Friday, March 9, 2007

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: Sexism Edition

White men, especially Southerners, . . . are dead set against any measures that will lift the Negro's status, because they are certain that such measures will bring the Negro one step nearer to the white woman's bedroom. Meanwhile it is a common saying in the South among white males that "a man is not a man until he has slept with a nigger."1

Around two weeks ago, I made a post about the double-standards of miscegenation attitudes--that is, white men/black women were generally acceptable, but the reverse was unthinkable. And galamb_borong replied,
I can't quite make sense of this. Did people think men had the dominant traits or something? Because miscegenation is going to happen either way.

In this post I'm going to try to answer that question. Be warned, though, that I'm hardly an expert on this facet of racism/sexism, and I have little idea of what is cause and what effect--whether something contributed to this hypocrisy, or whether it was a result of already-entrenched ideas.

The simplest answer to the question is "white men made the rules," so naturally the rules were going to be biased to give them the greatest amount of freedom. For example, in the 1895 constitutional convention for South Carolina, the delegates inserted an anti-miscegenation provision into the constitution (which was not repealed until 1998) reading "The marriage of white persons with a Negro or a mulatto, or person who shall have one-eighth or more of Negro blood, shall be unlawful and void." Robert Smalls, a former Representative, proposed that it be amended to read
The marriage of white persons with a Negro or a mulatto, or person who shall have one-eighth or more of Negro blood, shall be unlawful and void; and any white person who lives and cohabits with a Negro, mulatto, or person who shall have one-eighth or more of Negro blood, shall be disqualified from holding any office of emolument or trust in this State, and the offspring of any such living or cohabiting shall bear the name of the father, and shall be entitled to inherit and acquire property the same as if they were legitimate.

This would have affected most of the other delegates present; it was fairly common for Southern whites to have black mistresses. Naturally, the amendment was voted down.

Additionally, racist attitudes didn't arise in a vacuum; there were already-present sexist ideas that were incorporated. One of these being the treatment of women as objects that belong to men. The notorious question that was inevitably bandied about was "Would you want your daughter (or sister) to marry a Negro?" This was of course asked of white men. The women who might be involved were mere possessions of their male relative: "his" daughter, "his" sister. So white women/non-white men was resisted because it was an encroachment onto the property of white men.

And here we enter supposition territory. In the post that prompted the post that prompted the question that prompted this post, I quote William Benjamin Smith as saying that this hypocrisy, while deplorable, was not earth-shattering and civilization-devouring because while it "has poured a broad stream of white blood into black veins", it has not "poured even the slenderest appreciable rill of Negro blood into the veins of the Whites." That is, women were the guardians of the race, and so a white man sleeping with a black woman adulterated black blood (which only would wind up improving it), while a black man sleeping with a white woman would adulterate white blood. I'm not sure where this idea came from, but I have a guess.

Most of the early miscegenation laws were created to determine precisely how slavery would work: if a slave and a free person mated, what would be their offspring's condition? free or slave? The states mostly decided that if the child's mother were a slave, the child would be; and if she were free, so would it--a doctrine Byron Martyn refers to as partus sequitir ventrem. The first miscegenation law was, in fact, titled "Negro womens children to serve according to the condition of the mother."2
The principle that offspring follow the condition of their mother "was adopted by all of the Southern Commonwealths, with the exception of Maryland during a part of the colonial period."3

That exception was Maryland's 1664 law, which declared that a child would be slave or free if their father was. However, in 1681 Maryland switched to partus sequitir ventrem, and re-affirmed this with its 1715 statute.

Since traditionally a mother's condition determined that of her offspring, that might have morphed into the idea that a mother's race determined that of her child. A white woman would give birth to a white child that happened to have black blood, while a black woman would give birth to a black child that happened to have white blood. Again, just a guess.

More supposition, but a bit better-documented. Some of the hypocrisy may stem from stereotypes about sexuality. Blacks--both male and female--were hyper-sexualized.
As an unidentified Southern white woman wrote in The Independent in 1904,
"I cannot imagine such a creature as a virtuous black woman."4

This had some interesting consequences for miscegenetic relationships involving black women. First, it absolved white men of some of the responsibility:
Not only did the Negro woman's warmth constitute a logical explanation for the white man's infidelity, but, much more important, it helped shift responsibility from himself to her. If she was that lascivious--well, a man could scarcely be blamed for succumbing against overwhelming odds.5

But also a black woman was presumed incapable of being raped:
Black women were also burdened by the prevalent belief that they were sexually promiscuous. This belief offered white men a convenient excuse. How could they be condemned, after all, for engaging in sexual relations with women who were, by dint of their race, inherently aggressive and unchaste? How could they be faulted for taking advantage of women whose racial character impelled them to give sex for the asking, without need of persuasion, much less violence? And how could they be blamed for raping a sexually voracious species of human property? These beliefs put down deep and hardy roots. Over seventy years after the abolition of slavery, the white antilynching activist Jessie Daniel Ames would remark on the continuing influence exerted by the mythology of black female lasciviousness: "White men have said over and over . . . that not only was there no such thing as a chaste Negro woman--but that a Negro woman could not be assaulted, that it was never against her will."6

One case of this being said explicitly rather than just as a summary of other's beliefs is in the 1889 book The Plantation Negro as a Freeman. During his discussion of crimes committed by blacks, he explains that black men don't understand the concept of rape because their own women are so sexually wanton that they are always willing.
The average plantation negro does not consider rape to be a very heinous crime. He is so accustomed to the wantonness of the women of his own race that it is not strange that his intellect, having no perception of personal dignity or the pangs of outraged feeling, should be unable to gauge the terrible character of this offense against the integrity of virtuous womanhood.... The rape of a negress by a male of her own color is almost unheard of, a fact that is a strong proof of the sexual laxness of the plantation women as a class; for if they attached any importance to sexual purity, and strenuously resisted all improper encroachment upon it, the criminal records of the negro men would contain details of many such assaults. As it is, their careers are comparatively unblemished in this respect.7

In fact, Louisiana's antebellum rape law "explicitly excluded Black women from its protection."8

On the other hand, white women were perceived of as pure, immaculate, chaste. "[E]ven when white women are married and become mothers, southern white men still refer to them as chaste!"9

Two court cases may point out the significance of this. First, the Florida Supreme Court in 1918 declared that
an unchaste female being a comprehensively rare exception is no doubt true where the population is composed largely of the Caucasian race, but we would blind ourselves to actual conditions if we adopted this rule where another race that is largely immoral constitutes an appreciable part of the population.10

On the other hand, Alabama's Supreme Court ruled six years earlier that
though a white woman be a prostitute, the presumption is strong, nearly conclusive, among both the races, that she will not yield--has not yielded--even in her confirmed depravity, to commerce with a negro charged with an offense against her person. The consensus of public opinion, unrestricted to either race, is that a white woman prostitute is yet, though lost of virtue, above the even greater sacrifice of the voluntary submission of her person to the embraces of the other race.11

In other words, the presumption of chastity is thrown out when blacks become involved. Yet even a prostitute, the most debased of women, is assumed to be "above" voluntarily sleeping with a black man. So the black woman/white man relationship was presumed voluntary for both sides--the woman, in fact, was just asking for it--no matter the actual circumstances. And in the reverse situation, the exact opposite is true: there's a strong presumption of rape in a white woman/black man relationship, even if it's completely voluntary. Although, I don't know whether this was a result of, rather than a contribution toward, the sexual hypocrisy of miscegenation attitudes.

Anywho. I hope someone found this informative, as well as coherent, since I skipped sleep to write this post.

1. Calvin C. Hernton, Sex and Racism in America, p. 6
2. Byron Curti Martyn, Racism in the United States: The Anti-Miscegenation Legislation and Litigation, p. 19.
3. Ibid., pg. 20. Quoting Lewis C. Gray, History of Agriculture in the Southern United States, 1958, p. 360.
4. Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, p. 11.
5. Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812, p. 151.
6. Randall Kennedy, Interracial Intimacies, p. 176.
7. Philip A. Bruce, The Plantation Negro as a Freeman, pp. 84-85.
8. Roberts, Killing the Black Body, p. 30.
9. Herton, Sex and Racism in America, p. 18.
10. Dallas v. State, 76 Fla. 358, 364 (1918).
11. Story v. State, 178 Ala. 98, 104 (1912).

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