[Reading] ➶ The Souls of Black Folk By W.E.B. Du Bois – Blockdiagramwiring.co
Read this in college a while ago Loved it Changed the way I think It was the first time I was introduced to the concepts of the veil and double consciousness My mind was blown. W.E.B Du Bois was many things pioneering social scientist, historian, activist, social critic, writer and, most of all, a heck of a lot smarter than me I say this because, while reading these essays, I had the continuous, nagging feeling of mental strain, which I found hard to account for There is nothing conceptually difficult about his arguments in fact, most are quite straightforward Although his sentences do twist and turn, they re not nearly as syntactically knotty as other authors that I have waded through So what was it I have decided that it is Du Bois s broadness and versatility which made The Souls of Black Folk so exhausting for me His writing style is poetic, in that every sentence carries with it multiple shades of meaning His social advocacy is rendered in prose dense with Biblical echoes and classical allusions his vignettes push forwards with the emotional weight of a sermon, but are couched in the learned style of a professor his arguments are never dry, never sterile, but always proffered with full consciousness of their significance to the lives of real people.What I find especially impressive about Du Bois is his self assurance In some older American authors such as Melville, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and even the philosopher William James I find a strange, self conscious embarrassment of their Americanness It is as if these authors were painfully aware that they were aping European art forms, and struggling to find a native voice There is none of this in Du Bois His prose, his arguments, his concerns, and his manner are all firmly American, without a tinge of doubt, shame, or apology Perhaps it is no coincidence that I feel the same way about another American author, Frederick Douglass, who speaks with the same eloquent self assuredness It is a great irony, then, that Du Bois, who felt a double consciousness a clash between his identity as an American and a Negro somehow managed to escape that other double consciousness that has plagued America s great white authors being a European and an American The conflict between wishing to continue, and to claim as ours, the heritage of the Old World the awkward knowledge that we have no Shakespeare, no Goethe, and no Dante coupled with our desire to break off on a new path.Meanwhile, Du Bois writes in a voice that is distinctly his own And,importantly, distinctly American So let us relish the poetic justice that our most genuine voice emanated from a people who were systematically trampled underfoot. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois Is The Greatest Of African American Intellectuals A Sociologist, Historian, Novelist, And Activist Whose Astounding Career Spanned The Nation S History From Reconstruction To The Civil Rights Movement Born In Massachusetts And Educated At Fisk, Harvard, And The University Of Berlin, Du Bois Penned His Epochal Masterpiece, The Souls Of Black Folk, InIt Remains His Most Studied And Popular Work Its Insights Into Life At The Turn Of The Th Century Still Ring True The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised landW.E.B Du Bois I seem to be reading backward in time, not universally, I ve read slave narratives and I ve read Frederick Douglass, but mostly I ve read about race backwards I immersed myself in Coates, King, and Baldwin, and now Du Bois Certainly, Booker T must be next.I loved the book and how Du Bois danced between a sociological and cold examination of slavery, share cropping economics, home life, racism, etc., and flipped into an almost lyrical hymn about being black at the end The chapter on his dead son Chapter 11 moved me to tears, but so too did the chapter on Alexander Crummell Chapter 12 and the chapter on the two Johns Chapter 13 These chapters rang for me like good poetry and lyrical storytelling always does But Du Bois is also sharp He delves into the issues of the Freedmen s Bureau Chapter 2 , critiques Booker T s limited vision for his people Chapter 3 , and addresses his thesis that the blacks of the South need 1 the right to vote, 2 the right to a good education, and 3 to be treated with equality and justice Du Bois also introduced me to the idea ofdouble consciousnessoralways looking at one s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pityOther things I loved I loved his focus on education, his critique of the economics of both slavery and the post slavery economy in the South, hell, his critique of capitalism to a degree I also loved his imagry of the veilSo, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil This last year actually the last couple years has been hard What seemed to be a jump forward on race for a couple decades, seems to have aggrivated and angered some deep, dark cyst in white America s soul So, now I m drawn to these narratives They give me hope that the journey is not over for our too often divided nation I hope that, given time, love, education, respect, and economic security, the wounds of slavery and discrimination, will continue to heal Sometimes a fever doesn t break immediately Sometimes an infection needs to burst to heal Hopefully, things will calm the F down Hopefully, like Du Bois suggests singsThus in Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and these crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed The End There is such beautiful writing here Some of it is full of hope He arose silently, and passed out into the night Down toward the sea he went, in the fitful starlight, half conscious of the girl who followed timidly after him When at last he stood upon the bluff, he turned to his little sister and looked upon her sorrowfully, remembering with sudden pain how little thought he had given her He put his arm about her and let her passion of tears spend itself on his shoulder.Long they stood together, peering over the gray unresting water John, she said, does it make every one unhappy when they study and learn lots of things He paused and smiled I am afraid it does, he said And, John, are you glad you studied Yes, came the answer, slowly but positively.She watched the flickering lights upon the sea, and said thoughtfully, I wish I was unhappy, and and, putting both arms about his neck, I think I am, a little, JohnSome is filled with despair It was several days later that John walked up to the Judge s house to ask for the privilege of teaching the Negro school The Judge himself met him at the front door, stared a little hard at him, and said brusquely, Go round to the kitchen door, John, and wait Sitting on the kitchen steps, John stared at the corn, thoroughly perplexed What on earth had come over him Every step he made offended some one He had come to save his people, and before he left the depot he had hurt them He sought to teach them at the church, and had outraged their deepest feelings He had schooled himself to be respectful to the Judge, and then blundered into his front door And all the time he had meant right, and yet, and yet, somehow he found it so hard and strange to fit his old surroundings again, to find his place in the world about him He could not remember that he used to have any difficulty in the past, when life was glad and gay The world seemed smooth and easy then Perhaps, but his sister came to the kitchen door just then and said the Judge awaited him.The Judge sat in the dining room amid his morning s mail, and he did not ask John to sit down He plunged squarely into the business You ve come for the school, I suppose Well John, I want to speak to you plainly You know I m a friend to your people I ve helped you and your family, and would have doneif you hadn t got the notion of going off Now I like the colored people, and sympathize with all their reasonable aspirations but you and I both know, John, that in this country the Negro must remain subordinate, and can never expect to be the equal of white men In their place, your people can be honest and respectful and God knows, I ll do what I can to help them But when they want to reverse nature, and rule white men, and marry white women, and sit in my parlor, then, by God we ll hold them under if we have to lynch every Nigger in the land Now, John, the question is, are you, with your education and Northern notions, going to accept the situation and teach the darkies to be faithful servants and laborers as your fathers were, I knew your father, John, he belonged to my brother, and he was a good Nigger Well well, are you going to be like him, or are you going to try to put fool ideas of rising and equality into these folks heads, and make them discontented and unhappyAnd then there was my horror at realizing thatthan a century has passed since this book was first published, and there is so much that has not changed Both selections are from Chapter 13 Of the Coming of John Please read it here This is really not the book I thought it was going to be I thought this would be aor less dry book of sociology discussing the lives of black folk in the US you know a few statistics, a bit of outrage, a couple of quotes, some history, but all written in a detached academic style It isn t like that at all, although there are bits of it that are written exactly like that Du Bois has been one of those people that I ve been seeing about the place for some time now There is an extensive discussion of his work in WJT Mitchell s Seeing Through Race and in a few of the books on racism in the US I ve read But again, I really thought what he did was straight sociology This book, I suspect his most famous, is really anything but straight sociology It is strikingly well written It uses a variety of forms there s even a short story and, given the book is so short, you should probably just read it rather than my review What I was most interested in this book for to see what he had to say about double consciousness I m utterly fascinated by this idea and it is, I believe, one of the key ideas that people like Goffman have taken from du Bois So, the genealogy runs from du Bois, through Goffman to people like Claude Steele and their work on the presentation of self, stigma and stereotype threat Double consciousness is the idea that being black means having to havethan one soul There is seeing yourself as yourself and then always also having to see yourself as you are seen by those around you, those who have power As du Bois says, what black folk long for is to be both black and American to arrive at a kind of self consciousness that does not require the denial of one in attaining the other Something that writers like bell hooks run with.The short story in this book a story about two first sons, one black and one white, and their parallel, though strikingly different journeys through life, present a stark vision of the constraints placed on one life and the soulless destitution of the other I found this story moving, but also a fascinating way to make the point about the nature and consequences of racism in the US the extremes people will go to so as to keep people in their place and how hard it is, once you have seen the truth to convince those around you of that truth this is, again, a reworking of Plato s allegory of the cave and with similar consequences both for those able to escape the cave, those left behind in the cave and those forced to return to the cave Speaking from a position outside of normal understanding always means sounding like a madman It is the price of the getting of wisdom Du Bois does not make the getting of this wisdom sound easy nor does he present the benefits of such acquisition as terribly positive but he does make clear that there is no other path, that all other ways lead to servitude This book is rightly famous, but I can t help thinking it must have really surprised people when it first came out if only because it really surprised me all this time later and must have been an insanely brave book to write Not because or not only because of the content du Bois got to pay and pay for his opinions, as is made all too clear in the introduction and timeline of his life , but it really would have taken guts to break so many rules associated with the genre of academic writing as is done here It all makes for a fascinating read. Perhaps your education was different, but I don t think it s a coincidence that when I look back at which prominent African Americans were taught in my elementary school history classes, Booker T Washington featured prominently while W.E.B Du Bois was never mentioned at all Reading The Souls of Black Folk, it s easier to see why Washington was the advocate of conciliation, arguing that African Americans suffering in the ashes of failed Reconstruction should set aside their desire for equality in order to focus on industrial education trade schools, in other words Du Bois not only rejected this argument, he did so forcefully, and in The Souls of Black Folk, he indicts not only Washington for upholding an unjust and oppressive system of racism, but he indicts white American at large.Published in 1903, Souls is less a focused treatise anda collection of essays, many of them previously appearing in magazines throughout the country As a result, Du Bois tone ranges from clinical and academic, as in his sociological studies of Georgia s Black Belt written while he was on faculty at the University of Atlanta, to scathing and searing, as when he discusses the Veil his overarching metaphor for living on the wrong side of America s color line or describes the birth and untimely death of his firstborn son But no matter what style he s using, Du Bois was an amazing writer His lyricism flows naturally from his pen he spins analogies and metaphors seemingly without effort He weaves poetry and sarcasm into single sentences, all of it in service to his greater argument, which is that African Americans deserved freedom and 40 years after technical emancipation still hadn t gotten it.As an example of how Du Bois formidable talents in both historical analysis and beautiful prose work together to form a burning and memorable argument, here is a passage I ve picked at random by opening the book and selecting the first bit of my highlighting I saw Free The most piteous thing amid all the black ruin of war time, amid the broken fortunes of the masters, the blighted hopes of mothers and maidens, and the fall of an empire the most piteous thing amid all this was the black freedman who threw down his hoe because the world called him free What did such a mockery of freedom mean Not a cent of money, not an inch of land, not a mouthful of victuals not even ownership of the rags on his back Free Or this amazing excerpt, which I read out loud to my wife, from his essay on the short life of his son Within the Veil was he born, said I and there within shall he live a Negro and a Negro s son Holding in that little head ah, bitterly the unbowed pride of a hunted race, clinging with that tiny dimpled hand ah, wearily to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom is to us a mockery and whose liberty a lie I saw the shadow of the Veil as it passed over my baby, I saw the cold city towering above the blood red land I held my face beside his little cheek, showed him the star children and the twinkling lights as they began to flash, and stilled with an evensong the unvoiced terror of my life.It s no surprise that Du Bois founding member of the NAACP, creator of sociology as we know it today, historian and activist and brilliant writer has been overlooked in favor of Washington Because Du Bois is not tame he upends the careful fictions of white America that say slavery ended in 1865, that discrimination ended in 1965, that we should all be color blind and move forward In The Souls of Black Folk, a book that should be required reading in every American high school, Du Bois anticipates and confronts those fictions and demolishes them. Speaks The Truth To PowerIn 1903, two years after Booker T Washington s autobiography, Up from Slavery An Autobiography , W.E.B Du Bois published The Souls of Black Folk , a series of essays which today most consider a seminal work in African American Sociology literature Du Bois view of race relations in American at the dawn of the 20th century was clear, critical and deeply profound.Throughout the fourteen chapters Du Bois uses a metaphor, the veil, with considerable deftness the Negroborn with a veilgifted with second sightdouble consciousness, this sense of always looking at one s self through the eyes of others Du Bois shares his thoughts on Emancipation the Post Emancipation era, there was scarcely a white man in the South who did not honestly regard Emancipation as a crime and its practical nullification as a duty In other chapters he covers the education of the Negro, Negro suffrage, tenant farming, and Negro spirituals a.k.a Sorrow Songs In the chapter, Of the Black Belt , we take a journey with him as he travels through the Black Belt of Georgia which is not a reference to the large number of people of color in the area but to the color of the soil In The Coming of John , the lone fictional chapter, Du Bois relates a short story of two Johns, one white and one Negro, both coming home to the South after attaining an education in the North.I could go on and on but this one relevant text that you must read for yourself. I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem,As the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.Look not upon me, because I am black,Because the sun hath looked upon me My mother s children were angry with me They made me the keeper of the vineyards But mine own vineyard have I not kept. Song of Solomon 1 5 6 KJVBright Sparkles in the Churchyard These are the lyrical and musical epigraphs preceding chapter seven The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line, the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea. This is going to be a hard book to review well That is because of how well rounded and layered this book is at examining African American life There is much in this book that has made it so special This book is to modern sociology what The Interpretation of Dreams was for psychology In this book W.E.B Du Bois offered one of the most complete studies of African American life, history, politics, and culture No book has really been able to over shadow its relevance and its timelessness It was written by the first Black man to earn a Harvard University doctorate degree The book was published in 1903, a generation removed from slavery in the United States, yet it is still relevant to my life four generations removed from slavery and the present day 112 years has not seen a lot of time pass This book has been the foundation text that civil rights and Black advancement in America was built on This book influenced so many people whose careers come out of it From the Harlem Renaissance to the thesis of my favorite novel Invisible Man to The New Jim Crow Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness all find roots in this book Du Bois would, in the long years after 1903, change is stance on certain ideas presented in this book, most famously concerning his theory on The Talented Tenth, but he never had anything beyond spelling or proofreading corrections done in subsequent editions of this book since he wanted it to stand as a snapshot of how he saw the world in 1903.Trying to list the ideas and multiple purposes this book is putting forward is maddening It puts forward in idea that a special 10% of African Americans would become this alpha class that would lead the rest of the race he abandoned that as his interest in socialism grew The book also list the theory of Black people having double consciousness which he defines as the sense of always looking at one s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity One ever feels his twoness, an American, a Negro two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. He goes onto say that the history of Black Folks is the tension between this duality of identity and I do not see any good counter argument to this from my personal experience Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question unasked by some through feelings of delicacy by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it All, nevertheless, flutter round it They approach me in a half hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town or, I fought at Mechanicsville or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem I answer seldom a word And yet, being a problem is a strange experience, peculiar even for one who has never been anything else The above quote is from the first two paragraphs of the book This excerpt is something that Black Americans consciously or unconsciously have to always confront Of course this book, being part self study, uses Du Bois own life in order to examine the Black experience This book is also a very thorough polemic against Booker T Washington Du Bois sees Washington and his influence as one of the worst calamities to hit the African American nation Booker T Washington believed that Black people should not seek social equality or political independence, but should strive for economic equality only and be guided on political matters under strict, White supervision Black education should not include the liberal arts, but be limited to vocational trades All of this infuriated Du Bois and led to an intense rivalry between the two that only ended with Washington s death in 1915 A whole chapter of this book is devoted solely to refuting Washington and his accommodationist beliefs The sad state of political status and employment of Black Folk are also covered in this book and it is depressing to see how much things have not changed Given the recent spat of police shootings it makes reading the following quote evenpainful the police system of the South was primarily designed to control slavesFor such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination For, as I have said, the police system of the South was originally designed to keep track of all Negroes, not simply of criminals and when the Negroes were freed and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of re enslaving the blacks It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man s conviction on almost any charge Thus Negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of injustice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them as martyrs and victims. from chapter 9 This has been confirmed, by now, as not just a Southern problem, but as a nation wide issue now Another issue is the lack of balanced employment Du Bois was convinced that if greedy land owners did not perpetually swindle Black people out of ownership, there would not be such a large movement of people from rural areas to the urban areas He was, in fact, witnessing the origins of The Great Migration One of theinteresting things covered in this book are Negro Spirituals Each chapter of this book contains two epigraphs as demonstrated at the beginning of this review One is a random quote vaguely related to the chapter, but the second quote is a musical notation of a passage from a spiritual The last chapter of this book is dedicated to talking about the deep cultural and artistic importance of the spirituals called Sorrow Songs by Du Bois and he talks about their origins and of the musical group most noted for interpreting them The Fisk Jubilee Singers Each chapter quotation is also listed in this part of the book, but if you can read music you will guess the universally recognized ones like Swing Low or Steal Away.While I would like to keep thoroughly dissecting this book, I will probably just keep shaping the review as I think of new things to examine in it, in the future I may keep adding on, but I find that it is especially difficult for me to analyze this book that is so old, but so relevant and personal I will give Dr Du Bois the last word then Hear my cry, O God the Reader vouchsafe that this my book fall not still born into the world wilderness Let there spring, Gentle One, from out its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful Let the ears of a guilty people tingle with truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalteth nations, in this drear day when human brotherhood is mockery and a snare Thus in Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and these crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed THE END Man, this guy can preach I opened The Souls of Black Folk 1903 and found myself ten years old watching Ken Burns s The Civil War with my dad, dumbstruck by Morgan Freeman s readings of mighty polemical passages from Frederick Douglass The whole land seems forlorn and forsaken Here are the remnants of the vast plantations of the Sheldons, the Pellots, and the Rensons but the souls of them are passed The houses lie in half ruin, or have wholly disappeared the fences have flown, and the families are wandering in the world Strange vicissitudes have met these whilom masters Yonder stretch the wide acres of Bildad Reasor he died in war time, but the upstart overseer hastened to wed the widow Then he went, and his neighbors too, and now only the black tenant remains but the shadow hand of the master s grand nephew or cousin or creditor stretches out of the gray distance to collect the rack rent remorselessly, and so the land is uncared for and poor Only black tenants can stand such a system, and they only because they must Ten miles we have ridden to day and have seen no white face.You can also hear Emerson in the tough eloquence, in the tone of terse King James vigor that unites this portfolio freely mixed of sociological theory, short fiction, historical essay and, underlying all, personal reminiscence of the color line as it cut through the author s life The sojourning soul of the poet the kind of phrase, at once flowery and utterly clear, that Du Bois favors pervades and completes Du Bois the sociologist, the educator, the activist The effect of the whole is pretty extraordinary I can t quite believe I ve neglected this book until now, on the verge of thirty Du Bois puts forth a comprehensive treatment of the Negro Problem circa 1900, with elegantly resonant historical vistas The war has naught to do with slaves, cried Congress, the President, and the Nation and yet no sooner had the armies, East and West, penetrated Virginia and Tennessee than fugitive slaves appeared within their lines They came at night, when the flickering camp fires shone like vast unsteady stars along the black horizon the Federal government s century of vacillating commitment to its black citizens is all compressed into those unsteady stars and suggestive speculations about the mechanics of mass uplift that will never go out of date And I say that despite all the academic carping about the book s outdated paternalism people often invoke that supposed sin whenever they can t duck the fact that peoples are led, for good or ill, by someone Given a widespread academic armchair Marxism, and Du Bois own later fellow traveling, I m amazed that some critics choose to see his ideal of a college bred Talented Tenth as narrow bourgeois smugly diffusing useless genteel airs over their struggling brethren, instead of the quasi Leninist cadre of devoted race men he actually intended them to be And Du Bois Social Darwinism was actually Darwinian unlike his white counterparts, who used the phrase to argue that social struggle had ended, with the European empires and empire builders deservedly and permanently on top, Du Bois insists that the struggle among classes and races continues with unflagging intensity and unpredictability he holds that the first priority of turn of the century American blacks, so often helplessly baffled by the forces arrayed against them, should be the creation of an intellectually penetrative, politically uncowed, economically savvy educated class to serve as the race s champion and advocate in a complex modern industrial society over which rapacious empires and callous conglomerates rule a roiling brawl of ethnically contrasting, mutually antipathetic competing labor groups The Progressive Era dream of the educated upper middle class joined with the government to halt the worst depredations of capitalism is novulnerable to irony than the ideal of a purely unassisted laboring class liberating itself.