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Ariane Cruz is an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State University. She earned her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in African diaspora studies with a designated emphasis in women, gender, and sexuality. Her research interests include images of black female sexuality, black visuality, and pornography. She is currently working on a manuscript exploring black women, BDSM, and pornography. Her teaching at Penn State includes classes on feminist visual culture, and representations of race, gender, and sexuality. S he cannot help herself from thinking: Poor: Ignorant: Sleazy: Depressing. This does not excite or stimulate. —Alice Walker, Porn1 Forty years ago, Alice Walker wrote an honest, incisive account of her intimate encounter with pornography as a black woman. About six years ago I began seriously consuming hardcore pornography featuring black women as part of what was then my doctoral research. In her essay, Walker recounts experimenting with pornography in a passionate sexual relationship with a male partner who invites Walker to view his pornography collection. Brought into the relationship to enliven the sex, pornography instead quells Walker’s libido, arresting her “flow” of sexual energy, and causes him to “feel himself sliding down the wall that is her body, and [be] expelled from inside her.”2 Walker writes about becoming deeply disturbed in particular by two pornography scenes she shares with this lover—first, a beautiful black woman who resembles her close friend Fannie in a threesome with two unprepossessing white men, and second, a “DP” scene in which a white woman is fucked by two black men who resemble Walker’s own brothers, Bobo and Charlie.3 These scenes color her view of pornography, leaving her such that “[s]he canPornography : A Black Feminist Woman Scholar’s Reconciliation Ariane Cruz not help herself from thinking: Poor: Ignorant: Sleazy: Depressing. This does not excite or stimulate.” Experiencing many such similar moments in my personal life, these experiences have intensified and become more complex since I started consuming pornography independently and under a different title: scholar. My being hurt and/or confused by discovering porn in a partner ’s drawer (one of the first of many secret stashes I would discover throughout the years), tentative about how to “successfully” incorporate pornography into sexual relationships in ways that may be mutually pleasurable and not hurtful to both partners, and doubtful if such a feat even remains possible, foreshadowed issues I would encounter years later in my research. I have become increasingly disrupted by not only, as Walker illustrates in her essay, seeing people you know in porn and seeing porn in the people you know, but also seeing pornography in yourself, and seeing yourself in pornography. Particularly as my work focuses on representations of black women in pornography, it has been impossible not to insert myself into many of the scenes I’ve watched. I did not anticipate these personal effects that researching pornography would engender. Sexual intimacy, as Walker limns, often runs the risk of intensifying such effects. Partners speaking in what I might call “the language of pornography ,” may not be a new thing, but such utterances have become increasingly discordant, as I am more fluent in this expression now because of my research. This language, a visual and physical lexicon, includes stock statements and actions commonly present in most mainstream American pornography—highly scripted and deliberate “dirty” talk; the patting, slapping, or spitting on one’s vagina during oral sex; the gratuitous tapping of a penis against one’s hips, buttocks, face, or chest; crazy positions that require ample physical dexterity and produce a high visual impact yet yield a low return on pleasure; requests to leave shoes and undergarments on; hair tugging; and of course, money shots and an overzealousness to watch ejaculation on one’s face or breasts (more likely referred to as “tits”) specifically. While these acts may not be in fact imitations of pornography, my sensitivity to them as mimics of a uniquely thespian nature, is certainly due to my own consumption of porn. So regardless of whether or not pornography is invited, it maintains no latent presence in my intimate relationships. I not only remain confused about my personal (and professional) feelings for pornography, but also struggle with how to place it, both metaphorically and physically. The quandary of porn’s grander sociocultural positionality has become reflected on a small scale in both my ariane cruz 216 living and workspaces. From the time an object arrives in my...


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