On W.E.B. DuBois

I have read W.E.B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folks some 10 – 12 times since my junior year of high school; it is a work that has taken on biblical proportions for me intellectually. One of the reasons I teach his modern intellectual thought in my class is due to his profound prophetic writings. A few years ago while attending the professors of color conference at the University of Nebraska, a speaker challenged the audience to reconsider their place as members of the talented tenth. He concluded that the notion of the talented tenth must take on a more public agenda and less of an elitist one — which DuBois himself was a part of. This, in many ways, might explain his absence from public life. On the other hand of this dichotomy, Booker T. Washington is known by most. Although many black academics have come to resent him for his teaching of producing a practical black man, his voice has always been more public than DuBois. Many of my colleagues and friends are discussing the blog post regarding black plight and DuBois (read about it here) as it pertains to the new public voice of the talented tenth. This piece was written around some of Orlando Patterson’s writing regarding the public voice. This might be DuBois’ most prophetic statement…

We have a way in America of wanting to be rid of problems. It is not so much a desire to reach the best and largest solution as it is to clean the board and start a new game. For instance, most Americans are simply tired and impatient over our most sinister social problem, the Negro. They do not want to solve it, they do not want to understand it, they want to simply be done with it and hear the last of it. Of all possible attitudes this is the most dangerous, because it fails to realize the most significant fact of the opening century, namely the Negro problem in America is but a local phase of a world problem. The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the Color Line.

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6 Comments

Filed under DuBois, History, Racism

6 responses to “On W.E.B. DuBois

  1. Matt Swaim

    “We have a way in America of wanting to be rid of problems. It is not so much a desire to reach the best and largest solution as it is to clean the board and start a new game.”

    Wow… and it is just as true now as when it was written 100 years ago. Good stuff!

  2. Swaim,

    Can you believe it. His work has this profound way of challenging people to think about their social condition in a society driven by materialism. Moreover, as DuBois asked, how do we as a people – not black or white, but all create a new social construction? Easy: We change what is not right and make it right. This was true a 100 years ago and it is true today.

  3. washingtongurl

    Jesse Lee Peterson’s SCAM is focused towards Booker T.Washington’s views on education for blacks, in debate with W.E.B Dubois: STRAIGHT UP: cheers for Washington, ZIPPO for Du Bois…
    Washington’s experience as a former slave triumphs over Du Bois perspective on what status’ blacks should retain in society. It seems as though Dubois in defense of “Pan Africanism” is not content of how blacks are misrepresented in society. Although Du Bois intentions are to give blacks a “name” in society, he preaches that their education should be segregated, away from the whites who would deviate blacks from reaching their full potential. Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson’s “Scam” puts into perspective the state of the black Americans in today’s society. The Pan Africanism movement introduced by Dubois is in effect the downfall of the black race. The need to separate from the white American society, and hold onto hatred to America has crippled the black community, distracting them from becoming a successful race in America. Instead of separating blacks from whites, Booker T. Washington had another idea, teaching blacks practical skills, enabling them to contribute and succeed in American society. Dubois preached protest and agitation putting up a wall between the whites and blacks that has done a serious disservice to the black community to this day. The anti American sentiment with in the black race, still bickering about reparations and mistreatment has not gotten the black community any further along. Booker T. Washington preached that hard work, learning practical skills, and promoting racial peace would be the key to delivering the black race from bondage. What happened to the black race throughout American history is inexcusable on the part of the white race, however filling blacks with hate, sorrow, and anti American attitude, will only continue to hold the race back and limit the great potential they have proven capable of achieving.

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