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“Do You Call Yourself a White Man?”

“Do You Call Yourself a White Man?”

Nationalism, Criminalization of Interracial Sex, and the Policing of White Male (Hetero)sexuality in South Africa during Apartheid

'“Do You Call Yourself a White Man?”: Nationalism, Criminalization of Interracial Sex, and the Policing of White Male (Hetero)sexuality in South Africa during Apartheid' was written by former fellow Susanne M. Klausen and just published in top journal American Historical Review.

About the Article

This essay is about the policing of white male heterosexuality in order to protect whites’ mythical racial purity in South Africa during the apartheid era (1948–94). Contrary to colonial authorities’ practice of turning a blind eye to settler men’s extramarital sexual exploits with colonized women, the apartheid regime attacked white heterosexual men’s patriarchal sexual liberties. In 1950, the National Party government passed the Immorality Amendment Act criminalizing extramarital sex between whites and people of color. Though technically gender neutral, the law was crafted by leaders of the authoritarian and puritanical Afrikaner nationalist movement to stop white heterosexual men from crossing the color line for illicit sex. Tens of thousands of people were arrested for contravening the law, and while its enforcement inflicted tremendous harm and hardship on women of color, it was white men, often Afrikaner themselves, who made up the single largest category of individuals prosecuted and convicted. This essay examines the origins of the law, state methods of enforcement, and some of the harmful gendered social consequences of its brutal application.

Read the full article (open access) here.

About the Author

Susanne M. Klausen is Brill Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at PennState University. Her research and teaching interests include the politics of fertility in Southern Africa, nationalism and sexuality, and transnational movements for women’s reproductive rights and justice. She is the author of Race, Maternity, and the Politics of Birth Control in South Africa, 1910-1939 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Abortion Under Apartheid: Nationalism, Sexuality, and Women’s Reproductive Rights in South Africa (Oxford University Press, 2015) that won the Women’s History Prize awarded by the Canadian Committee on Women’s History (2016) and the Joel Gregory Prize awarded by the Canadian Association of African Studies (2016).

Vengeance as legitimate aggression can yield tremendous pleasure, especially if it takes the form of a defense of moral purity.

Klausen is currently working with Jacana Press to publish posthumously the memoir of the pathbreaking black anti-apartheid journalist Juby Mayet, for which Klausen wrote an extended introduction. She is also writing a monograph on the South African Immorality (Amendment) Act (1950) that criminalized sexual contact between whites and people of colour. The monograph examines the implementation and impact of the apartheid state’s policing of inter-racial sexual relationships in an attempt to maintain whites’ mythical racial purity.
Susanne M. Klausen was a NIAS Individual Fellow for ten months in 2019/20.