White Women, Black Men

White Women, Black Men addresses sexual and romantic relationships between, as the name suggests, white women and black men. The wedding from the seventeenth century that the author addresses at the beginning of the reading shows an interesting “before time.” Which the author explains as the time before there was white fear over sexual relationships between black men and white women. The author suggests that the reason for this is multifaceted, but one of the main reasons for the acceptance of Charles and Nell’s wedding was that there was not a large difference in the view of enslaved people and people who were servants. Most of these relationships can be found by the lawsuits that their children filed to earn their freedom or through early wedding records. Lawmakers started to write laws that would make marriage to enslaved men less “appealing” to white women as they would be harming their and their future children’s status as free persons. As the text explains, these marriages became less common as the delineating lines of enslavement and freedom became more racially drawn. This is because they became more threatening to the institution of racialized slavery that relied on power dynamics that were threatened by relationships between white women and black men.

In the discussion of Polly and Jim’s relationship, I found it interesting how the people of the town were quicker to blame Polly of perjury for lying about her pregnancy status instead of for the fact that she lied about her relationship with Jim. The discussion of Jim’s lawyer is interesting as well for different reasons. As what this lawyer says suggests that somehow consent is the only way to allow someone to get pregnant, and therefore it was not rape. However, this is obviously not the truth and these statements are harmful to the case as whole because it shows just how dated the viewpoints of the people in the jury and running the court. The bastardy claims that were made against Polly, as the author suggests were also dangerous to her reputation which may have made her chose to level the claims against Jim. The author’s discussion of how women attempted to conceal pregnancies by working within the house and sometimes even throwing themselves off of tall heights in an attempt to terminate their pregnancies was extremely interesting. Especially when Polly was quoted with asking for someone to get her something to get rid of the pregnancy, as the author suggests that many times people did this in an attempt to avoid being pressured into levelling rape cases against their lovers.

As the text moves towards the relationship between free black men and white women, the attempt at sexual control over these relationships still remain. As white men, in the case of the chapter 7, the Klan felt threatened by these relationships and attempted to control them by either threatening the couple or by refusing to allow the marriage license to be made legal. The author also describes violent and brutal cases where the Klan decided to take matters more into their own hands. In these cases many of the victims were either outright killed based on assumptions or mistranslated claims or they were brutally sexually abused and tortured. Although they attempted to protect the “purity” of upper class white women, this doesn’t mean that they had the same spirit for lower class women. The text explains how the Klan was not above assaulting and harming lower class white women who had known relationships with black men. Usually, the crimes done to these women were just as bad as the crimes done to the men that I described above. I found this interesting when it is placed in comparison to the discussions that are had in Arresting Dress, as many people claimed that they needed to “clean up the streets” to protect the purity of upper class women, even though that meant harming lower class women to do so. This shows an obvious hierarchy in what purity is “worthy” of being respected and protected.

Chapter 8’s discussion of mob violence and the lynching of black men is best summed up in Ida B. Well’s description of it being a “stale old lie” (187). The text explains how these violent assaults and murders of black men were being reported daily, and while all people are capable of committing these types of crimes, it is extremely suspicious that they were happening that regularly. Because of this, many of the accusations are believed to be false, and when the point of views and narratives of these men are taken into account very different stories are told. This shows just how much power white women had in the antebellum south and how much the concept of these women’s purity was deemed as more important than the lives of black men in the South.