The Rhetoric of White Slavery and the Making of National Identity
Rhetoric of Power and Protest
Published by: Michigan State University Press
Imprint: Michigan State University Press
Sales Date: 2023-07-01
266 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- ISBN: 9781611864595
- Published: July 2023
At the turn of the twentieth century, the white slavery panic pervaded American politics, influencing the creation of the FBI, the enactment of immigration law, and the content of international treaties. At the core of this controversy was the maintenance of white national space. In this comprehensive account of the Progressive Era’s sex trafficking rhetoric, Leslie Harris demonstrates the centrality of white womanhood, as a symbolic construct, to the structure of national space and belonging. Introducing the framework of the mobile imagination to read across different scales of the controversy—ranging from local to transnational—she establishes how the imaginative possibilities of mobility within public controversy work to constitute belonging in national space.
Exhaustively researched, concisely written, and cogently argued, Harris’s analysis of historical debates over “white slavery” provides insightful parallels to contemporary conspiracy theories about sex trafficking. Harris makes clear the rhetoric around “white slavery” was less about prostitution and more about whiteness and national identity, women’s public role, and the use of mobility (and its restrictions) as a form of social control.
—Catherine Helen Palczewski, professor of cCommunication and mMedia, University of Northern Iowa, coauthor of Rhetoric in Civic Life (3rd ed.) and Gender in Communication (4th ed.)
Harris’s thoroughly researched and carefully argued case studies present a cohesive and compelling argument about how rhetorics of race, gender, and mobility have been deployed to shore up a white supremacist version of US national identity. This important research lends insight not only into historical discourses about womanhood and sexual exploitation; the book also outlines troubling themes and strategies that often are present in contemporary anti-trafficking rhetoric. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding how gendered exploitation is strategically and cynically used to perpetuate oppressive power structures.
—Karrin Vasby Anderson, professor of communication studies, Colorado State University, and coauthor of Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture