“White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America’s Racist History” by Jane Dailey— Advance Information

Dailey, Jane. “White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America’s Racist History”, Basic Books, 2020.

Fighting for Racial Equality

Amos Lassen

You will have to wait until November to read Jane Dailey’s new history of the fight for racial equality, “White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America’s Racist History”. In it, Dailey argues that “fear of black sexuality has undergirded white supremacy from the start.” With this she turns the way we understand the struggle for African American rights on its head. We see here that “those fighting against equality were not exclusively motivated by a sense of innate superiority, as is often supposed, but also by an intense preoccupation with the question of interracial sex and marriage.” Dailey looks at how white fears played a part in the battles over lynching, in policing of black troops’ behavior overseas during World War II, in the violence that followed the Brown v. Board decision, and in the aftermath of the Loving v. Virginia ruling, which finally declared marriage is a “fundamental freedom.” By placing sex at the center of civil rights history, we get a different look at  one of the most misunderstood issues of American history.

Dailey shows that the United States has always been obsessed with governing Black sex and marriage. White slave masters demanded sex from their Black slaves and Jim Crow-era laws presumed that Black men have an inborn tendency to sexual predation on white women. She examines how African American rights were closely tied, both by law and in the white imagination, to the question of interracial sex and marriage. To overcome  uniting sexual and civil rights is a long-time issue and this is the greatest challenge that black equality faces.

We must never allow ourselves to forget the importance of sex in history, especially in the history of civil rights history.

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