Black Players: The Secret World Of Black Pimps by Richard Milner and Christina Milner (New York: Bantam Books, 1972)
To validate flawed sociological dogmas such as cultural determinism and feminism, generations of American anthropologists have bravely ventured into remote deserts, jungles and other dangerous, primitive and inhospitable corners of the globe in an effort to discover (or, if necessary, to fabricate) the existence of a society in which traditional western sex-roles are reversed.
The enterprise has, I think it is fair to say, proven singularly unsuccessful.
However, way back in the early-1970s, Milner and Milner, two American anthropologists, discovered precisely what their colleagues have been searching for in vain, namely a culture in which sex roles are reversed, right in America’s own backyard – or rather in America’s own backstreets.
This was the underground subculture of pimps and ‘hos’. Here, in stark contrast to the traditional sexual division of labour in western (and indeed many non-western) societies:
“Women are the economic providers… [whereas] a man may spend hours a day on his hair, clothes and toilette while his women are out working to support the household” (p5).
Another feature of the pimp lifestyle at odds with mainstream American culture is the prevalence of polygyny. Thus, Milner report that many pimp-ho households are polygynous, being composed of a single pimp and several prostitutes, and polygyny is regarded as the ideal (p5).
Interestingly, this family structure and pattern of economic activity in many respects parallels that still prevailing in much of sub-Saharan Africa, where polygyny is ubiquitous and women are self-supporting and perform most agricultural labour (Draper 1989).
One controversial interpretation, then, is that people of black African descent are genetically predisposed to such a mating system since it was adaptive in much of sub-Saharan African, and that African-Americans are simply recreating in America an approximation of the mating system, and economic system, of their African forebears.
Of course, since pimp culture has now been popularized by generations of ‘gangsta rappers’, the “secret world” promised by the authors in their subtitle may be more familiar to modern readers than on the book’s first publication in 1972 (though, even then, blaxploitation films had already introduced the black pimp archetype to the wider public). However, the picture created in rap lyrics is necessarily so comically caricatured out of all recognition that the Milners’ exploration of the reality behind the absurd caricature remains as revelatory as ever.
Male Dominance and Pimp Philosophy
Of course, although women are the economic providers and pimps concerned with their clothes and appearance, in one crucial respect, conventional sex roles appear to be, not reversed, but rather accentuated in American pimp culture.
Thus, in American pimp culture, male dominance was, the Milners’ emphasize, absolute and categorical.
However, what the Milners refer as ‘pimp philosophy’, namely the worldview and philosophy passed down among pimps from mentor to student and described by the Milners in detail, raises serious questions about whether this too, in some respects, represents a reversal of the sex roles apparent in mainstream society and whether, in ‘square’ society, it is indeed men who are really dominant (see also The Myth of Male Power: which I have reviewed here and here).
Thus, according to the ‘pimp philosophy’:
“White men (and square blacks) are thought to be ‘pussy-whipped’ by their wives after having been brain washed by their mothers to accept female dominance as the natural order of things. Most families today are controlled by women, who direct the goals and manage the money… by withholding sexual favours” (p161).
It is indeed the case that, while men work longer hours and earn more money than women, women are known to control the vast majority of spending decisions.
Thus, Martha Barletta reports that reports that women are responsible for about 80% of household spending in modern America (Marketing to Women: p4); while another marketing researcher, Bernice Kanner, reports that women make approximately 88% of retail purchases in the US (see Pocketbook Power: p5).
Thus, according to ‘pimp philosophy’, square husbands are ‘pimped’ by their wives every bit as ruthlessly as street-prostitutes, by being obliged to earn money and financially support their wives in return for sexual favours.
Thus, according to ‘pimp philosophy’, the Milners report: “The highest level of prostitution is—the wife!” (p221).
“Whether the men want to admit it or not, every woman is a ho regardless of what the status is—housewife, nun, prostitutes, whatever you want to say. The Housewife gets longevity, you know. She gets the vacation every year, she gets the security with the fella on the twenty-five-dollar-a-year job. Vacation every summer, the golf club, country club” (p227)
Interestingly, this view of male-female relations directly converges with that of anti-feminists such as Esther Vilar who expressed similar ideas in her book 1971 classic, The Manipulated Man, which I have reviewed here.
For example, one pimp describes how wives supposedly bear children only, or at least primarily, because:
“She knows once she has one or two babies she’s gonna have him locked down tight and even if he leaves she can still get four or five hundred dollars a month [in maintenance payments] if he’s making any kind of money” (p227).
This parallels Vilar’s description in The Manipulated Man of offspring as “hostages” in her chapter title “children as hostages”, since they are used, like hostages kidnapped in order to make a ransom demand, to demand additional monies from the unfortunate father. Thus, the pimp quoted by the Milners explains:
“His wife is pimping him, see? She gets him to get up every morning, cooks his breakfast to make sure he’s good and strong, gives him his vitamin pills and everything, hands him his little briefcase, you know, so he can get out there and get the buck so she can go play bridge, go get her hair done, understand?” (p229)
The pimp-ho relationship is then directly analogous to the relationship between husband and wife, only with the gender roles reversed. Thus, in the endnote to chapter one, the Milners approvingly quote sociologist Travis Hirschi as observing:
“The similarity of the pimp-prostitute relationship to the husband-wife relationship, with the economic roles reversed, is too obvious to overlook” (p285; Hirschi 1962).
According to the pimps interviewed by the Milner’s during their research, the process of socializing and indoctrinating males to willingly accept their assigned role as ‘beta providers’ begins in childhood. Thus, the Milners report:
“Several pimps asserted that pimping comes from Black men being supported by their mothers as kids [in single-parent households] and deciding to continue the arrangement… Most pimps, however, believe that they were raised by their mothers not to be pimps, but to be tricks. ‘Trick marriage’ is seen by the pimps as a man’s servitude to women in exchange for ‘her pussy’” (p174-5).
Thus, since it is mothers who are responsible for most childcare, they indoctrinate their sons from infancy to accept ‘trick marriage’ and female dominance as the natural, normal and healthy state of affairs. Thus, one pimp observes:
“She is, from the time you are a kid, understand, giving you a certain set of values which in reality is a woman’s set of values. She is brainwashing you to the extent of how to treat a woman” (p176).
As a result of this indoctrination:
“If you are a boy, say twelve years old, and you see Mom and Dad fighting you naturally come to the defense of Mom… [because] from the time you were young, she’s the one who changed your diapers, bathed you, made sure that you were clothed and shoed and everything else, so you naturally come to the defense of Mom. And you forget entirely the fact that it was Dad was the one who made the money that put her in the position to do all these things in the first place. So when you become a man and encounter a woman you automatically accept the values which were taught to you there.” (p177)
This again parallels Esther Vilar’s contention that:
“Men have been trained and conditioned by women, not unlike Pavlov conditioned his dogs, into becoming their slaves.”
Thus, Vilar observes:
“The advice a mother gives to her teenage son going out on his first date is a good example of woman’s audacity: Pay the taxi; get out first; open the door on the girl’s side and help her out. Offer her your arm going up the steps or, if they are crowded, walk behind her in case she stumbles so that you can catch her. Open the door into the foyer for her; help her out of her coat; take the coat to the cloakroom attendant; get her a program. Go in front of her when you are taking your seats and clear the way. Offer her refreshments during the intermissions – and so on” (The Manipulated Man: p40-41).
As a consequence of such early indoctrination, even one otherwise resolutely ‘red-pilled’ player acknowledged:
“There are things in me right now that I can’t help that have been conditioned over a period of time. I do things automatically, you know. I open doors for old ladies and if I go through a doorway, and hesitate and let the woman go first” (p177).
Thus, whereas the family structure of the ghetto has, on account of the prevalence of female-headed households and absent fathers, been characterized by sociologists as matriarchal, black players suggest a more nuanced interpretation:
“Although the ghetto leans towards matriachy, players admit, it isn’t as all-pervasive or as smoothly functioning as the White matriarchy of the majority. For the White man is not even aware that he lives in a matriarchy, while Black men are becoming more sensitive to being pimped by both White society and their own Black women… White men, like Samson, are still sound asleep and unaware that Delilah has cut their hair” (p171).
Indeed, the analogy with ‘red pill philosophy’ and the so-called men’s rights movement is made all but explicit by the Milners when they write:
“Woman’s liberation movement is not revolutionary, say the players. What would be truly revolutionary would be the liberation of men” (p227).
However, the black players are capitalists at heart and hence reject all political liberation movements, including, not only women’s liberation, but also black liberation:
“In this… the pimp expresses a common ghetto sentiment: ‘Fuck Black power and White power; I believe in green power’” (p223).
Thus, the Milners recount one anecdote of how:
“[When] a militant black man in the bar loudly proclaimed ‘I’m gonna get my piece and shoot all the whiteys’… another player replied, ‘Don’t do that, brother. Shit, you gonna take all my business away’” (p237).
The same would apply to the liberation of men. After all, according to pimp philosphy, it is only because:
“So-called normal and moral marriage is aberrant… [that] many husbands… pay hos for sex they cannot get at home, which [pimps] point to as the final degradation of the American male under the heel of the almighty bitchy American wife. She not only doesn’t give him what he is paying for, but forces him to go out and also pay some other woman if he wants sex. Often he pays another woman only to have a shoulder to cry on, because the wife loses respect for a man she can dominate and is unhappy in her unnatural unwomanly role as boss” (p175).
Thus, the Milners envisage one pimp commiserating with the hapless henpecked husband, but then rationalizing:
“But, of course… I wouldn’t have it any other way, trick. Because, without you and your fucked-up illusions, without your fucked-up sex life—I’d be out of business tomorrow” (p251).
Pimp Philosophy Evaluated
Pimp philosophy is certainly illuminating and thought-provoking.
It is moreover undoubtedly more insightful than feminist theory, which represents the dominant paradigm for understanding the relations between the sexes among social scientists, journalists in the mainstream media, the academic establishment, politicians, women’s rights activists and other such professional damned fools.
Indeed, although they never quite go so far as to endorse it, the Milners themselves are nevertheless clearly taken by what they call ‘pimp philosophy’, and even acknowledge:
“Once the world, and particularly the relations between the sexes, is viewed from a black player’s vantage point, things never again seem quite the same” (p243).
Indeed, according to the Milners, this is hardly surprising.
“Like the sociologist and anthropologist, pimps and hustlers depend for their livelihood on an awareness of social forces and the human psyche… [but whereas] the social scientist rarely applies his knowledge directly, and so has far more leeway than the hustler or the pimp in being wrong before he is out of a job” (p242).
In other words, unlike feminist sociologists and women’s studies professors (and indeed anthropologists like themselves), who are insulated in universities behind ivory towers at the taxpayer’s expense and can therefore can hold fast to their flawed ideological dogmas with blind faith notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary, the pimp’s psychological and sociological analysis is subject to ruthless falsification at the hands of the market forces beloved of neoliberal economists.
However, in claiming that male dominance is the natural state of humanity, pimp philosophy seems, to me, to have taken something of a wrong turn.
Thus, according to the pimps, male dominance is the natural and harmonious order of mankind, and this was disrupted only when, according to ‘pimp mythology’ (an ingenious reinterpretation of biblical mythology), Adam gave in to sexual temptation, and was tempted by Eve to bite into the forbidden fruit (i.e. pay for sexual favours), thereby becoming, not the first man, but rather the first trick (p168-70; p259-60).
Therefore, according to the pimps, as a result of this decision to bite into the forbidden fruit, most men are no longer ‘real men’ but rather mere ‘tricks’. Pimps themselves therefore represent, according to the ‘players’ themselves:
“The only real men [left] in America today” (p162).
However, viewing male dominance as the natural and harmonious order of mankind necessarily raises the question: If, as pimps contend, male dominance is so natural and harmonious, why then is it found, at least in the West today, only among a small and exclusive subculture of pimps? What is more, why, even among pimps, is it maintained only by levels of violence and of self-control on the part of pimps far greater than that typically apparent in conventional, so-called ‘square’ relationships?
However, the real flaw in the pimp perception of male dominance as the natural and harmonious state of nature lies in the nature of the pimps’ own dominance over their prostitutes and the lifestyle and occupation of the prostitutes themselves.
Thus, as the Milners themselves observe:
“[Although] the Book [i.e. the unwritten code of how to pimp passed from mentor to student] provides a blueprint for a male-dominated society and a rationale for wrestling all control over men from women… ironically, this condition is achieved by making women’s full-time occupation the control of men who are outside the subculture” (p48).
In other words, the pimp’s exploitation of his women necessarily relies and depends on those women’s own exploitation of other men.
“A ho… is both ‘pimping’ off her customers and is being a trick [i.e. being pimped] by her man” (p213).
The ‘Book’ provides, then, not a blueprint for male domination throughout society, but rather a blueprint for domination by a necessarily small subset of men – an exploitation both of women (i.e. the prostitutes whom the pimp controls) but also, indirectly, of other men (i.e. the clients of these prostitutes).
The pimp survives, then, not only through the exploitation of women, but also, more fundamentally, by the vicarious exploitation of other men (namely the prostitutes’ clients, or, aptly named, ‘tricks’).
Sweet Jones, a character from Iceberg Slim’s famous novel, Pimp: The Story of My Life, succinctly and eloquently summarized the same point:
“A pimp is really a whore who has reversed the game on whores. So Slim, be sweet as the scratch, no sweeter, and always stick a whore for a bundle before you sex her. A whore ain’t nothing but a trick to a pimp. Don’t let ’em georgia you. Always get your money in front just like a whore.” (Pimp: The Story of My Life: xxi).
On this view, with their characteristically feminine concern for clothing, fashion, hair and hygiene and their ability, like housewives, to leech off the income of their sexual partners, pimps represent, not so much, as they themselves contend, “the only real men in America today” (p162), but rather second-rate female-impersonators.
 Indeed, many aspects of sex roles (e.g. sex differences in intraspecific aggression, and in levels of parental care) appear to be, not only cross-culturally universal, but also universal throughout the mammalian order, and indeed widespread among animals in general. This, of course, reflects the fact that they are not only innate, but moreover the product of analogous selection pressures operating among many different species (see Bateman 1948; Trivers 1972). Thus, for example, in all human societies for which data is available, men are responsible for an overwhelming majority of homicides, and also represent the majority of homicide victims. Similarly, in all documented cultures, mothers rather than fathers provide the vast majority of direct care for infants and babies.
 To illustrate just how comically caricatured public perceptions of the pimp lifestyle have become, it is worth pointing out that, in response to the use of the term in many rap songs, many people seem to believe that a ‘pimp stick’ is, to quote one definition, “an ornate or gaudy cane, as might be used by a stereotypical pimp”. In fact, however, pimps traditionally carried no such stick. Instead, the phrase ‘pimp stick’ originally referred, and among pimps presumably still refers, to a weapon composed of “two wire coat hangers twisted together” which is used by pimps as a whip with which to discipline disobedient whores (Whoreson: p212).
 In addition to Esther Vilar’s The Manipulated Man and my review of this work, see also Matthew Fitzgerald’s purported update to Esther Vilar’s work, namely his delightfully subtitled, Sex-Ploytation: How Women Use Their Bodies to Extort Money from Men.
 Curiously, the Milners claim to have interviewed Iceberg Slim (alias Robert Beck, née Robert Lee Maupin) and refer to this supposed interview at various points in their book. However, Beck himself, without mentioning them by name, denies this in The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim (p200), where he accuses the Milners of stealing black culture, i.e. what would today be called ‘cultural appropriation’. The mysterious interview is supposedly contained in the recently published collection, Iceberg Slim: The Lost Interviews With The Pimp.
Bateman (1948), Intra-sexual selection in Drosophila, Heredity, 2(3): 349–368
Draper P (1989) African marriage systems: Perspectives from evolutionary ecology. Ethology and Sociobiology 10(1–3):145-169
Hirschi T (1962) The professional prostitute. Berkeley Journal of Sociology 7(1):33-49
Trivers, R. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. Sexual Selection & the Descent of Man, Aldine de Gruyter, New York, 136-179. Chicago.