The first part of this round table is here.
Harmony: How do you feel white supremacy shows up in the sex workers’ rights movement? How does that white supremacy complicate activism intended to protect sex workers of color from the police and other violent institutions? How does it make you feel knowing women like Maggie McNeill, who have written blatantly racist articles exposing their hatred of people of color, like this one, are still called on for their “expertise” on sex work?
Phoenix: Most activists I know are white and incredibly low key racist. It seems that a lot of sex work activism is like white feminism—white cis women are the standard and everything is based around them. Women of color/non-male people of color get left behind pretty frequently.
There’s also the whole “we have one struggle” thing. It’s like white feminism (TM). White women are quick to point to patriarchy as a source of problems while ignoring that we also face racism, colonialist legacies, etc. It’s the same with sex workers. Too often things are solely framed around sex workers’ rights in regards to slut shaming/stigma, bargaining, decrim, capitalism, etc. Little is discussed about the racism sex workers of color face from society, and in the industry, both from clients and fellow workers. And of course, it all reinforces things like the idea that black clients are hyper-masculine, hyper-sexual, and dangerous. Not because they’re clients but because they’re black men. There’s also an assumption that as a black sex worker, I’ll do things white sex workers won’t do. Or that I’ll do it for less, because I’m a hyper-sexual black woman.
And it’s interesting how benevolent sexism comes in more for white sex workers, too. Way more white sex workers I know have the gross clients who want to “save them,” while my clients are more likely to assume this is the best I can do with my life. Like, white sex workers are fragile and need saving, while black sex workers are just inherently more immoral and unredeemable.
Bambi: I can so relate to seeing white sex workers’ clients wanting to save them but not giving a fuck about the black girls. We are the Sapphires—we are always expected to be stronger and tougher than our white peers. It gets tiring.
Honestly, white supremacy in sex worker “activism” is what has kept me out of it for a long time. It was triggering as fuck to read what Harmony linked to, and then to know that the woman who wrote that is one of the most vocal and prominent sex worker activists. Like really? Get it together!
I did hear that Monica Jones called her out at the Desiree Alliance Conference—another place which I feel is a mostly white woman club. I think if the sex workers’ movement wants our help, they need to make us comfortable. And from what I heard about the way SWOP-Seattle treated Monica, it makes me so mad. You all wonder why there’s not more black sex workers in your movement? It’s because of the Maggie McNeills that go out of their way to reinforce stereotypes and be racist as fuck, and there’s no backlash. I’m sure we would feel more comfortable if more white workers were willing to go to bat for us when shit like that goes down, yet McNeill still has a shit ton of followers on Twitter and goes to Desiree.
Harmony: It sickens me that prominent racist sex worker activists are called on for their “experience and knowledge” in the movement. That’s how you know your movement is fucked, especially when bad bitches like Anna Saini and Janet had to basically threaten the New York Times for them to include POCs in their recent profile of the sex workers’ rights movement—coverage which was originally initiated by white sex worker activists. There’s something very fucking wrong when you have to literally fight for the inclusion of black and brown sex worker voices in the media and SHOUT OUT TO MONICA JONES FOR STANDING UP TO THEIR CLASSIST RACIST BOUGIE ASS BULLSHIT! Let’s not stop the fight, ladies! It’s time for us to be heard!
Do you think the way the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention to police violence and extrajudicial police executions of Black and Latinx people will help sex workers of color in dealing with police brutality as well?
Phoenix: #unpopularopinion—I think BLM does really important work, but they tend to fail at defending LGBTQIA people of color and black women overall. Since most sex workers are women or at least assigned female at birth, I don’t know how much they’ll help, to be honest. It seems like the focus is primarily on black men killed by cops, but there doesn’t seem to be as much effort put into women killed, and little is being said about cops that sexually abuse sex workers. I was hoping BLM would take a more definitive stand after the Baltimore report [came out] about [police violence against] sex workers and violence against women overall.
Shagasyia: Based on the BLM organizing I have been a part of or witnessed, only cis folks are represented! They forget trans women are constantly under attack, so they exclude us from the movement. The fact that we are people of color before we are trans or sex workers seems to slip their minds, as well! Fighting for the decriminalization of all marginalized sex workers and other survivor work should be a part of their mission.
Our representation is usually excluded, and that costs us when BLM has the most media access.
We are often blamed for our own assaults and told that we brought it on ourselves because of the work we do. There is no full representation so we still have to do separate missions like BTLM (Black Trans Lives Matter). They also sometimes feel like we have no right to use the language of BLM as we make them look bad or take attention away from their mission. But If black lives matter, all black lives should matter!
Bambi: I think BLM does great work and has literally built a movement unlike anything we’ve ever seen for black folk since the Black Panthers. BLM has made some crucial steps and headway for black folk.
But like Phoenix, I’d like to see them focus on Alisha Walker, Latesha Clay, or any sex worker of color and not mostly black men, and I don’t see them as a refuge for black sex workers, so it’s a tough correlation. I love that BLM was started by black queer women, but from the jump off, their focus seemed to be on violence towards black hetero men.
BLM’s platform, as of August, does demand the “retroactive decriminalization and immediate release of all people convicted of drug offenses, sex work-related offenses, and youth offenses.”
Shagasyia: This is awesome.
Felix: This is good and I’m hopeful, but still cautious. I’d like to see how they’re going to enact this. I’d also love if they did something for Latesha Clay, as well.
Harmony: I love BLM and I think they are doing a lot of important work and it’s great to see that they have made headway in starting a dialogue and being inclusive of sex workers! This is very empowering to see!
How do you protect yourselves in your day to day lives against police violence?
Harmony: Now I just avoid certain areas, because, let’s be honest: There is no protection when it comes down to police and minorities. Unfortunately, they have the majority of the power and they will abuse it vehemently.
I’ve also learned about orgs like the Sex Workers Project, though, so that if I ever have another encounter with someone like Officer Smiles, he can take my ass to jail but I know that I can use my phone call to hit up Melissa Sontag Broudo, and they will work tirelessly to get me out. So that’s my main resource as a sex working women of color, and I give the Sex Workers Project’s cards out to to all the street workers and/or sex working women of color I know.
What is the most important thing for everyone to understand about police violence against sex workers of color?
Harmony: That it happens 100 times more [often] than it happens in white communities and that we need services to help our brothers and sisters stay out of the mass incarceration that is the modern day slavery of today. The police have proven that they don’t give a fuck about sex workers of color to the extent that they have put lives on the line with “condoms as evidence” laws. Laws that literally caused many trans women of color and women in general, some that I know personally, to catch deadly STI’S for fear of being arrested.
They also need to be aware of the sexual abuse that police target on WOC in poor communities. The statistics are sickening. It’s 10 times more likely for WOC sex workers to experience incarceration. The system has proven that it doesn’t work in terms of “rehabilitation” just by the recidivism rates alone. It is a for-profit system and there is a human cost.
Bambi: I know girls who legit wouldn’t carry condoms with them for fear of getting arrested, so that exposes them to more violence in the sense of risking STI’s over arrest and possible assault by the police.
I also feel like white people need to speak up more. They have a power that we will never have and they need to utilize it if they want to be our allies. There are serious racial disparities in the prison industrial complex so we are the ones who are out here getting arrested more often. We are the ones out here getting shot for reaching for our drivers’ licenses.