirely wrong. So long as it’s consenting adults and no one gets hurt, who cares? But while our porn may not generate inherent harms, it displays plainly our cravings because, like any manufacturers, pornographers cater to demand. The porn industry appeals to those feelings we typically bury and deny, surfacing only when all better judgment and composure is relinquished. It shows us what we look for when no one else is looking. What is it we the people of the Internet want to see?
If porn is to be believed, we want to see black men as thuggish, uneducated and rough — not as equal partners but as tools to degrade white women with someone beneath their station. We cast them as the unruly prisoners, the home invaders, the tools for filial disrespect — what would her daddy think? We want to see black women as low-class, mouthy and undesirable — people to be shown their place, not to be made love to. They play the sassy housekeepers, disobedient students, law-breaking hookers and petty thieves, and are shut up and punished with harsh, violent sex. We want to see Asian women as exotic, hyperfeminine, dutifully servile. Their roles are accented foreigners, schoolgirls, maids and masseuses, with their coquettish pretension dropped for eagerness at the first sight of a white cock. The Asian man is mentioned in passing as the inadequate, emasculate foil to his white counterpart — a useless cuckold. He is powerless, weak, conquered and absent. She is the spoils of war, eager to please her superior new master. It depicts a colonial sexuality long banished from public acceptability, a relic of a bygone era wherein sex was a reification and expression of power.
And while this particular manifestation of racism is limited largely to the privacy of our hard drives, the underlying ideas are not. Consciously or not, the same impulses that inform our fetishes inform our actions in the public sphere. Data from OkCupid from 2009-14 show that Asian men, black men and black women are subject to increasingly unfavorable prospects of dating other races. When trying to name a single instance of an Asian male character having any romantic encounter in American media, my mind comes up empty. The original ending of the film “Romeo Must Die” had an Asian male kissing a non-Asian actress. The scene tested so poorly that the kiss was changed to a tight hug. A study of West Coast business undergraduates showed that its subjects perceived Asian men as having less charisma than identical white counterparts. They perceived Asian Americans as being less competent salespeople and more competent engineers — more skilled technically, yet less capable of leading. As recently as 2013, a cereal commercial featuring a black husband and white wife faced virulent backlash and disgust. In both simulated and real-world hiring scenarios, being black puts job seekers at a significant competitive disadvantage. And in a show of disregard for basic equality and human rights, black Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested in police encounters, are arrested 3.73 times as much for marijuana despite identical usage rates and, for largely identical crimes, are four times as likely to be sentenced to death.
Vulgar, racially charged, politically incorrect pornography may not be a problem in and of itself. Two (or more) consenting adults don’t get hurt (unless they want to be). But these dominant pornographic representations are symptomatic of ideas pervasive throughout our culture, bubbling just beneath the surface. Just as we stigmatize sex as sin but engage in its irrepressible pleasures nonetheless, we push racist thoughts from the forefront of our minds but fail to eliminate them. These ideas are relegated to an adjacent space in our mind full of perceived evils and corruptions we just can’t deny. We insist we aren’t racist, that we don’t “see race,” but our actions and our pornography speak unknown and uncomfortable truths about what we feel.