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07.04.15 12:05 PM ET

Why Porn’s ‘Interracial’ Label Is Racist

The porn industry is very segregated by race, with sites treating black-on-white sex especially as taboo. Here’s why it’s time to break down the barriers and ditch the ‘interracial’ genre.

It’s 2015. Gay marriage is legal, transgender Americans have been given a public platform, and our first black president is finishing up his second term. Here in the United States, we’re feeling mighty progressive, which might be why porn’s blatant mislabeling of one of its most popular genres has some declaring racism.

In theory, interracial porn could refer to sex between people of different races—but it doesn’t. The term “interracial” has a much different connotation when applied to adult entertainment. Within the porn vernacular, the term interracial denotes black and white and refers mostly to black guy/white girl action. In any other business this might be considered racist, but in porn the lines aren’t as clear.

Incredulous as it may seem, the myth that women will degrade their careers by performing with black men still exists. Who purports these views is unclear, though some industry insiders have a good guess.

From booking talent for scenes to performing and delivering content to fans, Rico Shades is a webmaster, producer/director, and performer familiar with each aspect of production. “The bigger issue is with agents, there are still some agents—and hopefully the number is diminishing, but until the number is zero, that’s still too many for me—that will inform girls that interracial hurts their career. Now for the life of me, I don’t understand that,” says Shades. “Historically, if you look back over the last five to ten years, a large range of the girls that were very popular did interracial scenes—that’s not hyperbole, that’s the reality. At the end of the day, everyone from Sasha Grey to Lisa Ann, I don’t think anyone can question the level of their success in this business, and they have done plenty of interracial scenes. Plenty.”

Porn director and producer Mike Quasar has been working in the adult industry since 1991, and provides a clear porn industry perspective on the issue of genre labeling. “Everything in porn is lowest common denominator. You have to basically dumb everything down so a person can’t possibly miss what it is you are trying to put out there,” says Quasar. “Especially now, because everything is distilled down to Internet search terms, so there’s not a lot of room for non-specific creativity.”

To Quasar’s point, consumers searching for “interracial” movies have come to expect black guy/white woman action, especially when they see titles like White is the New Black or Interracial Cougar Cuckold. Insiders say that to update and/or change how porn categorizes interracial now might be too confusing for consumers. “You could certainly view it as being racist if you were predisposed to think that way, but truthfully the rationale behind it is a lot less nefarious,” says Quasar.

If interracial means black guy and white girl in the world of porn, what about scenes between Asians, Latinas, and the rest of the racial rainbow?

“In porn, they don’t count it as interracial unless a black man is in it,” says Asian porn star Cindy Starfall. “So, even though for me everyone I work with is interracial because I’ve never had an Asian co-star, it’s not labeled as interracial.” Starfall frequently finds herself performing roles that play up female Asian stereotypes. “I know men love it but sometimes I wish I could be an Asian girl with more character instead of just being the masseuse lady giving happy endings.”

Stereotypes seem to work in porn because they are easy to market. Consumers look for the material they seek online with simple, familiar search terms. Sex therapist Dr. Marty Klein says people love to categorize each other, whether it’s men categorizing women by their hair color or some other category to create differences. It doesn’t always mean it’s racist. “So long as racial categories are salient in the porn consumers’ mind, then websites and everyone else are going to use those categories for the convenience of consumers,” says Klein.

Labels and categories are selling points, not just for consumers but for some performers as well. Producers don’t always know how to categorize Spanish adult actress Maryjean. “Sometimes I’ll get labeled as African-American,” says Maryjean. “I once questioned the producers about it, I said, ‘Hey, I’m Spanish,’ and they said, ‘No, you’re black in this.’ I’m okay with my identity so I’ve never made a big deal about it.”

Whereas some performers give little thought to categorizing race within the industry, others contemplate its origins. “I do think the labeling is racist but I also think the country and the consumers are racist which is why we have this label,” says adult actress Daisy Ducati.

Nonetheless, some performers within the adult industry feel the labels are distasteful and outdated. “At some point, the ‘interracial’ category should be eliminated and it should be classified as porn, like anything else. I find it a little offensive. I don’t see myself as a black male performer; I see myself as a male performer,” says Moe “The Monster” Johnson.

Sometimes these labels can affect a performer’s bottom line. “For me personally, it doesn’t matter what nationality the girl is, my job is to deliver a quality scene. Some girls have these unbelievable notions that they should get paid more just to work with a black guy,” says Johnson. “If I work with an African-American woman and it’s not for a major company, they might ask me to do the scene for almost half of what my normal interracial rate would be.”

Porn isn’t exactly known for being fair. And that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

“White performers have more opportunities to make extra money. Girls can save certain niche markets for later in their career and then charge more for their first interracial scene and basically capitalize on the racism of the industry,” says Ducati. “Performers of color don’t have opportunities like that. No one’s going to pay me more to fuck a white person.”

The world of porn is a melting pot, and yet because of the intimate nature of the business, it’s difficult to regulate discrimination. It’s okay to be discriminatory in your sexual preferences but that gets tricky when having sex is your job.

Starlet Keisha Grey was recently featured in an “interracial” scene. “I've worked with Asians, Mexicans, etc. before I did my ‘first interracial,’ so the term in itself is just dumb,” says Grey. “I can understand that the sites that are focused on interracial porn attract that audience, but I don't like how interracial is looked at as taboo. Like why do only white girls get the chance to have their first interracial?”