When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, it became illegal for employers to discriminate based on race. But decades laters studies show white workers still earn tens of thousands more than workers of color in the same job.
A 2011 Georgetown study found white engineers earn an average of $80,000 a year but their African-American counterparts earn $20,000 less. Latino engineers earn $24,000 less than white ones.
The racial inequality and wage gap also exists in the adult film industry.
Women of color in the pornography industry are paid half to three quarters of what white actresses tend to make.
In a New York Times essay published this week Dr. Mireille Miller-Young wrote that the greatest challenge faced by women who work in the pornography business, in addition to social stigma, is gender and racial inequality.
Miller-Young, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research explores race, gender and sexuality in visual culture and sex industries in the U.S.
In her New York Times piece titled “Empowering to the Women on Screen,” Dr. Miller Young writes about the inequality in the pornography business and provides additional context based on her research:
For instance, I have found that women enter the pornography industry because they are enthusiastic about its potential for lucrative, flexible and independent work. Women who previously worked in the retail sector or in nursing found that pornography offered them greater control of their labor, and surprisingly, it treated them with more humanity. Some women found that it enabled them to rise out of poverty, take care of their families or go to college. Others emphasize the creative aspects of pornography, and say it allows them to increase their economic mobility while also making a bold statement about female pleasure.
According to the performers I interviewed, the greatest challenge faced by women who work in the pornography business, in addition to social stigma, is gender and racial inequality. Overwhelmingly, women do not control the production and distribution apparatus of the business. The men who run both the large companies and the smaller, amateur businesses tend to marginalize women’s perspectives and priorities and to foster a competitive environment that pits female workers against one another.
African-American women - and women and men of color in general - are paid half to three-quarters of what white actresses are paid. Like in other kinds of industries, they face prejudice and inequality in structural and interpersonal forms. But they also challenge them. Porn’s workers are fighting to achieve greater control over their labor and the products they produce.
Women of color are paid half to three quarters of what white actresses tend to make, according to a 2007 NPR interview with Miller-Young. She went on to say this “reflects the ways in which black bodies have historically been devalued in our labor market since, you know, slavery to the present.”
She says this is also visible in the production of the types of films that black women appear in: they have a lower production value, less of the kind of market, and lower kind of values in how they treat the workers.
[UPDATE 11/14/12 12:00pm EST: A commenter in the comments section below that identified as an adult model has added even more context and says the unfair treatment goes far beyond adult models and actresses on screen:
“[People] never want to discuss the unfair treatment of dancers, models, escorts, directors, and all others who work in the sex industry who get less pay and expected to perform more extreme acts because of the color of their skin.”
To learn more about Miller-Young’s work visit her UCSB profile and check out her 2005 Colorlines story titled “Hardcore desire: Black women laboring in porn—is it just another job?”