The psychology of this fear is complex: we can read it partially as the collective white male psyche's paranoia that black men, whose personhood slavery long denied, will usurp white male sexual and economic power. Partially, the militant desire to protect white womanhood springs from the fear of miscegenation (the interbreeding between the races). Southern society was structured quite strictly on having just two clearly demarcated races, the dominant race and the dominated race. After several generations of interbreeding, however, an individual's racial heritage could be impossible to know for sure. Of course, this taboo—children born of a white woman and black man—clearly demonstrates a double standard, as Paul is quick to point out to his father. Children born of a black woman and a white man, while "not discussed in polite society," according to Hammond, are neither the subject of scandal nor the impetus for lynchings. Perhaps these interracial couplings were tolerated because they did not pose an immediate and palpable threat to white male power and, in some ways, actually buttressed white male dominance. As the situation of Mister Edward's white wife, who sat by sadly and bitterly as her husband took a black mistress, and the mistress herself demonstrate, the institution of white male power limited the lives and power of black and white women as well.
Tensions about belonging and locality trouble Paul and his family. Paul, his brothers, and his father are all of the same blood, and as such belong together in the same house. However, race fractures the physical space the family shares—Paul and Cassie must eat in the kitchen when company arrives and Paul must go to a different school than the school Robert and his brothers attend. The physical separation of shared space leads to emotional fractures as well: the longer Robert spends away in his white boys' school, the more he becomes a member of an adult white male society that cannot countenance people like Paul. The longer the two boys are apart, the deeper the divide between them grows—first Robert laments being made fun of for his family, next he defends the offensive Waverly boys, and finally, he is their friend, ready to fight physically for them. By the end of the chapter, after Robert has repudiated him, Paul realizes that he has no place in his father's household and eats dinner in his mother's house. The physical separation follows closely on the heels of the emotional severance between the two boys.
Paul's whipping, which occurs as a consequence of Robert's misdeeds, closely mirrors his first punishment in the book, which he receives as a result of his decision to take the blame for Mitchell's misdeeds. Both situations expose the two boys' true alliances: Paul's decision to take the punishment for Mitchell's sake reveal him to be both selfless and true to his black friend. Robert's decision to stand against Paul in the company of his two white friends reveals that Robert's true alliance is to the white male world. In the first instance, Paul takes a punishment to save a (black) friend; in the second, he takes a punishment as a result of his (white) brother. Both instances demonstrate where Paul's loyalties and trust lie.