Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina by Kirsten Fischer
I can not help but be disappointed in Kirsten Fischer’s Suspect Relations. It is not that I disagree with her argument that the regulation of sexuality and the body, especially women’s bodies and sexuality, are central to the construction of race. In a way, Fischer’s book is the methodology and argument of Kathleen Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs but applied to North Carolina, instead of Virginia. The problem, to me at least, is not her framework but with her evidence.
There is simply not enough of it for North Carolina. Too many of her discussions of the construction of race and gender drift from her evidential base in North Carolina and into Virginia and South Carolina. While this is sometimes appropriate given the ties between the three colonies, too often too many of her arguments are clinched by evidence not from North Carolina – the titular state of the book. Too much of her evidence is already discussed (more thoroughly) in Brown’s book. Some of this is surely because of a lack of surviving evidence for North Carolina, a fact that she should be more forthcoming about and not paper over with evidence from other colonies.
Fischer has a clear mastery of the secondary literature of gender, race, and class in the colonial South and England. What would normally be a great strength for a book is actually a big weakness for Fischer’s. Because of her lack of evidence, too much of the book relies on secondary sources to make her argument for her – which greatly weakens the appeal of the book. What really is the problem with Suspect Relations is that it brings very little that’s new to the table. Which is a big disappointment.