Petite, slender, golden-skinned, sometimes blonde, and occasionally bespectacled, adult performer Janice Griffith is kind of the adult industry’s racially ambiguous wet dream. Kink.com labeled Griffith white; sites that feature Latinas have claimed her as one; and once a site sold her scenes with the tagline “Egyptian cutie with a little booty.”
“I’m Indo-Caribbean,” Griffith says. “My mom’s from Guyana, but my ethnicity is a gray area for anyone who doesn’t know me.” Just 20, Griffith will hit her two-year anniversary in the adult industry this fall. Since October 2013 when Griffith filmed her first sex scene with crossover film star James Deen, Griffith has shot more than 100 porn scenes and a few features, and she has amassed more than 150,000 followers on Twitter and 70,000 on her Instagram account.
Porn sites are quick to paste whatever label on Griffith they find marketable. “I’m Latina, Dominican, half-black, half-Chinese—it depends on what website you look at,” she says. It’s a common practice in the industry, as The Daily Beast’s Aurora Snow reported in a recent piece on inter-racial porn. But while some adult performers don’t chafe under their racial categories, Griffith does. “I’ve been very outspoken against it,” Griffith says about websites assigning racial categories to her. “My fans will joke, ‘She’s not Latina, guys.’ I don’t support the fetishization of ethnicities.”
But while Griffith doesn’t fetishize races, her industry does. Look at most sites that sell or host pirated clips of porn, and alongside categories like “Big Butt,” “Amateur,” “Gonzo,” “Cosplay” and “Handjob,” you’ll also see “Asian,” “Ebony,” “Latina,” and “Inter-Racial,” or “IR,” in the adult industry’s shorthand. Just as “Creampie” and “MILF” mean something very definite, so too does “IR” porn: it’s invariably a black man and a white woman—or a white enough woman.
“When it comes to shooting women performers of color, it depends on what color you are. How racist is that?” Griffith asks. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Asian, or Latina, or Native American, or indigenous to anywhere as long as you’re not dark,” Griffith says, suggesting that porn makes whiteness a capacious term. While Latina, Asian or meso-Caribbean women may be performing in a scene, “inter-racial” never refers to anything but black men and “white” women. Black women, dark skinned or light skinned, as always relegated to the “ebony” category. As elastic as it is toward whiteness, the adult industry can only see one shade of IR.
Aware of the benefits of her racial ambiguity, Griffith says, “I get grouped in with white and Latina girls, which are almost on the same [pay] level performer-wise.” This grouping pertains not only to the industry’s flexible standards for whiteness—and thus this group’s availability to film IR porn—but also their earning potential, popularity, and privilege. The key word in that sentence is “almost.” “I’ve seen performers who are lighter skin work a lot more in the mainstream, and then there’s a niche color performer pool,” Griffith says. White privilege is still white privilege, even in the rubbery world of porn marketing.
“I know that women of color have to work harder in porn to stay relevant and to establish longevity—that’s the way it is for everyone, but it’s harder for women of color, and it’s harder because everyone’s racist,” Griffith says.
IR categories are only the tip of the racist adult industry iceberg. It’s pretty easy to recognize the racist component of IR porn; it quite literally embodies the sexualized stereotype of virile black men and vulnerable and desirous white women. But Griffith is quick to observe that the category of IR porn both represents and obscures deeper issues in her industry and in our society. “There is definitely a racist influence but not because of adult performers but because our society as a whole is racist,” Griffith says.
Racially problematic porn may have its long legs in America’s history of racial stereotypy, but it sees its staying power in modernity, specifically Google searches, which almost demand search engine optimization of racist—or at least racially charged—terms. “People are racist, but it’s [influenced by] Internet search terms,” Griffith says, and adds that people who sell adult entertainment are “trying to simplify it so that people can find the content that they’re looking for. People want a brown-skinned girl for whatever perverted motivations they have, and they know that brown girls are [listed as] Latina.”
The Internet may have been made for porn, but porn was not made for the Internet. In fact, Griffith views the people who make and sell adult entertainment as scrambling to adjust to how the Internet allows people to consume porn. “They’re still trying to keep up, to redesign their business plan because the Internet changed everything,” says Griffith. In some ways, it feels like an ouroboros: people’s search terms determine the porn that porn-makers make, and porn-makers make porn that defines people’s search terms. And at the end of the night, the adult industry, both in terms of its content and its practices, reproduces the racist structure of America at large.
Things are changing, albeit slowly. Independent sites, like Stoya and Kayden Kross’s TrenchcoatX sidestep the whole Google search-term two-step by doing away with traditional porn categories altogether. African-American adult performer Lexington Steele owns his own adult entertainment company, Mercenary Pictures, and he also directs for Evil Angel, a production company owned by John Stagliano. People like adult entertainer and writer Conner Habib are helping to bring the discussion to a larger audience. As more people of color own adult entertainment production companies and as more independently owned production companies choose narratives that don’t replicate racist—or sexist—power structures, the industry is bound to shift.
Conversation between members of the industry is where Griffith sees a chance for change. “There is wriggle room if we can create it together, but it’s hard to establish it yourself.” Griffith looks to APAC, the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, as a site for that discussion. An organization of performers in the adult film industry, APAC aims to make the industry a safe, healthy place for people to work. So far, APAC’s political workhas mostly centered on political activism such as opposing Measure B, a referendum requiring adult performers to wear condoms when shooting in Los Angeles County, which passed in 2012. Griffith sees APAC as a natural place to take on racism in the industry. “They’re trying to make porn better, both for performers and as a whole,” she says, “working inside out to end stigma. I know that that’s a place where we can have that conversation.” While APAC hasn’t yet started to work on this issue, it’s a possible site of change.
The stigma of adult entertainment exacerbates the problem. “Porn is a place that people fear to tread and it harbors a really negative stigma, so racism can thrive and live longer there,” Griffith says. “We still haven’t figured out a way to properly regulate porn and come to an agreement between performers, directors and legislators. Because we can’t regulate it, we can’t say this is racist, this is wrong. We’re not communicating openly enough.”
Griffith says, “It’s a conversation we need to have as a whole society about being better people so people stop jerking off to gross stuff.”
Even within the last two years, Griffith sees some change in the industry. “It is starting to come up where people are doing just porn.” She laughs, “With people of different races! Would you look at that!” The fantasy of color-blind sex may seem unattainable, but figuring out how to market adult entertainment in a way that resists racism could be a force for good. Griffith suggests that part of it is simply, as she says, “a focus on making the [performers of color] seem more human.” She pauses, “Like, we need to remind people that we’re human.”
RELATED: Fusion explores the increasingly diverse ways people are consuming – and producing –porn, from GIFs to live “camming” to teledildonics. Watch our original investigative documentary, Miami Porn: Sex Work in the Sunshine State, a look inside the world of South Florida’s booming adult entertainment industry:
A former academic, Chelsea G. Summers writes almost exclusively about sex. Her writing has appeared in Hazlitt, VICE, The New Republic, Adult Magazine, and The Guardian US, among other sites.