The Devil Within Us

White women’s violence is a time-honored American tradition. But it doesn’t have to be.

Rose Ernst
8 min readJun 3, 2020

Photo by Alfred on Unsplash

“Mistress Epps was not naturally such an evil woman, after all. She was possessed of the devil, jealousy, it is true, but aside from that, there was much in her character to admire.”

“[I]f she was not watchful when about her cabin, or when walking in the yard, a billet of wood, or a broken bottle perhaps, hurled from her mistress [Epps]’ hand, would smite her unexpectedly in the face.” — Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853

Amy Cooper. (2020)

Parking Lot Karen. (2020)

BBQ Becky. (2019)

Katie Robb. (2001)

Susan Smith. (1994)

Carolyn Bryant Donham. (1955)

Victoria Price & Ruby Bates. (1931)

What do these white women have in common? They, along with thousands of other white women, have called on white supremacy to threaten, maim, incarcerate, or kill Black people, mostly Black men. And they knew exactly what they were doing.

This makes Mr. Northrup’s note that Mistress Epps wasn’t naturally an evil character — even though she routinely viciously beat enslaved women, the women she kidnapped in her house — even more disturbing. But this illustrates the point perfectly. Whether sweet or spiteful, white women have the power to kill and maim with impunity, and not just by calling on the cops or white mobs to murder people.

Let’s get historical, shall we?

My university students were always shocked to learn that the glue of white supremacy always has been and continues to be white women. Historian Kathleen Brown notes how the legal emergence of race in colonial Virginia of the 1600s had its roots distinguishing between Black and White women:

“Virginia’s colonial government tried to reinforce its authority by regulating the labor and sexuality of English servants and by making legal distinctions between English and African women.” — Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs

Rose Ernst

Scholar, writer, editor, and autistic traveler. Autistic Traveler: Writing Sprints: