Web Du Bois Essay
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Outline of Critique of W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
Collective Nature of the Work
Black Spirituals as Thematic Introductions
Black Spirituals as conveyors of historical record
Black Spirituals as oral tradition
Assassination of Booker T. Washington and others who agree with him
Capitulation to society as it is, rather than the way it should be for blacks
DuBois, is one of the greatest African-American thinkers, oraters and writers of history. His works are often bold assassinations of the development of the Black, former slave class in the U.S., through periods were they repeatedly faced bold and subtle racism but were simultaneously expected to be successful, because laws were, "better than they used to be." DuBois' work The Souls of Black Folk, though constituent of several divergent essays is to many the source and center of nearly all his messages regarding the truth telling that needs to be done, in history to properly place the plight of Blacks into the context and even to some extent the present. According to the editor of the W.E.B. DuBois reader, which republished the whole of The Souls of Black Folks in its pages, the work's purpose is "to transcend the pain and liabilities of the past while remembering and restoring the power of the African-American heritage," and this theme "runs throughout The Souls of Black Folk. No work before or since has met the challenge so well." (Sundquist 99)
As was stated in the introduction The Souls of Black Folk, consists of several thematic essays regarding the position and reality of black life through its history in the U.S. Each work discusses a theme of necessary report and honesty. According to DuBois himself, in his forethought to his collection he "..sought here to sketch, in vague, uncertain outline, the spiritual world in which ten thousand Americans live and strive." (DuBois 100) The first two essays discuss the meaning of emancipating to blacks, and its aftermath. The third chapter deals with the relatively slow progress of personal leadership, criticizing heavily the president of the Tuskegee Institute, for capitulating to the idea that trade skills rather than intellectual development is the necessary next step in the development of blacks. In two additional chapters he juxtaposes the world of blacks in and outside what he calls the "veil" i.e. The black world and black men in the white world, and dealing specifically with how such a color line as it exists could realistically train black men to live productive lives. He then covers black poverty in two chapters and closes with a chapter on what he calls the, "present relations of the sons of master and man. (Dubois 100)
Black Spirituals as Thematic Introductions
It as been pointed out by many that Dubois' use of black spirituals to open the themes of his essays was masterful in several ways, in part because it sets the tone for how the theme to be discussed realistically played a part in the lives of blacks, as such spirituals were often the only form of mass communication available to black men and women during large periods of their history in the U.S. Additionally, he has been praised for their use because they cannot be found anywhere else, as an oral tradition, forced by the illegality and if not then the unconventional allowance of literacy among blacks. The black spiritual loses is power as those who have used it to communicate joy and woe begin to die off, as with all other oral traditions, the death of people often marks the death of tradition, if such tradition is not communicated effectively to the next generation. This loss, is substantial and in some ways DuBois' purpose is to stress the deeper meanings of these spirituals by intellectual and political discussion, that he as an educated African-American can do. Most importantly an educated African-American man, who unlike Washington, was willing to tell the truth, rather than capitulate to the standards of white society, in his beliefs assertions and expectations of his brethren. A foundational example, and theme that pervades the work can be seen in the spiritual he uses to introduce the theme of chapter 2, Of the Dawn of Freedom. "Careless seems the great Avenger;/History's lessons but record/One death-grapple in the darkness/'Twixt old systems and the Word;/Truth forever on the scaffold,/Wrong forever on
the throne;" (DuBois 107) The chapter stresses the extreme juxtaposition of legal emancipation, following his first chapter which discusses the great hope that emancipation and freedom would be real, and the lack of real systems to allow for the development of black men and women that follow it. DuBois makes clear that the hope was met with constant dashing, as the reality of the world of blacks was constantly stunted by traditions, fear and racially motivated systems that still barred blacks from success and the expression of free will.
There is no better chapter to discuss with regard to truth telling in DuBois' work that that which adamantly attacks Booker T. Washington. Washington, in the eyes of many whites (and even some blacks) had the most logical and rational response to the development of blacks in society. These men and women would need to be trained to do work, work that is demonstrative of their previous restricted options. Washington believed that the black race would be most successful if instead of fighting for the right to hold positions and vocations that had been previously reserved only for the majority, they would seek to work with their hands and train to make those works more productive. To DuBois and other intellectuals this was an assault on blacks as it continued to stress that their abilities were less than those of whites and perpetuated the idea that most blacks would not be able to hold real positions of vocational power, such as those achieved through traditional "white only" higher education. DuBois stresses that Washington's capitulation, offering one of the only advanced education options for blacks as a trade school, that did not stress the need to develop intellectually was paramount to supporting white society, as blacks had always done. The Tuskegee institute did not train the first round of black attorneys, doctors, professors, entrepreneurs or anything like them it continued to train blacks to provide services to whites, only to do it more scientifically and better. Not only that but Washington came to a position of influence precisely at time when it might have been possible to begin to offer blacks better options than trade training and yet he chose to capitulate, and as the only scale offering of any advanced education to blacks his school succeeded and his ideology of a, "programme of industrial education, conciliation of the South, and submission and silence as to civil and political rights," was supported. (DuBois 122) DuBois, chose to challenge Washington, who was seen by many as one of if not "the" most important black man of his time as a capitulator who chose to teach complacency over change. This is not DuBois telling a wrongful truth of the white race, it is him attacking a man of his own race for buying and selling the black man limitations rather than real fruits of freedom. In Washington's own words there is a tell tale truth to Dubois' frustration, with him and others who would continue to hold freed black men and women to standards that were not inclusive of their real abilities to progress.
In the economy of God there is but one standard by which an individual can succeed -- there is but one for a race. This country demands that every race shall measure itself by the American standard. By it a race must rise or fall, succeed or fail, and in the last analysis mere sentiment counts for little. During the next half century and more, my race must continue passing through the severe American crucible. We are to be tested in our patience, our forbearance, our perseverance, our power to endure wrong, to withstand temptations, to economize, to acquire and use skill; in our ability to compete, to succeed in commerce, to disregard the superficial for the real, the appearance for the substance, to be great and yet small, learned and yet simple, high and yet the servant of all. This, this is the passport to all that is best in the life of our republic, and the Negro must possess it, or be debarred. (Denton 189)
According to Washington, Negroes in America must face the reality of the American system, work within it and stop or refrain from seeking higher (unreal) answers to their options to succeed. Washington believed that there would be a time when challenging these roles was an option, but right now blacks needed to suck it up and excel at what was offered them, trades. To DuBois, this was offensive, as it belittled blacks and gave them little if any hope for change, and any…
Sources Used in Documents:
Denton, Virginia Lantz. Booker T. Washington and the Adult Education Movement. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1993.
DuBois, W.E.B. "The Souls of Black Folk" in Sundquist, Eric J., ed. The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Sundquist, Eric J., ed. The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
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