The Ongoing Relevance of Du Bois and His Work the Souls of Black Folk

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Du Bois is one of the first black African American sociologists to discuss the issue of race being a problem; he is an extremely prolific, influential and relevant being in terms of his work, he laid down the foundation to be able to discuss the issue of race on a macro scale and so openly (Moses, 1939, pg. 11). Du Bois’s work inspired many e.g. Gilroy, Martin Luther King, Hooks, amongst others. He coined the term black consciousness, and wrote heavily on the colour line, however race wasn’t the only issue he discussed, he also discussed education and folk culture.

Du Bois has numerous works published which highlight the issue of racism, his work is still relevant today in many ways. The Souls of Black Folk introduces the idea of double consciousness; the meaning to this being that it describes the awareness of having more than one social identity, it is when a black person has two different identities, one being a black negro the other being an American citizen, they are aware that they are not African-American but African and American; ‘An American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 34). He recognises how double consciousness creates a split identify, it creates tension because being aware allows one to see through the veil that white dominations try to conceal; ‘Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg.34) this quote illustrates how being black felt in America at the time, but it can still be applied to today, the pain and tension the quote illustrates is very much relevant to how black people in America are still battling the veil they’re put under. For example, police brutality against black American citizens is ongoing because black people are still seen as the inferior race; ‘Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg.34), this quote relates to both the injustice of violence against black men and those who are aware of their double consciousness and through this emancipate themselves from the white men through education still do not have a fair chance i.e. the assassination of Martin Luther king. Education went alongside double consciousness for Du Bois.

Du Bois argues that in order for black people to truly experience the right personhood education is key, learning and in taking knowledge is something he sees as highly beneficial, this being because once a black person is educated they’re able to free themselves from the white race because they are liberated. Although Du Bois recognised that ‘With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 34) this meaning that although he was motivated, he wanted education, he wanted to be free others did not see it the same way as he did, instead they settled for the life they were given. This too is relevant in the twenty first century as Mary Fuller’s study on black girls and education illustrates; she found that black girls in her study had liberate themselves with education, they freed themselves from the white superiority as they saw school as a means to education and didn’t allow the labelling or stereotypes define them whereas black boys were more accustomed to feeding into the labels and stereotypes. (Deem, 2012, ch.4)

‘The problem of the twenty first century is the colour line’ Du bois argued, this being because the colour line is an intersection of racism and classism, Du Bois believed that it’s hard to be black but it’s even harder to be black and poor (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 39 ). He argued having wealth wasn’t any more helpful because once a black man is educated thought self-realization of being enslaved they go back to being enslaved only through wealth as they’re intoxicated with greed and luxury to fill the void; ‘to be free is condemned to be free’(Sartre, 1943 ch.4) this related heavily to the wealth struggle as it helps explain the consequences that come from accepting double consciousness and life through the veil. In addition, due to this, Du Bois noted that slavery hasn’t ended; a new post-modern era didn’t erase slavery instead it created a new form of enslavement, although it created the dawn of freedom elements of slavery were still there (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 112-114). He illustrated this in his work of how hard the south tried to keep slavery instilled in society; they introduced a ballot system and unfair laws that entrapped black people into debt over land and mortgages; their emancipation was exploited unfairly as Du Bois stated ‘That to leave the Negro helpless and without a ballot-to-day is to leave him, not to the guidance of the best, but rather to the exploitation and debauchment of the worst’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 113). In literal terms slavery, still hasn’t ended; Libya is a prime example. Furthermore, Paul Gilroy a contemporary of Du Bois too argued that a new black middle class was developing, one that indulged in wealth and saw wealth as a main priority instead of politics; Gilroy argued that the never-ending racism and new forms of enslavement eroded black people’s self-worth and hope and created a culture of consumerism. (Gilroy, 2010, ch.1, pg.409)

The colour line also relates to mixing of races and the intersectional racism that occurs it; Du Bois discusses bastardy and the mixing of two generations through adultery and prostitution. He mentions how this brings in more racism, more prejudice, more ignorant thoughts, it allows white people to systematically rule racism through differentiation of dark-light skin colours (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 37). Du Bois introducing the notion of race being systemically controlled through differentiation of skin colour opened eyes i.e. Jay Z’s song ‘The story of OJ’ helps to explain the notion of how controlling racism through skin colour has convinced the black man that a light-skinned man is better because of his white privilege; Gilroy argued that the master slave relationship was used to colonise the west and introduce civilisation through white supremacist terror. (Gilroy,1993 ch.4)

Gilroy’s work stemmed from Du Bois, his influence related heavily to the folk culture/hip hop music culture. Gilroy focuses on how hip-hop culture doesn’t illustrate a pure identity instead it shows the cultural mixing. Du Bois briefly studied music and its culture to black people; he experienced and described slave songs and the terrible but passionate feelings it created. ‘a Pythinian madness, a demonic possession, that lent terrible reality to song and word’(Du Bois, 1999, pg.204). He argued that the slave songs were the music of a negro religion and were created through the culture of slavery; Gilroy argued that the slave music was seen as ‘a paradigm for the future’ it gave black people a place to stand in the musical and cultural aspect; slaves used music as an outcry, a form of expression which black people are still doing. (Abreu, 2015).

Du Bois ideas are still relevant today and still have an impact on society but his work had some major gaps; according to Bell Hooks she argued that Du bois looked at the problem between race and class but what he failed to recognise and include is the feminism movement and how there was segregation there too. Hooks was able to identify in her work ‘Ain’t I a woman’ that feminism was a female movement but there was a segregation because of colour; white women deemed themselves to be fighting for equal rights for women but dismissed the inclusion of black women in the notion of equal rights; at a movement in Akron, Ohio this was displayed when a white woman yelled for the black women not to be allowed to speak (Hooks, 2014, pg. 214). In fact, there was no sense of unity, it completely contradicted the movement and fight for equal rights. Hooks saw black feminism as more dominant, her illustration of Sojourners truth illustrates this ‘unlike most white rights women advocates Sojourner Truth could refer to her own personal life experience as evidence… to be work equal of man’ (Hooks 2014, pg. 215). Cooper was one of the first female black activist as Hooks points out in her work, Cooper discussed the assigned sex roles and questioned masculinity; she argued that masculinity doesn’t make a man different from women we just have to understand why men behave the way they do, and she argued that it was education, they were liberated In their position and that women too should escape their assigned role and participate in education; this view can be seen in heavy relation to Du Bois and his ideas of educating the youth (Hooks, 2014, pg. 255-256).

In conclusion, Du Bois is considered a highly relevant and influential being; his work influenced the likes of many that weren’t mentioned for example Rebekah, also his work lives on vicariously through many people who don’t even realise. Those who protest for black lives matter, black people who try to educate themselves to emancipation are influenced by Du Bois unknowingly. His work helped to shape a path for black people today; his critique of how sociologists treated black people also helped change sociology and the ethics of research for example Baartman and Benga.

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