40 Race & Class 51(3)
Women who struck up relationships with black soldiers were deemed to have lost their honour as white women, and this social reality was labelled a ‘White Shame’ by the campaigners. German women and black soldiers were thus subjected to comparable processes of discrimination and dehumanisation. ‘Honourable women’ were depicted as victims of black lechery, whilst ‘dishonourable women’ were aligned in their debauchery with these black soldiers. What unites both of these metaphors is their opposite: that of the white male, resplendent in his intellect and rationality.24
Campaigners were determined to keep the sexuality of German women in the occupied Rhineland under control by instructing them to keep their bodies free from ‘alien influences’ and the ‘Black Disgrace’. Campaigners tried to reinforce their sense of national and racial honour by condemning women who had relationships with black soldiers. These women were seen as a stigma (Schandmal) for the German nation and the white race, and were socially excluded from these imagined communities.
Attempts such as these to control the sexuality and ‘racial purity’ of white women were familiar in the colonial context. The close interconnection of gender and race in the discourse on the ‘Black Shame’ can be seen in the wider context of a dominant colonial discourse on race in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The stereotype of the white woman was embedded in this discourse, as her ‘purity’ played a vital role in the European project of colonial imperialism and concerned not only European colonial powers but also American racial politics.
Thus groups of German men and local community members in the Rhineland urged women and girls to avoid any contact with black and other occupation troops, and subjected those who formed relationships to measures of prosecution, correction, proscription and public ridicule.25 Any existing relationships between black soldiers and German women, as documented in photographs and love letters, were seen as a betrayal of the German nation and the ‘white race’. The bodies of these women and girls were seen as impure, sometimes physically blackened with colour, beaten and disfigured by violent attackers.
Women from working-class backgrounds were regarded as particularly likely to become involved with France’s black troops. The campaign discriminated against them, and argued that women who voluntarily devoted themselves to black soldiers mostly came from a working-class background. They were accused of prostitution and campaigners represented them as particularly likely to become demoralised and engage in sexual relationships with black troops. These accusations against working-class women were linked to the established eugenic perception that society was split into superior and inferior members. The latter were depicted as being equipped with an excessive lecherousness, which resulted in their proliferation.
Thus the German nation only accepted and protected those women who appeared ready to perform the role of boundary markers and ‘gatekeepers’ of nation and race. Praised as ‘women of honour’, all others were dismissed as