Interconnections: Gender and Race (and Religion) in American History

By Carol Faulkner

I’m happy to announce the publication of Interconnections: Gender and Race in American History, edited by yours truly and Alison M. Parker , the latest entry in our Gender and Race in American History series  at the University of Rochester Press. (By the way, we welcome inquiries from prospective authors!). The volume features articles by Meredith Clark-Wiltz, Kendra Taira Field, Rashauna Johnson, Vivian M. May, Michele Mitchell, and Hélène Quanquin. The goal of the collection is to apply the theory of intersectionality to research in American history, and topics include interracial neighborhoods in antebellum New Orleans, the slavery-marriage comparison among anti-slavery and women’s rights activists, African Americans in Indian territory, the NAACP’s struggle for integrated juries, the intersectional scholarship of Anna Julia Cooper, and idleness and sexuality in the Great Depression.
Readers of this blog will be especially interested in two essays: Michelle Kuhl’s “Countable Bodies, Uncountable Crimes: Sexual Assault and the Antilynching Movement,” which shows how the martydom rhetoric used by African American ministers in the anti-lynching movement helped marginalize the sexual assault of black women as a political issue, and Deborah Gray White’s “What Women Want: The Paradoxes of Postmodernity as seen through Promise Keeper and Million Man March Women,” which examines similarities between two 1990s social/religious movements: conservative evangelical women in the Promise Keepers and African American women who supported the Million Man march.

Here is the description of Kuhl’s article from the introduction:

Michelle Kuhl’s “Countable Bodies, Uncountable Crimes: Sexual Assault and the Antilynching Movement” demonstrates that in the 1890s reformers initially linked the lynchings of black men with sexual assaults on black women, seeing both as part of a problem with white Americans’ characterizations of all blacks as oversexed…. As a result, Kuhl argues, activists saw black men’s and women’s vulnerabilities as problems that needed to be addressed and solved simultaneously. The antilynching movement began in the 1890s when reformers such as Ida B. Wells explicitly rejected the standard excuse that lynchings were somehow an understandable, if excessive, response to black men’s unacceptable raping of white women. Collecting reports of lynchings from white newspapers, Wells proved that in most cases, the black male victims of “lynch law” were not even accused of rape and that this justification for lynching was clearly illegitimate. Just as antilynching activists tried to deconstruct the myth of the black male rapist, they highlighted a real problem of sexual assault and unequal power relations represented by white men’s unpunished sexual assaults on black women. If whites could agree that rape of white women was a sin, how could they disagree that rape of black women was also a sin? Moreover, if all agreed that rape was wrong, then reformers could focus on ways to use the legal system (not extralegal mob violence) to protect women of any race from assaults. Tactically, this seemed like a good way to undermine justifications for lynching and violence against black men and women alike.

By the third decade of the twentieth century, two other tactics gained supremacy that, as Kuhl argues, “severed the link between antilynching activism and antisexual assault activism.” In particular, careful statistics compiled by Tuskegee Institute helped prove that black men were not being lynched for alleged rapes. The NAACP helped disseminate these statistics; by the 1930s spectacle lynchings became less socially acceptable among southern whites and began a long, slow decline. Second, beginning in the 1890s African American Christian ministers developed a masculinist martyrdom discourse around the suffering of lynched black males that equated their suffering to that of Christ on the cross. In the early twentieth century, black female rape victims were excluded from this rhetoric as well as from the statistics gathered by Tuskegee. The reasons behind this, Kuhl suggests, are complex but due in part to “the nature of sexual assault and how it differs from murder. In a lynching, no matter what disagreements there were over what first sparked the rage of the mob, at the end of the day there was a dead body that could be counted. There is no such certainty in sexual assault.”

Here is the description of White’s essay:

Deborah Gray White’s “What Women Want: The Paradoxes of Postmodernity as Seen through Promise Keeper and Million Man March Women” takes on a different set of gendered and racial stereotypes to make sense of women who supported two ostensibly conservative, male-centered social movements of the 1990s. White begins her chapter by outlining feminist critiques of the Million Man March and the Promise Keepers by the National Organization for Women and by black feminist academics. In particular, they objected to the exclusion of women from the march and from Promise Keeper gatherings and expressed concerns over the rhetoric of both movements, which privileged men as patriarchs who could be the only true saviors of their families and communities. In the predominantly white Promise Keepers movement, the white evangelical and fundamentalist Christian wives accepted the view that wives must submit to their husbands. Promise Keepers justified women’s submission by emphasizing that men’s and women’s physiological differences mandated gender-specific marriage roles sanctioned by God. But most Promise Keeper wives, White argues, “understood equality not in the sense of sameness but in the vein of equal complementary roles.” Seeing the increasing divorce rates among Christian couples, these wives welcomed the revitalization of their marriages offered by men’s participation in the movement.

White argues that most black women similarly accepted their exclusion from the 1995 Million Man March, agreeing that men needed to take more responsibility for their families and their lives. Although it might have appeared that they were accepting their own subordination, White points out that they were most concerned with empowering their own sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands who were statistically at higher risk of incarceration or murder than the rest of the American population. Black women welcomed any attempt by their men to help end the cycle of black men’s imprisonment and of deaths and injuries due to gun violence in their communities…. Struck by the similar agendas of women who supported both the Million Man March and the Promise Keepers in the 1990s, White points to the fact that “there were paradoxical similarities in the ways and means used by each group to address the realities that beset them in the 1990s.”


Edward J. Blum said…
congratulations on such a wonderful looking book; my first undergraduate US religious history paper was on the Promise Keepers (with Sue Juster leading me toward a feminist critique of them!)

Popular Posts