I don’t treat whores like human beings. It was my sophomore year of college when I read those words in a tweet from a guy who, much later, I found out tried to rape a good friend of mine. He was one of those guys who liked to talk about body counts and IG hoe attire. He regularly denounced black women as “dick hungry whores”, and I had been added to that list after denying his sexual advances during my freshman year. I no longer followed him by the time I saw that tweet, but when I did it made me ill. He was moderately attractive, so he had a gaggle of women who retweeted his misogynistic tweets for validation and cool points. This time it was actually a male acquaintance who retweeted his foul words. I blocked the both of them right then and there, but that sentence has remained etched in my brain ever since I first read it. I don’t treat whores like human beings. He was scum as it is, but I think about all of our mutual associates who have kicked it with him since he typed those words. I think of all of our common pals who continued to follow him and recently retweeted pictures of him in a moist Ohio club with a dog leash connected to some silly girl’s neck. I only bring him up because the same people who retweet and interact with him also tweeted about the recent wave of missing girls in the DC area.
As we all know, slavery was rife with the sexual exploitation of black women. It occurred for centuries with little interference or aid for the victims, as slave women were considered property with no rights. Sexual assault on a slave was not a crime. Actually, miscegenation was almost always pinned on the black person involved. Black women were wanton and insatiable jezebels capable of seducing even the most honorable of white men into their beds. Their identity was the complete antithesis of the pure and modest white woman, whose virtue was to be protected at all costs. To be completely clear, white women were not immune to sexual abuse, but their whiteness came stamped with virtue and some value of victimhood. Assaulting a white woman, especially if you were black, was reprehensible. As reported by the equal justice initiative, nearly one in four black people lynched from 1877 to 1945 were accused of improper contact with a white woman. There was no such lynching epidemic in response to the frequent sexual assaults of black women. There was no opportunity for them to be victims because they were torpedoed by white society as sexually insatiable predators. It was a perfect excuse for antebellum era white rapists to have their way with black women. “Plenty of the colored women have children by the white men. She know better than to not do what he say.” recalled one former slave in 1937. Black women were for the taking because nobody cared about their abuse. This sentiment was echoed after slavery during the violent years of reconstruction and the Jim Crow south.
The Jezebel stereotype isn’t the only reason sexual exploitation has historically been so prevalent among black women. Through the years they did not have the social, political, or economic power to complain. In addition to the obvious violent rapes we think about, black women faced a much more sneaky kind of sexual coercion. Thanks to their carefully carved status as second class citizens, black women were often desperate for employment and money. For starters, they earned less than their white and male counterparts… which was only exacerbated by the commonality of single parent households. The desperation and helplessness of these women was preyed upon. When John Griffith secretly toured the south as a black man in Black Like Me, he encountered a particularly nasty man in Alabama who talked about how “all of the white men in the region craved colored girls.” He went on to explain the hiring requirement for his black female employees. “I’ve had it in everyone of them before they ever got on the payroll… if they want to eat… or feed their kids. If they don’t put out, they don’t get the job.” Again, desperation is a nasty reality because it keeps victims quiet. “Alabama nigger women are good about that. They won’t ever go to the cops or tell on you.” he added.
Lets state the obvious. The relative ease of committing an act of prostitution means many bills would have never been paid and many families would have gone unsupported without black and brown legs being spread. Im not just talking about career hookers who were pushed into the life by pimps or abuse during their early years; void of proper educations or support systems to keep them afloat. Nor am I just talking about the women born from the brisk sexual unions of various scarlet women and their johns; involved in the life from childhood. Im also talking about the black women who screwed their scamming landlords for a rent extension or blew a crooked cop to get the family breadwinner out of the backseat of the squad car. One can’t help but to think of the endless amounts of women who have ever been forced to sell pussy to make ends meet or simply survive the realities of poverty. Not every black woman walked down these paths, but more than enough have. Too many have been exploited both in plain sight and behind the scenes, creating a societal numbness to sexual exploitation.
A field of factors have historically led women of all races into prostitution, but racially charged poverty made black women prime candidates for the career path during the 20th century. Its because of American capitalism, wrapped in greasy wax paper with a batch of wealth disparity piled high on the side and an ice cold cup of racism to wash it all down. Women of any race, including the black one, should not be economically coerced into prostitution for survival… but they are. An even more unfortunate reality? A large portion of these women happen to be of color. It’s irreverent proof of the greed of American capitalism and a very important byproduct of our racial history that too many people look past when justifying the exploitation of our women. There is no justification for a country that pushes women into sexual exploitation for basic quality of life, though soulless humans do manage to scrape up crappy excuses involving accusations of immorality and laziness. But what about the immorality and laziness of the cops and the justice system? Why do prostitution laws seem to largely punish the girls and women involved more than the men? Its a conversation that receives little play from prominent black voices.
Now how does everything I just said tie into the epidemic of missing black girls?
The mainstream media doesn’t care too much about missing black girls or their sexual abuse. Airtime is often tied up with missing upper class white women and teens. When black girls go missing they are usually categorized as runaways. Shit, a lot of people don’t even think runaways are worth looking for. They don’t think about what the girls are running from; instead theorizing that they’re probably off being “fast” with a boyfriend. They don’t think about the people these girls can run into, who know nobody is really looking for them. They don’t think about the breaking in. The gang rapes. The degradation. The beatings. The dehumanization.
Most of us have only heard about these girls on social media, making it feel like nothing is being done. Adding to the sense of helplessness is the very unfortunate truth that not enough black people think about sexually exploited women or how they came to be.
When I see tweets on the timeline of people asking about the recently publicized disappearances of DMV area girls, its bittersweet. Sweet because people are paying attention but bitter because this is a bigger beast than people are comprehending. For every girl found, another girl goes missing. Human trafficking has been thriving under the radar long before the recent news of 64,000 missing black girls and women surfaced. Furthermore, black girls have been the prime targets of pimps and sex trafficking for decades now. In fact, 40% of sex trafficking victims are estimated to be black, a disproportionately high number when considering we only make up `13% of the population. It is a problem that can only be fixed by radical change, not retweets and relying on police. The first wave of radical change comes about by attacking attitudes and harmful ideologies that put our girls at risk. It begins with making people aware of how we perpetuate the system of sexual exploitation.
At the very top of the list is capitalism, which is an entire beast of its own. But on a simpler level, our attitudes contribute to the apathy of black human trafficking victims. Most people have a hard time connecting kidnapped girls and runaway victims with career hookers. For most people if there is any empathy for a young runaway or kidnapping victim, it is gone by the time she is broken and fully immersed in the life. She “could get out if she wanted,” as a former acquaintance would put it, ignoring the harsh realities of intense mental and sexual abuse that create some lifelong sex workers. But I saw that same acquaintance tweet his dismay about those missing girls in DC. He, like most people, doesn’t think about the fact that most of these girls grow up to become the women that he and too few others care about. They think about hoes versus women, good girls versus fast girls. They care about the women and the good girls while blaming the fast girls and hoes for their misfortune.
The gag? You can’t care about one group and not the other. These groups are two components of one fluid cycle. A cycle built on the fast girl vs good girl ideologies and hoe versus housewives mentalities. The kind of cycle that loves to say troubled young girls who attract the attention of grown men are asking for whatever bad things might happen to them. A cycle strengthened by a society that encourages poor self esteem and body shame in young girls. Per a forensic psychologist to CNN on sex trafficking victims, “What is similar to some of those girls that I work with is their self-esteem or lack thereof. You either become vulnerable to a man on the street or a man you meet in school. You become vulnerable because you’re looking for attention.” This is a cycle catalyzed by devaluing girls who don’t have fathers and women who don’t have men. You know, putting relationship and familial love over self-love. Shoutout to the fatherless jokes and “you’re bitter because you’re single” roasts. This is a cycle well oiled by the people who dismiss R Kelly’s sexual abuse of black teen girls because they “wanted to get peed on.” You know, it was okay for a grown man to forget the law and any semblance of human decency because his teenage victims “wanted his attention and they got it.” Most of all it is a cycle that relies on society’s apathy for whores. There will always be men like the asshat who tweeted that he doesn’t treat whores like human beings. But the power we choose to give these men is what makes them so dangerous. People still followed that sexual predator after his endless tweets of misogyny. People assumed he was joking or even worse, they simply didn’t care. They approved an attitude that is permissive of violating whores and sluts, freaks and jezebels. Their reasoning? “Don’t be a hoe if you don’t want to be treated like one.” With attitudes like these, they justify violent behavior and create an endless pool of victims.
The line between hoe and “woman” is subjective to whoever wants to justify dehumanization or violence. Anybody can be a hoe. Anybody can be “asking” for it. The woman who has a body count of 9 or the chick with two bodies and unfortunate revenge porn on the timeline. The 9th grader who has a poor reputation because all of the girls in her grade are jealous and mean. This is a particular hardship for black women, who face sexual policing in their music, religion, entertainment, and social environments. This country has a deeply rooted tradition of classifying black women as jezebels, incapable of being victims. Think about Mrs Recy Taylor, who was raped by six men in 1944 Alabama. “Nigger aint $600 enough for raping your wife?” the group’s lawyer inquired to her husband Willie while he considered dropping the rape allegation. Most of the men had admitted to raping Recy to the authorities. Before executing the assault at gunpoint, one of the men said “act just like you do with your husband or I’ll cut your damn throat.” After the case was dismissed by an all white jury and a second investigation was launched thanks to efforts from Rosa Parks and others, Recy’s name was dragged through the dirt. The local sheriff said she was “nothing but a whore around Abbeville”, and claimed that she had been treated for venereal disease before. One of the rapists admitted that they had been out looking for a woman to rape that night. Four of the seven men countered “that she was essentially a prostitute and willing participant” in her attack. The all white jury for a second time refused to indict.
Many toxic attitudes in the black community are regurgitated leftovers of white supremacy. Too many of our own men can only see us as troublesome, no good, dirty THOTS…. or good, regal, and modest queens. To too many men, there is no gray area, nor any consideration of circumstance or abuse. There are only good women and there are BAD hoes… there are respectable women and there are whores who are ALWAYS asking for it. You’d be a fool to not notice that this idea trickles down to our young girls. The ones called fast. The ones who are told they are asking to be sexually abused because of shapely bodies, thick lips, or age appropriate interest in the opposite sex. Those 50-60% of black girls who are sexually assaulted by the age of 18. The girls often blamed for their own abuse. These are the girls that nobody cares about exploiting because some men don’t treat whores like human beings. This socialization lies at the intersections of American racism, patriarchy, and classism. This is all alarming and relevant because black females are trapped between being “good women” or whores to so many in our community. Because being a good woman is subjective, the slut-shaming, victim blaming, and misogynistic attitudes we allow to exist unscathed are putting our girls and women at risk. We are projecting an atmosphere of apathy; an atmosphere that permits troubled girls to be snatched up with little alarm. In an Urban Institute study, sex traffickers operated under the belief that “white women would make them more money but trafficking black women would land them less jail time if caught.”
To be clear, all girls of all races are at risk of sex trafficking and it isn’t just a black issue. Nor is it a lone American issue, as human trafficking is prevalent around the world. But because of the historically rooted tradition of sexually exploiting black women (and ignoring them) in this country, the risk for our girls is intensified. We MUST do what we can to alleviate that risk; beginning with understanding how we contribute to the problem. It isn’t enough to be shocked that 64,000 black girls and women are missing right now.
This essay is just scratching the surface. My second book is a thorough analysis of black sexuality, exploitation, and relationships (and how they all intertwine) that you won’t want to miss.
- Black Girls and the (Im)Possibilities of a Victim Trope: The Intersectional Failures of Legal and Advocacy Interventions in the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Minors in the United States
- Dirty Secret: Online Sex Trafficking of Black Girls [EBONY Special Report]
Female Students and Cultures of Violence in Cities (Julia Hall)
- Getting Played: African American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence (Jody Miller)
- Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities