The Great War and the New Negro Politics of Gender

Mark Whalan

in The Great War and the Culture of the New Negro

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print April 2008 | ISBN: 9780813032061
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039015 | DOI:
The Great War and the New Negro Politics of Gender

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This chapter evaluates how the Great War modified the perceptions of gender. This chapter looks into the changing perceptions of gender that dominated during wartime. During the war period, the figure of a black officer trained at Des Moines became the symbol of New Negro masculinity and this was used in the New Negro literature of the 1920s. This New Negro masculinity was associated with patriarchal authority, Victorian gentility, and traditional ideas of martial heroism. These new forms of masculinity were often celebrated and subjected to subtle criticism in the literature of the 1920s. The most notable of these were Edward Christopher Williams's The Letters of Davy Carr, Walter White's The Fire in the Flint, and Nella Larsen's Passing. In contrast, several narratives also attempted to revise and broaden the masculinist articulations of the New Negro. These new articulations of the New Negro and black subjectivity were not only observed in literary representations and literature, this new black subjectivity also had an impact on the system of mass testing the physiology and IQs of soldier draftees. This new data garnered from these tests was much debated in the 1920s. The debate centered on issues of the racial basis of scientific methodology and the capacity of this new technology and science to quantify racial identity. Debates on the link between race and intelligence and the data garnered by these tests were used by anthropologists as basis for their claim of the emergence of a new and distinct African American physiology which paved the way for the emergence of the so-called “brown America”. Anthropologists and African American writer alike presumed and suggested the emergence of the cultural shift of the New Negro Renaissance, and this was largely connected to physiological changes that were observed during the 1920s.

Keywords: Great War; perceptions of gender; gender; New Negro masculinity; 1920s; New Negro; masculinity; black subjectivity; New Negro Renaissance

Chapter.  35320 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literature

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