Touching paranoia: A black feminist autoethnography on race, desire, and erotic massage

Jasmine Salters, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Despite declarations of a “post-race” America, race and racism continue to pervade all aspects of American life and society—from our laws and language to our daily interactions and erotic desires. Drawing on five years of ethnographic research at a Black-owned adult massage studio in Los Angeles County, California, Touching Paranoia focuses on the experiences of erotic masseuses of color (Black, Latina, Filipina, and mixed-race) to examine the ways race and racism infiltrate our intimate encounters and fantasies, and how women of color—who exist at the intersection of race, gender, class, and the economy—navigate and negotiate prejudice in an industry and larger society built on their devaluation. As an underground racialized and gendered sexual marketplace in which conscious and unconscious racial bias is expressed as “personal preference” and discrimination is unrestrained by laws and political correctness, the author finds that the commercial sex industry serves as a fruitful space to explore how the legacy of slavery continues to haunt and shape our erotic lives—from our sexual preferences to our preoccupation with and paranoia about interracial relations and Black sexuality, which remains enveloped in racist mythologies, fantasies, and distortions. Responding to calls of Black feminist theorists such as Cathy Cohen and Evelynn Hammonds to expand discussions of Black women’s sexuality beyond assault, injury, and exploitation, the author adapts theories from feminism (with a focus on critical race feminism, Black feminisms, and sex-radical feminism), performance studies, sex and sexuality studies, and Marxism to create a new Black feminist interpretive framework—sex-radical Black feminist Marxist feminism—attentive not only to a history of racial trauma and oppression, but the complexities and contradictions of Black female sexuality, pleasure, and subjectivity. She also advocates Black feminist autoethnography (BFA) as methodological and theoretical intervention in communication studies. Ultimately, Touching Paranoia maintains that the commercial sex industry is a critical site for the production of knowledge about race, sexuality, desire, paranoia, and the daily realities of women of color in “post-race” capitalist America, while also making the case for the erotic, touch, humor, and storytelling as potential sites of resistance, belonging, and increasing consciousness.^

Subject Area

African American studies|Communication|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Salters, Jasmine, "Touching paranoia: A black feminist autoethnography on race, desire, and erotic massage" (2016). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10248616.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI10248616

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