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UNDER SIEGE IN ANY ERA: White Threat and Victim Memories of the Civil Rights Movement

  • Kristen M. Lavelle (a1)

Whites’ sense of their racial vulnerability has been established as a key facet of U.S. post-civil rights racial ideology. This paper analyzes Whites’ victim claims attached to a historical era, via recent in-depth interviews with elder White Southerners, and argues that, through invoking civil rights-era racial vulnerabilities—mistreatment from social changes and African Americans—White Southerners downplay institutional racism, delegitimize the Civil Rights Movement, and construct White innocence and Black pathology. In contrast, younger Whites’ victim claims assert Whites as racially innocent and equitably vulnerable to racism, but these narratives of the racial past achieve similar ends. By constructing the civil rights era as dangerous and unjust, elder White Southerners lay claim to a lifelong nonracist identity and deny systemic racism. This analysis suggests that White threat and victim narratives are not products of a post-civil rights milieu, but rather are generated by Whites’ use of racial framing to construct a sense of self, other, and society.

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Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Kristen Lavelle, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Criminology and Anthropology, University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, 2116 Laurentide Hall, 800 West Main Street, Whitewater, WI 53190-1790. E-mail:
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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
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