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Racism and Prostitution

I recently went to Las Vegas for a business conference. As I walked through the prestigious casino, I quickly felt lustful eyes on me, a feeling that I once felt 20 years ago as a prostitute. I thought to myself, How can I feel this way? I’m dressed up in a conservative manner. I’m educated with a graduate degree and years of corporate experience and now I’m a CEO. Knowing my truth, I asked a young man about the lustful stares. He explained to me that because I’m black and walking through the casino, I’m thought to be a prostitute. He continued but his words were drowned out by my father’s voice spoken over me when I was young, “You look like a prostitute.”

The following week I went out to a movie and as I waited for my movie to start, I sat at the bar deciding what to get from the happy hour menu. I asked two white men next to me what was good on the menu.

We had small talk and then one man said to me, “What’s your deal?”

I said, “Huh?”

He said, “What’s your angle? Why are you in this part of town?” He giggled with his partner and then said, “My partner wants you to suck his dick.”

I said, “I’m not a prostitute.”

He said, “Well I thought you were since you were in this part of town.”

I took note of the area that I was in. It was a predominantly white neighborhood, just like where the prestigious hotel and casino had been. All I could hear this time louder were the words from my father, “You look like a prostitute.” My dad’s words made me question my identity as a little black girl and now these two situations made me question it again. In my mind, I held stereotypes about the little white girls living their childhoods as princesses, playing tea party 7 days a week, since for me it was a different reality. It wasn’t until Bill Cosby’s TV show aired in 1984 that I saw another view – I never saw Bill Cosby abuse his on-screen daughter Vanessa or call her a prostitute. He was a black man that cherished his wife and loved his family, especially his daughters. No matter how beautiful the image was that Bill Cosby showed every Thursday night, that was neither my reality nor many other little black girls’ realities either.

A false stereotype of black woman being devalued continues to linger still today that attaches a for sale sign to our backs. A hidden tragedy of stereotypes and perceptions traces back to slavery when black women were considered property and because of it were legally raped. I don’t blame my father, in general people, make decisions based on learned behavior or what is perceived from the past to be true about themselves and others, and in turn reflect their belief on to their children and society–feeding racism and prostitution in America today.


  1. Ateba thank you so much for this brilliant post. It’s so important to talk about the brutal racism that’s embedded in prostitution. As a caucasian woman in prostitution I was treated better than my sisters of color. They had to work ten times as hard as I did. Racial slurs and racism were part of the prostitution sex act too — such an annihilating practice. Sending you love always xoxoxo

  2. Powerful post. It breaks my heart when I realize how many daughters grow up without hearing affirmation and receiving love from their family.

  3. I want to understand this, because I am sure it’s related to the reactions my mixed race son gets when he is hurt/angry in public (dangerous black man, never mind that he is in 2nd grade) and the surprise people black and white register when they see his reading level (~5-6 yrs above grade level). But I don’t understand. “You look like a prostitute” is what our parents, and the parents of many white girls I grew up with who were just as well taken care of as we were, said when the clothes we were proposing to wear were tight, revealing, inappropriately matched (high heels+shorts) etc. It meant there was no way they would ever permit us to own that item or wear it in that manner. In what contexts did your father say it that made it sound like a condemnation of you as a person?

  4. This is such a tragic example of the negative assumptions people make based on the legacy of passed down stereotypes. These stereotypes are not just ideas, they are damaging to real people.

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