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Friday, November 23, 2012


During the post-reconstruction era, cultural myths and technology combined to produce a situation in which black bodies were used to convey the message that liberty for whites required the subjugation of blacks (Austin 2006:163): black men via death and black women via rape. The most popular cultural myth used to validate atrocities during this era was the hypersexuality of black people. This myth allowed for black men to be persecuted under the guise of raping white women, while simultaneously promoting the massive rape of black women by white men.

The White Citizens Council (WCC), the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and politicians launched campaigns against miscegenation as the way to protect the Southern way of life (McGuire 2010:140). This Southern way of life that needed protection was one in which black women’s bodies belonged to all men and white women’s bodies belonged to only white men. Like most rhetoric highly charged with racist ideals, this platform was wrought with contradictions. White men who were against miscegenation were raping black women. These same white men simultaneously promoted lynching as a necessary practice to deter and punish black men from raping white women.

Danielle McGuire (2010) wrote about how the large scale rape of black women eventually led to the Civil Rights Movement. She problematized the popular narrative of racial, non-sexual, motives behind the initiation of the movement (McGuire 2010:22). She wrote of black women’s testimonies, and how it was common throughout the South for white men to say they had to have a black woman before they died (McGuire 2010:203). Among the testimonies included was one of an 11 year old girl, Endesha Ida Mae Holland, who was led to a white man’s room and placed on his bed by his wife. She was consequently raped by this man and then given what was viewed as monetary compensation from her rapist (McGuire 2010:201-203).

Newspapers were the most popular form of media during the bulk of this era. Journalists tended to this discrepancy of racial and gender differences differently depending on the racial composition of its target audience. The Louisiana Weekly, a paper written for a black audience, brought attention to how all one had to do was look at skin variations and see that amalgamation started years ago so fears of miscegenation “beginning” was ridiculous (McGuire 2010:187). Southern White journalists used newspaper articles as opportunities to continue the practice of lynching as a method to promote the subjugation of black people. Lynching articles became standard grounds for painting black men as sexual predators, and in contrast, white women as purely undeserving victims who needed white men to protect them. Ironically, at the same time black men were posited as rapists of white women which socially validated the practice of lynching in all of its various forms, white men were raping black women on a grand scale and justifying it as the Southern way of life.

The large scale raping of black women was utilized as a means to maintain the human hierarchy, in which Western European white men dominate all others. The rape of black women during the lynching era, in which black men were killed, was a terror tactic to demonstrate to blacks that their destined position was beneath whites - that blacks were less than human.

McGuire, Danielle. 2010. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. Alfred A. Knopf: New York.

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