- Kinking Race Pleasures
New York: New York University Press, 2016. xii + 317 pp.
There is something sexy about racism, an unspoken erotic charge that animates the constant labor of racialization. The pleasures and performances imbricated in race underline the analytic work of The Color of Kink: Black Women, BDSM, and Pornography. In it, Ariane Cruz explores racialized performances in BDSM and pornography, arguing that these sites highlight the technologies of gender, race, sexuality, and pleasure that help constitute black female sexuality. Cruz contributes to feminist scholarship on representations of black women and expands the growing field of racial pornographics, offering a unique focus on BDSM performances in a contemporary porn archive. Throughout the text, Cruz responds to a body of black feminist work that considers racialization and the visual field as solely sites of violence. She instead argues that black women may encounter racial-sexual alterity, "the perceived entangled racial and sexual otherness that characterizes the lived experience of black womanhood" (33), as a site of both violence and pleasure. Cruz calls for a politics of perversion as a critical strategy to negotiate black female sexuality, one attuned to "the subversive, transformative power of perversion as the alteration of something from its original course and the kink—the sexual deviance—that perversion evokes" (11).
The weaving of feminist, queer, critical race theory, and media studies exemplifies Cruz's interdisciplinary background in African diaspora studies and women's studies. Cruz utilizes multiple methods including visual and textual analysis, archival research, and personal interviews. Analyses of pornographic performance engage film and web content across multiple pornographic genres: BDSM race play, interracial pornography, stag films, and "fucking machines." Beginning with a take on race play—a BDSM practice that uses race as an erotic stage for sexual encounters, a way of scripting domination and submission—Cruz considers BDSM and pornography not solely as sites of racism but also as stages in which black women and other actors engage the "labyrinthine pleasures" of race (133). BDSM and pornography are optimal sites of race play where racial [End Page 560] difference and myths of black female sexuality are contested, rehearsed, and fucked with.
One of Cruz's great successes is her critical analysis and expansion of "race play." As a BDSM practice, race play takes pleasure in "the charged, complex, and contradictory relationship between racism and rapture" (71). Race-play pornography dramatizes racial scripts for consumption, enabling "a kind of pleasure pedagogy in and of race and racism" (115). While one might want to write off the perverse performances of race play as contained rehearsals of racism, Cruz complicates such a reading by asking us to "extend the theoretic aperture of race play to consider how the violent pleasure of the play of race is enacted in the larger venue of popular culture" (123). Beyond porn and BDSM, race constitutes a fluid project in which a range of actors coproduce racial difference, whether performing race through pornographic fantasy, BDSM practice, everyday interactions, or other moments of racialization. Race play itself may be figured more broadly as a "comprehensive performance with a more universal sociocultural currency and relevance" (78), offering an analytic to address varied modes of playing, and playing with, the real fantasy of race.
Cruz also highlights the queer pleasures of interracial pornography. Reading videos along with commentary from porn producers and performers, she argues that interracial pornography operates through queer race pleasures, "a simultaneous pleasure in race and queerness" (134). Cuckolding porn, for instance, involves a coproduction of queer race pleasure, as "the white male body co-produces the spectacle of its own racial-sexual humiliation" alongside the hypersexualized black male body that outperforms it (150). Here the play of race challenges static and binaristic views of sexuality. Domination and humiliation (of both black and white actors), race, and erotic pleasures intertwine as the social scripts surrounding material bodies animate the supposed "fantasy" of pornographic scenes: the "race and gender of the witnesses modulate the erotic currency of humiliation" (148). Cruz posits a queerness in the homoerotic resonances of these taboo fantasies and asserts that such scenes reveal BDSM...