Race, Rape, and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890-1912

Race, Rape, and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890-1912

Race, Rape, and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890-1912

Race, Rape, and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890-1912

Synopsis

In the late nineteenth century, the stereotype of the black male as sexual beast functioned for white supremacists as an externalized symbol of social chaos against which all whites would unite for the purpose of national renewal. The emergence of this stereotype in American culture and literature during and after Reconstruction was related to the growth of white-on-black violence, as white lynch mobs acted in "defense" of white womanhood, the white family, and white nationalism. In Writing a Red Record Sandra Gunning investigates American literary encounters with the conditions, processes, and consequences of such violence through the representation of not just the black rapist stereotype, but of other crucial stereotypes in mediating moments of white social crisis: "lascivious" black womanhood; avenging white masculinity; and passive white femininity. Gunning argues that these figures together signify the tangle of race and gender representation emerging from turn-of-the-century American literature. The book brings together Charles W. Chestnutt, Kate Chopin, Thomas Dixon, David Bryant Fulton, Pauline Hopkins, Mark Twain, and Ida B. Wells: famous, infamous, or long-neglected figures who produced novels, essays, stories, and pamphlets in the volatile period of the 1890s through the early 1900s, and who contributed to the continual renegotiation and redefinition of the terms and boundaries of a national dialogue on racial violence.

Excerpt

In 1895 the militant African American woman journalist Ida B. Wells published A Red Record:
Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1893-1894
to discredit the widespread belief in the threat of black rape and to alert audiences at home and abroad about the scandal of lynching in the United States enabled by this belief. In naming my study Race, Rape, and Lynching:
The Red Record of American Literature, 1890-1912
, I deliberately echo Wells's title in order to call attention to and problematize discursive "records" on turn-of-the-century racial violence as primary moments of a complex literary engagement with the questions of race, rape, and lynching.

In this study I read American literature on racial violence as a broad construct that must include black and white, male and female writers utilizing a host of genres, and I offer a critical narrative that includes expected and unexpected names: Thomas Dixon, Jr., Mark Twain, Charles W. Chesnutt, and Ida B. Wells; but also Pauline E. Hopkins, David Bryant Fulton, and Kate Chopin. My purpose here is to engage neither in a chronological study nor an exhaustive examination of how differing camps drew up battle lines for or against lynching. Rather, I consider the similar and dissimilar ways in which, as these writers addressed the phenomena of lynching and white mob violence for which the trope of the black-male-as-rapist was a precondition, they simultaneously referenced post-Reconstruction anxieties about identity, sexuality, citizenship, and social change.

Chapter 1 addresses the novels of Thomas Dixon, Jr., the most famous propagator of the trope of the black rapist. I argue here that this figure mediates Dixon's merged anxieties about African American demands for citizenship, white femininity, and the Southern tradition of miscegenation. In this chapter I also consider Dixon's conflicted attitude toward racial violence as, paradoxically, a necessary tool of white supremacy but also an indicator of white racial degeneration, at a time when white supremacists appeared especially forceful in arguing for African American disenfranchisement on the basis of racial infe-

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