White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America’s Racist History

Basic: Perseus. Nov. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781541646551. $30. SOC SCI
In this latest work, Dailey (history, Univ. of Chicago; Before Jim Crow) explores the centrality of white fears about interracial sex and marriage in developing and maintaining segregation between the end of Reconstruction and the Supreme Court ruling Loving v. State of Virginia (1967). Jim Crow depended, legally and socially, upon the ability to categorize individuals as either white or nonwhite; people who defied easy racial classification threatened the social and political structures of white supremacy. Therefore, the maintenance of white racial purity was a priority for white Southerners; even whites who thought of themselves as supporters of civil rights during the period would often “only articulate their position on the grounds that sex and marriage between Blacks and whites were off the table.” Dailey charts how white terror of interracial sexual intimacy was inextricable from every argument about civil rights, whether overtly offered up as the justification for lynchings, incongruously inserted into heated debates about workplace discrimination, or simmering as subtext in the massive resistance to school desegregation.
VERDICT This book makes a compelling argument that white America’s fear of interracial procreation was a driving concern in the creation and maintenance of segregation throughout the Jim Crow era; a thought-provoking read.
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