anderson on sexual threat, settler society and black perils in kenya


Daniel M. Anderson, “Sexual Threat and Settler Society: ‘Black Perils’ in Kenya, 1907-30”, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 38, 1, 2010.


This essay deals with ‘black peril’ scares in colonial Kenya, reviewing the evidence of reported cases of sexual assaults to provide a detailed account of their social and cultural resonance for settler society. Reported cases of assault were few in number and the outbreaks of ‘peril’ more sporadic in Kenya than in other settler societies in Africa, yet the exceptional nature of individual reported incidents of sexual assault was highly significant in shaping public perceptions of the real (or imagined) threat to ‘white purity’. Sexual assault of the innocent and helpless—children and the elderly—sparked the most vociferous of Kenya’s ‘black peril’ debates, culminating in 1926 in the introduction of legislation making the rape or attempted rape of a white woman by a black man a capital offence in Kenya. Fears and anxieties about the threat of African sexuality were incubated in the hothouse of Kenya’s small and insular settler community, but were also informed by a wider discourse on social morality and miscegenation that looked to other parts of the British Empire, especially Rhodesia and South Africa, and to Britain itself. Kenya’s three ‘black peril’ episodes—1907, 1920-22, and 1924-26—are examined in turn. The concluding discussion then returns to broader questions of the explanation for and timing of the ‘black peril’ scares, setting the Kenyan experience in comparison with the other African cases.

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