At the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, I presented the harrowing story of Judge Edward Aaron. In 1957, Aaron was tortured and castrated at the hands of several members of the Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy in an attempt to send a threatening message to black Civil Rights activists. At the conclusion of the panel, a male audience member asked, “Was he [Judge Aaron] raped?” I was stunned by this question; to me, it seemed obvious that Aaron had been sexually violated, at the very least, and my answer relayed my sense of the events as a sexual crime. It was clear, however, that this man, like many others, read the violation of Aaron, and many other black men, as being some other class of crime. In the absence of penetrative sex, he could not frame Aaron's assault as a sexual crime. In part, this is because in the absence of penetration, we do not generally read the male body as vulnerable and open to sexual abuse in the same way as the female body. For obvious reasons, lynching is bound up with sex. The narrative of the “black male rapist” is quite pervasive. Nevertheless, we tend to default to an almost exclusively racial lens when viewing lynching. This essay does not aim to displace this idea but to make a critical intervention in the conversation by suggesting that lynching can be understood as a type of racialized, sexual violence that uniquely harms black men.
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