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Veteran Poster
Username: Steve_s

Post Number: 438
Registered: 04-2004

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Posted on Monday, March 02, 2009 - 11:58 pm:   

Steve S: I had to reread the Chapter 1 in The Souls of Black Folks because it had been so long since I read it. I did not agree with Du Bois's position. His "double consciousness" theory I disagree with. It's not so much that we, African-Americans, can not reconcile our "black" side and our American side. We are not composed of two halves of two different pies: one half apple, the other half peach. We are Americans, period. Second, the tone Du Bois uses irks the hell out of me. He is trying to appeal to the intelligent side of white folks to plead his case. But Du Bois could not apply the basis of his argument that black folks are just as good as you despite the hair and the skin color and lack of social graces; he employed that same racism against his own people due to skin hue and personal presentation. Now the artist you mentioned in your posts, Leontyne Price, Roland Hayes and others Du Bois would have held them up as examples of what the black race can accomplish. I'm sure his fancy was tickled. But, if you had mentioned Bessie Smith or Alberta Hunter, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong or others, Du Bois would have looked down on them as "common". Remember, it was the NAACP that raked Hattie McDaniel over the coals for being the first AA to win an Oscar because she won it playing a slave/maid. Black folks doing all that "a-singing and a-dancing" and not striving for culture. But, Du Bois attitude still lingers on. I think that line that I absolutely detest sums up most of Du Bois philosophy; "why then THEY will think that WE are like that".

Thumper, Thanks. "Of Our Spiritual Strivings," the first chapter of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), was previously published in slightly different form in the Atlantic magazine in August 1897. It's true that he was trying to appeal to an educated readership that was probably located in the Northeast, was affluent enough to afford a subscription to Harpers and open-minded enough to consider what he had to say, and it's true that most of them would have been white. One thing I think he was trying to do in that book was to re-engage northern whites with the plight of African Americans in this horrible period which saw overturning of the gains of Reconstruction -- and he had his work cut out for him, I will say that!

The year before, in 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson ushered in Jim Crow segregation and the Supreme Court cases of 1883 had overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which was supposed to protect the 14th and 15th Amendments, while the 13th was made moot by grandfather clauses and all the rest.

Du Bois could not apply the basis of his argument that black folks are just as good as you..

Just for the record, I identify as a third-generation bebop descendant of Charles Sumner, and he didn't ever compromise that I know of, in fact, he even lost his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when, unlike Frederick Douglass, he didn't agree to Ulysses S. Grant's 1870 plan to annex the Dominican Republic. And he was physically beaten in Congress!

I would say that if W.E.B. Du Bois never did anything else (which, of course, he did), his 1935 (?) book on Reconstruction which turned around the thinking of historians about that era, was an enormous contribution. Although I haven't read it, the reading group I was part of read Eric Foner's history of Reconstruction and a member of our group named James Ferguson who read both books wrote the Amazon.com "Spotlight Review" for Du Bois's "Black Reconstruction in America."

His audience for the Atlantic piece and later for "Souls," knew that we had fought a bloody war and that Reconstruction was over (or had failed), but they were being given inaccurate information about the reasons why.

Here's the Atlantic piece:


In the 1903 version, he adds the hackneyed phrase, "having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face" at the end of the third paragraph instead of "losing the opportunity of self-development," and of course, he adds all the African mysticism about the "shadow of a mighty Negro past [that] flits through the tale of Ethiopia the Shadowy and of Egypt the Sphinx," but otherwise, it seems to stay pretty close.

Another interesting piece that touches on some of the same themes as "Of Our Spiritual Striving" is "The Conservation of Races," a lecture delivered five months earlier (March, 1897) to a newly-formed African American intellectual association which included William Monroe Trotter and Alexander Crummell. Here's how it describes "double-consciousness" (without labeling it that):

Here, then, is the dilemma, and it is a puzzling one, I admit. No Negro who has given earnest thought to the situation of his people in America has failed, at some time in life, to find himself at these cross-roads; has failed to ask himself at some time: What, after all, am I? Am I an American or am I a Negro? Can I be both? Or is it my duty to cease to be a Negro as soon as possible and be an American? If I strive as a Negro, am I not perpetuating the very cleft that threatens and separates Black and White America? Is not my only possible practical aim the subduction of all that is Negro in me to the American? Does my black blood place upon me any more obligation to assert my nationality than German, or Irish or Italian blood would?


Interesting for a couple of reasons, one is that those three nationalities he names represent my grandparent's ethnicities: one German (which he calls the Teutonic race), one Irish (which he calls the English race), and two Italians (which he calls the Romance race). That's me, half Romance! Without finance.

Other than that, the racial content of the lecture -- for example, that history is made by races, not by nations -- is pretty remarkable. For one reason, this was nearing the height of European immigration when new arrivals were being urged by the "Americanizers" like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Justice Louis Brandeis, and others, to drop the "hyphenation" (as in Italian-American) and become just Americans. And at the same time, black leaders like Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and R.R. Moton, argued that a heightened sense of racial identity was beneficial to African Americans. That was a political decision for that time in history that I'm not second-guessing, I'm mostly trying to learn more about it.

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