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Contagions of EmpireScientific Racism, Sexuality, and Black Military Workers Abroad, 1898-1948$
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Khary Oronde Polk

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781469655505

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469655505.001.0001

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Contagious Immunity

Contagious Immunity

Race, Sexuality, and the Black Venereal Body Abroad

(p.124) Chapter Four Contagious Immunity
Contagions of Empire

Khary Oronde Polk

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines how anxieties around race and sexuality during World War I produced overlapping projects of black masculine perfectibility and restraint within the U.S. military’s campaigns against venereal disease (VD) at home and in France. The belief that African American troops were members of a “venereal race” led efforts by white army doctors to enact novel and conventional modes of control in their efforts to discipline the bodies and desires of Black servicemen stationed overseas. While some of these doctors claimed the experimental regulation of Black male sexuality through the use of prophylaxis as a technocratic success, Black leaders touted the “clean” body of the African American soldier as a matter of masculine will rather than medicine. As subjects of these contradictory and competing discourses, Black troops in France developed a new consciousness of race and sexuality abroad. Through a consideration of stigmatized sexual practices, the sexual economy of French brothels, and the movement of African American military bands in France, this chapter shows how African American soldiers renegotiated meanings of race and nation in their travels outside of the United States.

Keywords:   venereal disease, VD, World War I, France, sexuality, control, prophylaxis, brothels, military bands, medicine

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