“Going to Meet the Man”: Scripting White Supremacist Eros

Reconstruction gave birth to a new form of black legal subjectivity in the context of the civil life. The conclusion of the Civil War was supposed to ensure both a de jure and de facto expansion of what it meant to be black in the U.S. context. Yet white civil society responded the death of slavery through the practice of lynching. Often read as an intimate, communitary, and deeply erotic social phenomena, lynching is often deployed in the context of building blackness as monstrosity, emasculating the black phallus, and protecting white female purity. In the short story "Going to Meet the Man," James Baldwin provides a necessary, though oft-ignored, meditation on the deep homoeroticism and fantasy of lynching for white male authority. Written in the context of burgeoning Black Power and the Civil Rights movement, I argue that Baldwin's work builds a channel between the lynching practices of the postbellum South with the violence of the modern police state, all the while expanding narratives of lynching into deeply homoerotic space, in turn providing both a corrective and new perspective on the way in which we read lynching as well as confronting white authority with its laden homosociality. In turn, we must pause at this new conception of white civil society and the often obscured territories of deeply subconscious desires for black male flesh, as Baldwin's work taps into a reconceptualization of the turn from slave to free black that passes from an issue of political economy to one of libido and rampant accumulation and consumption.
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