24 February 2019
Du Bois’ Acknowledgment of Consequences
In his work “The Souls of Black Folk,” W. E. B. Du Bois emphasizes the inequality between the white and African-American populations in the United States of America, demanding a change in the society which suppressed him and his community. He is extremely vocal, and very strong in his opinions on rights, as can be observed in his work “The Souls of Black Folk.” He mentions many times the consequences of the rampant racism against African-Americans. The consequences he focuses on in particular are those of the social kind. The most prominent ones are that of the false promise, equity vs equality, and the public outreach of African-Americans. Exposing these consequences was a large part of and somewhat the focus of Du Bois’ work “The Souls of Black Folk.”
Du Bois presents himself in “The Souls of Black Folk” as an activist who does not want to wait patiently for the rights of the African-American community to become equal. He stood very solid in his stance on change. He wanted it to be quick and focus on the political and social rights, saying that the freed African-Americans could not accomplish anything if they too were not free amongst the society in which they reside. He provides the evidence of the wrongdoings against the African-American society many times throughout “The Souls of Black Folk,” using that evidence to fuel his argument that the social rights of African-Americans must be demanded.
The “American Dream” has been a common trope for both immigrants and those less fortunate of the centuries that the United States has been in existence. This trope also rang true for the recently freed African-American population. Du Bois acknowledged the existence of this trope, and its falsehood, as he said, “the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land” (Du Bois). This refers to the freed slaves believing that they had now gained the same freedom as their white counterparts, able to begin their new lives as they had. However, this was not the case. The African-American population was given the promise of equality and true freedom, but it was not so. Though this promise was proven to not be true, many African-Americans still believed in it, as Du Bois says, “Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people,—a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people” (Du Bois). When Du Bois says this, he means that though the African-American people continue to be disappointed with their outcomes, they continue to believe the promise of their freedom. In a sense and in Du Bois’ words, there seemed to be a veil between the African-American and the white societies. The African-American communities attempt to remain ignorant in an effort to retain hope, but in the process become compliant with the society that oppresses them. This is the complacency that Du Bois came to speak against in his work “The Souls of Black Folk.” He wanted to inspire change and passion in his community, prompting the possibility of obtaining true equality for his people. Du Bois did not want his people to believe the false promise, but instead create their own promise for themselves, inserting themselves as an important part of the American society.
It may be said by some that the African-American population did not gain equality, but by definition, they did. However, they did not gain any equity. In order to understand Du Bois’ stance, the definitions of inequality and inequity must be explained. Inequality can be simply described as difference, and inequity can be described as disadvantage or disparity (Berman). Du Bois briefly touches on the idea of equality vs equity, saying “A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems” (Du Bois). When Du Bois says this, he is promoting the idea that those starting out their lives should not be considered the same as those who were more privileged before them, but be given more of a chance to prove themselves. He is acknowledging the presence of disadvantage between the oppressor and the oppressed. By seeing the differences between the white and African-American populations, Du Bois is able to see the inequity, as “the existence of inequality often highlights an inequitable” (Berman). The easily observable differences between the white and African-American populations brought to light the inequity between the races. The African-Americans are given low and disadvantaged platforms, with much harder work expected of them.
Du Bois acknowledged on occasion that it is much harder for the African-American population to have a louder voice among the public, making public outreach much harder for them. Du Bois sees that it is often difficult for them to properly have their voices heard, as “some of the best of the critics [are led] to unfortunate silence and paralysis of effort, and others [burst] into speech so passionately and intemperately as to lose listeners.” Ultimately, it is hard for the African-American citizens to be heard. Du Bois is stating that they are often pressured into silence, when their opinion and voice would have had a great effect on the community. They are also often driven to overcompensation, revealing passion and heart to the extent that many are inclined to no longer listen, observing that they are extremely heated, and their logic might be clouded, diminishing the credibility of the speaker.
Du Bois himself made efforts to make his own voice heard. He recognized the inequality and the inequity between the races and felt that he should be on the same level of his white counterparts. He insisted past the veil and attempted to triumph over the racism, often saying that he should be considered on par with Ralph Waldo Emerson (Blight). Du Bois wanted a swift change in the dynamics between the races, demanding that there be equity. He persevered through the racism, immensely persistent in his efforts.
Berman, Gabrielle, and Yin Paradies. “Racism, Disadvantage and Multiculturalism: Towards Effective Anti-Racist Praxis.” Ethnic & Racial Studies, vol. 33, no. 2, Feb. 2010, pp. 214–232. EBSCOhost.
Blight, David W. “Lewis’s Du Bois: The Race Man as All Too Human Genius.” Massachusetts Review, vol. 35, no. 2, Summer 1994, p. 319. EBSCOhost.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co.; [Cambridge]: University Press John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A., 1903.
Shaw, Gabriele. “’Whiteface’ is a thing too – let’s talk about it” Metro, Metro.co.uk, 20 June 2017, metro.co.uk/2017/06/13/whiteface-is-a-thing-too-lets-talk-about-it-6704665/.