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'Mommy Erotica' in Black and White

As women swoon over the Fifty Shades trilogy, don't forget that Zane did it first -- and better.

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In a rare profile of Zane in 2004, a New York Times reporter called the author's characters complex and "aspirational": "Rarely is there a shortage of suitable African-American men for the aspirational women in her stories, and when women travel down the economic ladder to couple, they are not forced to do so, but choose to."

By contrast, James' "submissive" Ana leaves everything up to her "dominant," Christian. The fantasy, the big payoff, is that he shows up and, just like Brian McKnight sang in his "adult R&B" song  "Ready to Learn," shows Ana "how her p---y works." A Zane heroine would already know.

So what does that say about the differences between African-American and white female erotica fans? Each demographic has made a millionaire out of the woman smart enough to tap into them. But what, exactly, have they tapped into?

The idea that black women are seen as strong, take-the-bull-by-the-horns-type heroines and white women are seen as damsels in distress is nothing new. What's interesting here is that the women themselves seem to be buying into pop culture's own depiction of them, adopting the fantasy as their own.

The opinionated black CEO who has her way with the delivery guy and then sends him on his. The quiet white college grad who lets someone else take the reins and then smack her with them. Neither is a groundbreaking concept, and yet both have hit a pipeline to the way different women see themselves in their fantasies.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

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Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.