‘Hideous spectacle’ of ‘a negro in khaki with a white woman’

West Indian soldiers in France in 1918.
The National Library of Scotland via Flickr.

16 July 1919

On 16 July 1919, a letter, appearing in the Hull Daily Mail, typified the racist panic which gripped Britain over the presence of black soldiers. It also clearly demonstrated the importance which many British men attached to maintaining African subservience and ostracism in Britain’s African colonies.

‘Sir, this evening I had the unpleasant experience of seeing a negro in khaki with a white woman and a white woman’s child. She was seeing him off at the station. To me it was a hideous spectacle. As a member of the British South African Mounted Police (Rhodesia) I have had a great deal to do with natives from Cape Town to the Lakes, and I feel it my duty to all white girls to tell them a little of what they might expect… ‘ He first warned of the grim conditions that would face a white woman if she traveled back to Africa with a black soldier, the ‘dirty mud huts’ and the ‘necessary’ subservience ensuring that ‘no native is allowed on the pavement, (and that) every native takes off his hat to a passing white man,’ explaining that ‘this subservience, hateful to his wife, must be enacted if the white race is to maintain its supremacy.’

The former colonial police officer concluded his letter with a warning of a risk so shocking to the paranoid imperial imagination that it could only be eluded to in carefully guarded terms. ‘In an English paper I cannot describe the horrors which might befall white women if unprotected, but dwellers in Africa and other countries with a large black population know them only too well, and mothers of daughters in these lands live in an atmosphere of tense anxiety. What wonder if Englishmen, knowing this, should protect with all their power against the freedom English girls allow to the black man.’1

FOOTNOTE

  1. ‘English Girls and Black Men – Unpleasant Experiences,’ The Hull Daily Mail, 16 July 1919, p. 4.

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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