Karl Kraus (1874-1936) was a renowned satirist whose Viennese journal Die Fackel scathingly mocked hypocrisy, the misuse of language, and the abuse of power. Prejudice and hypocritical sexual prudishness were regular topics, and he wrote this piece in the wake of a German parliamentary debate in which a majority of deputies called on the colonial administration to revoke recently imposed bans on interracial marriage. In this piece he begins by reprinting four newspaper pieces reporting on fears that Black men were stealing white women. One of these articles re-printed a letter supposedly sent from a semi-literate Black man in Germany to his parents in Southwest Africa expressing his delight at being near white women. Kraus then follows with biting criticism, hoping that the authors and readers of such articles are kept awake at night by their fears of exhibition performers and their awareness of their own sexual inadequacy.
This article shows that the concern over colonial order, both in the colonies and in the German lands, was focused in particular on the control of white women and Black men’s bodies to a much greater extent than was the case when talking about relationships between white men and Black women. It also shows that there were white voices challenging this oppressive regulation of relationships.
White Woman and Black Man
“At the meeting of the German Colonial Society in Hamburg the following principle was unanimously accepted: whites, and this also applies to the masculine half, should be required to refrain from making erotic advances toward coloreds in the colonies. Any such advance is indirectly an insult against the dignity of white women. But white women are throwing away their own dignity with their conduct. In Germany there are vocal demands to entirely ban exhibitions of foreign tribes. But that would mean throwing out the baby with the bathwater and undermine an illustrative educational resource. Much better, the women who forget and lose themselves in this way should be heedlessly pilloried.”
“Women visiting the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg have been guilty of imposing themselves on the Bedouin troupe performing there. It went so far that the director of the Zoo and the police had to get involved. All visiting women who conspicuously tried to get the favors of the Bedouin men were simply thrown out, even some Bedouins who behaved especially ‘dangerously’ were deported to their homeland. And it was not merely young women from the lower social classes, but rather it was girls and women from the better ranks, manifesting an almost rapturous ecstasy, who committed the most distasteful intrusions. The white women completely forgot their dignity.”
“A while ago in Capetown a commission met that concerned itself with investigating the causes of the frequent attacks by Negroes [Negern] on white women. Three women also took part in this conference. One of these, a certain Mrs. Füller, an oldish woman from a smaller farming outpost, explained that much of these criminal attacks can be attributed to the coquettish, provocative nature of some white women. In many cases these women apparently find a certain pleasure in flirting with the poor nigger boys [Niggerboys] in the most shameful manner. It is then understandable if men who have such an instinctive sentiment as the Blacks do can easily be enticed to certain foolish actions. An old retired colonel had a different opinion, saying that one should, without exception, hang every Black man who allowed himself the slightest friendliness with a white woman. A doctor who belonged to the commission said that these abuses, which undeniably happen, would be hard to remedy. He said, by nature the Negro [Neger] is possessed of a very hot-blooded temperament and white women often excite them to an extreme degree by their seemingly much cooler and more controlled temperament. It is to be hoped, he concluded, that the Negroes [Neger] will lose much of their unruly nature with the progress of civilization.”
“The German-Southwest African Times published the original text of a letter that a Black man in Germany wrote to his parents in the colony: Dear parents! I would Like to write you, you have forgotten men, Write me not no letter. If you forgot Me, I don’t forget you. How it going with you thenn? are you everything healthy? I also doing well. You must Write back to me, How you are, so I also know much. A while ago I was in Herzfelde near Berlin, there was nice but now I am moved to another train station. Long while I will not Stay there. Now I doesn’t know where I go to now. Mabee Home or another station. But here is also good, but is not home, at Cristmas Very cold there in wintertime. Here in Germany many pretty girls, on Sundays nice party dances. With white girls there is much nicer. The whites are fine people, Like at home too, but Some are also bad. My dear parents, I would also like to ask something there, I have here talked to A White Girl who cann marrying me so I ask that you send me 500 marks so I cann Travel with. Here in Germany, when you marrying you Must have a lot of money. But I am Still an apprentice, I earning no money Now. So I Asking for 500 marks to send Me. Realy I telling you, I must have A White Girl, I like the White Girl the Best. Sincerely, Your Son, Joh. Mbida in Germany.”
Here Kraus begins his commentary.
Nigger [Nigger] knows what tastes good. White man doesn’t know. Loves not love, only dignity. Except Mrs. Füller, because she’s oldish. Don’t flirt shamefully with poor nigger boys [Niggerboys], and you won’t entice them to certain foolish actions. The old colonel wants to hang every Black man who is friendly to a white. All hope that the progress of civilization will also make bad niggers [Nigger] impotent . . . [I have] A compromise suggestion that will finally remove me from this civilization; an idea that I have reached that means no western citizen can take the tiniest bit of spirit from me; a heartfelt wish that will bring them all to the conviction that it would be better to lynch me than a thousand Negroes [Neger].
I wish this for them: their nights to be so black that they have to recognise the Negro [Neger] who pops up next to their marital beds. May his white teeth taunt them out of their slumber and present the confessor of Christian tooth decay trembling to their women. Like archangels may the Blacks and yellows stand guard at head and foot of their beds, helping to protect the hysterical booty they hunted away from nature.
May colonels, doctors, literature professors, judges, jurors, lawyers, master painters, bankers, coffee traders, pastors, wager earners of every sort no longer be free of the nightmare of inferior races who alone can revive their wizened wives. May the fear pursue them in their dreams that the next Bedouin exhibition will bind its illustrative educational material with the honour of their house. The child they do not want to throw out with the bathwater will not be theirs; nothing weighs on their paternity like this phrase!
During the day, may they pillory their wives because they could not satisfy them in the night and lynch those who could do it better: then may they experience in their sleep that only education perishes but nature lives again. Around the bed it will be lively. A Chinese man jumps from the wallpaper, a Moor next to the credenza turns his head, the “dumb servant” is ready to help out when the master fails. Household items and decorations will awaken, and every thing will have a face. The parlour is already full of inferior races. They come right in to take pity on the crucified Eros, on the victim of sad morality, and they excuse the failure because once isn’t a pattern. Sancta simplicitas!
Billions of women must atone for it, atone with their health and the health of the world, because the husbands repent so soon. And because they do not acknowledge their stand-in, so is he there. The inferiors are the born stand-ins. Illustrative educational material that entices them to foolish actions! They have such an instinctive sentiment! They inject new fuel into civilization. Do they not also have prettier teeth? Then they do not need to be ashamed of their laughter. What hovers about them in the dream? During the day if they wanted to gather their courage, they would be done with white cadavers and help the white bodies into the sun. I will show them the way. I know the obligation the Holy Ghost has imposed on me, setting me against the world. May they all, when they read this creed, loathe me even more than before. I am the mortal enemy who has crept into the western bedroom to betray the betrayer. May my face appear in their godless dream like that of Ephialtes!
Source: Karl Kraus, “Weiße Frau und schwarzer Mann,” Die Fackel (29 August 1912): 1-4. Translated by Jeff Bowersox.
Karl Kraus on Interracial Relationships (1912) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.