white women
(Image: Wikimedia Commons/Henry Moses)

Such was the absurd imagination of the white man when it came to black sexuality, wrote the psychiatrist and cultural theorist Frantz Fanon in 1952, that "no longer do we see a black man; we see a penis: the black man has been occulted. He has been turned into a penis: he is a penis".

This reveals the underlying anxiety and cause of the violence and hatred directed at black men by white men: white men feared that white women would willingly enter into sexual relationships with black men, and that their mixed-race children would threaten the economic and social dominance of white men.

To understand race in the settler-colonial context, we must understand the centrality of sex. It all came down to sex: who was allowed to have it, when, and with whom. It was through sex work that some white women were able to assert financial and social independence. It was through rape that slavery was enforced and reinforced. And it was through sex that whiteness and white male authority could be both bolstered and undermined.