By William Turner
In the ongoing imbroglio over Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, yet another Christian minister has added fuel to the fire. A number of women have stated that Moore pursued and/or sexually assaulted them when they were under the age of consent and he was a lawyer. Now Flip Benham, who is an anti abortion activist, has said that Moore pursued younger women because of their “purity.”
It would be easy for people who don’t think this way to miss the clear undertone of racism in this claim. Racism and sexism often go hand in hand, since both reflect the desire of white men to order everyone else around.
“Purity” is a racist dog whistle that harkens back to the era of African American civil rights protest. As African Americans demanded the end to racial segregation and began to enjoy some successes in the late 1950s and early 1960s, defenders of segregation began to decry what they called the “mongrelization” of the races that they predicted would result from allowing people of different races to interact freely. In contrast, they wanted to retain the alleged “purity” of the white race. Never mind that their slave owning ancestors had long since corrupted any racial “purity” by raping slave women and producing mixed race children.
The decision of the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down the state’s statute prohibiting interracial marriages, quotes the trial judge on this topic: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” This is the racial “purity” that segregationists wanted to preserve and that Benham appeals to with his comment about Moore seeking “purity” in younger women. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/388/1
The other aspect of segregation that the term, “purity,” appeals to is the racist myth that black men are inherently threatening to white women because they are always on the prowl for white women to rape. Segregationists spilled a huge amount of ink in the first half of the twentieth century about the importance of protecting the “purity of white womanhood” from the alleged depredations of black men. Perhaps the most famous example of this racist paranoia was recently in the news again as well. In 1955, two white men killed black teen Emmett Till in Mississippi after Till allegedly made a comment to the wife and sister of the men that they considered to be inappropriate. The woman who precipitated the attack on Till recently announced publicly that she had lied about the incident.
It seems highly unlikely that white men will kill any black men in the dark of night for allegedly speaking improperly to any white woman in 2017, although in too many instances now black men die at the hands of police officers for equally trivial reasons. But Benham’s invocation of “purity” to try to excuse Roy Moore’s forays in child molestation should remind us that the ideology of our racist past is still very much with us and that at a minimum, Donald Trump does not seem much to mind that.