Abstract

During World War I, white Americans heard and retold numerous stories that the nation's racial minorities—above all African and Mexican Americans—would make easy, or even eager, targets of German subversion. Although these rumors have not been studied as vehicles for the reproduction of race, nor as specific tools for the defense of white supremacy, they both reflected and reinforced notions of racially contingent citizenship through their emphasis on differential capacities for loyalty. Minorities’ allegedly inferior attachment to the nation demonstrated their ineligibility for its full blessings, while whites’ privileges rested on claims of their unquestioned allegiance to the war effort. As such, disloyalty rumors provided a national security justification for new and ongoing attempts to secure racial hierarchy that included violence, organizing and arming white power groups, immobilizing racialized labor, and denouncing nascent civil rights movements as foreign-inspired. The wartime discourse of loyalty was not just exclusionary, however, as African and Mexican Americans both refuted and exploited the rumors as a means to demonstrate and demand an equal place within the national community.

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