Peril and Protection

Author: ORCID icon
Smilan-Goldstein, Rachel, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Winter, Nicholas, University of Virginia

In this dissertation, I assess the modern impact of a central historical myth in American culture and politics: the idea that Black men threaten the chastity and safety of White women. Emphasis on Black men sexually harming White women—the “peril narrative” (Stoler, 2001)—has been widely mobilized throughout American history: to justify policies that restrict the rights of Black men and to justify policies that ostensibly protect White women. Taking the peril narrative as an example of one important way race is framed in gendered and sexualized terms, I argue that White Americans’ understanding of politics is co-constructed with intersecting ideas about race, gender and sexuality. Using nationally representative survey data and original survey experiments, I find support for this argument in multiple political arenas: police reform, elections, criminal justice policy, and efforts to end sexual violence. The project enhances our understanding of how racism and sexism affect attitudes in tandem, with broad implications for understanding how power operates in American politics and society.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
political psychology, political communication, benevolent sexism, racial resentment, sexual violence
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