Baker had opportunities in France that a black woman did not have in segregated US society and she did not have to deal with the daily outrage of a color line. At the same time the French and European obsession with Baker’s ‘primitivism’, which she played into with her famous banana dance, spoke to a racism magnetized by the erotic possibilities of blacks. In the twilight of European colonialism she symbolized the elusive native, the one who sang, danced, and tantalized but remained independent. Emerging half-naked on stage from a giant cage, Baker capitalized on barely-repressed European racial fantasies and turned them into a personal fortune. As she said, “Leers and dirty looks are two sides of the same coin.”
The African American world paid close attention to Baker and the Revue Négre as they conquered Paris. W.E.B Du Bois took note of her in The Crisis and the African American press chronicled her successes. Middle-class white Americans, few of whom had ever seen Baker perform during her US career, knew of Baker but paid her little more than brief attention. It was in Europe where Baker had the most profound impact as the American image of the Jazz Age. Two Americans especially mattered to Europeans in the 1920s: Woodrow Wilson and Josephine Baker.