STARRED REVIEW
November 18, 2020

White Fright

In order to understand the divisive United States of today, we must examine how the legacy of slavery and segregation continues to shape our nation. Jane Dailey’s White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America’s Racist History contributes to this conversation through the lens of white anxiety about interracial relationships.
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America’s current struggle with racist police violence, voter suppression and white supremacy has deep and bloody roots in our national history. In order to understand the divisive United States of today, we must examine how the legacy of slavery and segregation continues to shape our nation. Jane Dailey’s White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America’s Racist History contributes to this scholarship through the lens of white anxiety about interracial relationships.

A noted historian of race in America, Dailey grounds this book with a clear narrative voice as she reviews the legal cases that institutionalized segregation in the American South. From Reconstruction after the Civil War to the 1960s civil rights movement, this history has been marked by legal restrictions on interracial sex and marriage occasioned by the sexual panic Dailey terms “white fright,” in a nod to the idea of “white flight.”

Beginning in the late 19th century, voting restrictions such as poll taxes and literacy tests were used in the American South to suppress the African American vote. This allowed for the passage of the so-called Jim Crow laws, legal machinations that institutionalized racial segregation under the false claim of “separate but equal” and were accompanied by white supremacist mob rule and the tragic violence of lynching. Dailey shows how inflammatory narratives of sexual predation underpinned these assaults on Black lives, while also revealing how white women were then held to notions of racial “purity.”

An illuminating contribution to the history of racism in America, White Fright reveals how white anxieties around gender and sexuality shaped the Black experience of social injustice.

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