People of Colour
The fact that people of colour (PoC) can be fetishized complicates issues of consent, particularly in situations where parties don’t know each other well. An example of fetishisation is the “Jezebel” stereotype often associated with black women, which presents them as inherently lascivious. The problem with a stereotype like this is that may result in anyone who believes it assuming consent where it doesn’t exist. In contrast to the trope of the “Jezebel” there is the image of the submissive brown woman. Imperialist and orientalist discourses have often portrayed brown and specifically Muslim women as passive and victimised objects - whilst simultaneously eroticising them due to this passivity. Rape tactics used in imperialist wars in the middle-east for example are enabled by discourses such as this. By conceptualising women as submissive they are implicitly made into objects of sexual gratification for men and devoid of the ability or, indeed, need to consent. The exoticisation of other PoC of all genders also permeates Eurocentric discourses and imagination and poses problems that are equally as serious. Fetishisation serves to objectify people, making enthusiastic and retractable consent even more important.
The conversation around consent has rightly brought awareness to the power and impact of pornography and pornographic images in undermining and harming our imagining of sex. Rather than consensual, sex is viewed as spontaneous and silent at best or an act of dominance and entitlement to female bodies at worst. Perhaps we should also begin to contemplate how consumption of pornography also specifically harms PoC. The very fact that “black”, “latino”, “asian” and “interracial” exist as categories of porn alongside “soft-core”, “hard-core” and others creates and confirms the notion that sex between white people (two heterosexual, able-bodied, hairless white people) is the norm. Ignoring for a moment the infinite problems and criticisms that can be made of mainstream pornography; from the stance of consent when it comes to race and gender these categories propagate and normalise racism to the detriment of consent. An article by Alex Pesek (http://www.themaneater.com/stories/2013/2/5/racism-pornography-industry-standard/) noted that a cursory search for racial porn came up immediately with racist and racialised imagery: ‘“Teen Slaves of Saigon,” “Raped By Arab Terrorists,” “Ghetto Gaggers” and “Gang Banged by Blacks”’. More than just portraying sex as non-consensual, these simultaneously racist, neo-colonial and misogynistic titles imagine non-consensual sex as the norm for PoC of all genders: both as abusers and victims. Through othering, dehumanising and creating explicitly abusive standards for PoC, porn undeniably feeds us images that specifically harm values of consent when it comes to PoC.
Problems may also arise when reporting sexual assault. Using black women again as an example, they are often less likely to report such crimes when committed against them. Racist and sexist assumptions about black women in dominant cultural discourse might lead them to, understandably, believe that police officers will be unlikely to see them as survivors of sexual assault. The intersections of race and gender identity with class, sexuality, and religion may also contribute to making a person less trustful of state solutions to sexual assault, due to structural oppression that exists on these axes.
Additionally, the erasure of sexuality and/or discussion of sex in some black and minority ethnic (BME) communities can act as a further barrier to reporting sexual assault. When sex itself is taboo then the nature of sex (consensual or not) can be completely ignored and overridden. This itself enables sexual assault and abuse to remain underreported; the “dishonour” associated with sexual activity being a bigger burden to the victim than the fact that what they may have experienced was not “sex” at all but assault or rape. Particularly amongst some people of South Asian heritage the concept of “honour” disregards consent entirely. Increasingly there is awareness and broaching of not only women but also men and boys who have faced sexual abuse and been unable to come forward in some BME communities (additionally, as in the case of white communities, even more remains to be done to ensure that those who do not conform to the gender binary feel able to come forward too). Reporting or dealing with the trauma of sexual assault can thus be undermined by honour codes and the concept of “shame” dominating discussions of sex, rather than the nature and necessary mutuality of sex itself.
An aspect of consent which is oft-mentioned but perhaps needs more emphasis is that it is also okay to not want to have sex at all, or for a long time. Awareness of asexuality is increasing but the dominant image of white asexuality continues to marginalise and leave tropes of black sexuality unproblematised. Moreover, many PoC are also people of faith (disproportionately compared to their white counterparts especially in the UK) and sometimes religious people may opt not to engage in pre-marital sex (sex before marriage) or not to partake in specific forms of sex (ie non-penetrative sex or anal sex) at all. The intersections of religion, race and gender need perhaps more engaging with when the current discourse of consent sometimes emphasises engagement in sexual relations as the norm. Thus, though criticism of the fact a discussion about consent is taking place would be undue; it must be said that being already marginalised from “the norm” by colour, religious PoC and especially trans and queer religious PoC may face enough difficulties and struggles in simply expressing their identities that discussions of consent can sometimes override discussions of existence.
If you’re a person of colour who has suffered sexual assault or abuse, know that there are a number of networks that exist to support you. This includes the BME Campaign (and its college officers), the Women’s Campaign (and its college officers), FLY, and, of course, C4C itself. If you’re uncomfortable seeking out help from established networks, try and find a safe and supportive environment with people you trust. Those who aim to support you will strive to, and may in fact, understand the peculiar issues that surround the reporting of sexual crimes as a PoC. The Useful Contacts page contains a number of services that you can use.