38 Race & Class 51(3)
Although contemporary researchers have begun to include aspects of race, gender, nation and class in their discussion of the campaign,15 and in so doing have enriched the historical record, connections between these categories have not been studied in depth nor have they represented the main focus of any analysis.16 This article seeks to do both.
Gender and its links with other categories were of central importance. The image of a white (often naked) German woman raped by a black soldier endowed with dangerous, ‘primitive’ sexual instincts lies at the heart of the ‘Black Shame’ discourse. As such, racist and sexist patterns of discrimination combine. However, I argue that German women on the Rhine were predominantly not physical victims of black troops, but symbolic victims of a campaign which peddled racist, sexist and pornographic imagery and manufactured a nationwide crisis where one did not exist. For, in reality, sexual atrocities against women involving French colonial soldiers occurred only in isolated cases.
Moreover, ‘Black Shame’ rape scenarios in films, novels, caricatures and other campaign data had clear pornographic dimensions. The racist construction of the ‘Black Shame’ enabled campaigners to project their own violent sexual fantasies on to the colonial soldiers. Pretending it was not them but black soldiers who wanted to violate German women, they could give vent to their own feelings and spread images of female bodies being tortured, torn asunder and abused in gruesome ways. The campaigners’, not the colonial soldiers’, sexual fantasies created a sense that multitudes of white women were subjected to sexual atrocities and perversions, raped by several men and even murdered. My research suggests that these rape scenarios, encapsulated in the ‘Black Shame’ discourse, illustrated the proponents’ willingness figuratively to victimise, torture and humiliate German women.17 They can moreover be seen as documentation of everyday violence against women in a patriarchal society.
Female bodies in the campaign were also used as a symbol of a devastated, defenceless German nation and a threatened white race. Campaigners equated the ‘honour of the German woman’ (deutsche Frauenehre) with the ‘honour of the nation’ (deutsche Nationalehre), considering both to be under threat from France’s ‘Black Scourge’. The fantastical image of a German woman raped by a ‘Black Horror’ was used as an allegory for a disarmed, figuratively raped (and thus emasculated) German people, bound by its enemies and the Treaty of Versailles. The campaigners constructed the black soldiers as a serious biological threat to the German nation. The rape of German women by ‘racially inferior’ blacks was seen as threatening a genealogically and racially defined German national body (deutscher Volkskörper) with contamination and desecration. In this ideological construction, the purity of both German womanhood and the German nation were identical. Campaigners claimed that sexual relations between German women and black soldiers would lead to miscegenation through a ‘mulatto-isation’ and ‘syphilitisation’ of the German nation. These fantasies can be understood in the context of a wider international discourse on eugenics, ‘racial purity’ and ‘racial hygiene’.18 They were particularly potent in a nation that defined itself on the basis of genealogical