Race after the Master Race : Germans and African Americans, 1945-1949

Schroer, Timothy Louis, Department of History, University of Virginia
Confino, Alon, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Berlanstein, Lenard, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Butler, Reginald, Department of History, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

My dissertation examines the encounter between African Americans and Germans after 1945 and how that contact informed the reworking of the meaning of "race." By the end of World War II, the idea that Germans belonged to a superior Master Race had been discredited. Germans exchanged an Aryan racial identity for membership in the "white" race. German whiteness became meaningful through encounters with African Americans in the occupying army, surfacing in connection with the problem of sex between black soldiers and white German women and the question of the place of black jazz and spirituals in a white country.

Relations between African Americans and Germans in the American zone proceeded under the watchful eye of a military government publicly committed to eliminating Nazi racism. The American occupation, however, posed an ambivalent challenge to Nazi racial ideology, since many white Americans looked down on African Americans as inferior and saw interracial sex as unpleasant or even dangerous. Germans could safely articulate concerns about the immorality of women engaged in sexual relations across the color line because white Americans generally believed that moral white women would refuse such liaisons. White German morality was enforced through the application of laws controlling prostitution and the spread of venereal disease against German women who associated with African American men.

Race remained important in interracial associations from the perspectives of the African American men and German women involved, as the women's whiteness figured as a valuable asset, and the exoticism of the racial other proved an element of romantic attraction. For African American GIs, such relationships bolstered claims to power according to a masculine logic in which sexual access to women without regard to their race stood in for achievement of full civil rights. Music provided a second context for the recasting of the postwar meanings of blackness and whiteness. Jazz was identified with cultural contamination, while spirituals appeared to offer a safely contained vision of exotic blackness.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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