Thursday, January 15, 2009

Du Bois and the souls of black folk

January 15, 2009
Posted by Michael Fong
Journal #4
W. E. B. Du Bois, "The Souls of Black Folk"

"The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, -this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face." (W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk)

In this quote, the notion of "double consciousness" or "two-ness", as one may call it, was introduced by Du Bois. The American Negro was placed at that time in a position of great dilemma: he believed that he deserved the same civil rights as the whites, but at the same time he had to cope with poverty and realities of life. Being torn between the two causes, Du Bois argued that any attempt for the Negro to operate on both ends at the same time "could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but half a heart in either cause." Du Bois then went on to analyze the position and identity of the American Negro in the society after emancipation, and subsequently launched his bold attacks on the philosophy and the measures to improve the lives of the African Americans put forth by Booker T. Washington.

Could it be possible that the minds and souls of the black folks be more fittingly described, analyzed, and explained than by the words of Du Bois? Indeed, Du Bois was right in saying that the African Americans at that time had too much on their hands. Emancipation was supposed to signify the promise of freedom and dignity to the negroes, and yet decades later the promise proved to be as distant as ever.

This is not our problem, Du Bois is saying. What we want, what we as blacks want, is simply the rights to be regarded as equals and enjoy the opportunities that come along with it. It is the whites, Du Bois continues, that need to change the way of how they perceive the American negroes. I agree with Du Bois with this point. Whatever race a man was born to be, it must not be a factor when judging whether a man deserves certain rights or not. All men are born equal. To strip a man of his opportunities and of his rights, and to place him in a position of inferiority is an insult to the very core values of humanity that we stand for.

Du Bois regards that admitting, or even passive submission to the idea that the black race was inferior is insulting and repulsive to his own race, which is one of the main reasons of his conflict with Booker T. Washington. Du Bois participated actively in opposing against the views and perceptions of black being biologically inferior to other races. He argued that "the Negro races are from every physical standpoint full and normally developed men [who] show absolutely no variation from the European type sufficient to base any theory of essential human difference upon" (wikipedia). This form of scientific racism reminded me of the Nazis during the war, at that time which they conjured up a volley of "scientific" reports claiming that the Jews was an inferior race, and should not be allowed to live and "mingle" with other races. It is indeed saddening to see what lengths these people would go to the benefit of themselves or for the sole purpose to elevate their status and emphasize their fabricated superiority.

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