Sex at a Crossroads: The Gender Politics of Racial Uplift and Afro-Caribbean Activism in Panama, 1918–32
Abstract

Abstract:

This article explores the historical debates surrounding sexual deviancy among migrant Afro-Caribbean activists in Panama from the era of World War I until the 1930s. In addition to Panama Canal Zone records and Panamanian court records, this article utilizes a collection of West Indian newspapers published in Panama in order to trace the intersections of race, sex, labor, and class during the early twentieth century. This research highlights the central role that deviant sexuality played in articulating notions of black manliness during labor strikes on the Panama Canal led by Garveyite activists. Moreover, it highlights how Caribbean women shaped the gendered politics surrounding Pan-African activism through local courts, union halls, and newspaper columns. Their active engagement with patriarchal discourses and organizational culture influenced debates around sexual morality and racial uplift during a period of racist U.S. empire building as well as nationalistic xenophobia in Panama.