The Souls of Black Folk

 

WHAT IT IS:

A book written by W.E.B. DuBois in 1903 that lends significant insight into the challenges that come with being `black` in America.

WHAT STOOD OUT:

His writing is resolutely beautiful and has a lyrical and poetic quality to it. He clearly articulates staggeringly complex and abstract ideas. The problems he so well defined have been miserably neglected, shamefully exploited, or ignorantly `corrected` in 100 years. Well, actually 110+!!

The Souls of Black Folk
By W.E.B. Du Bois

Why I read it:

As I have been learning about and paying attention to issues related to justice, this book has been referenced on many occasions. The instance that really pushed me to read the book was Arnold Rampersand and Maya Angelou`s discussions of it with Kristen Tippet`s OnBeing.

Ideas from the book:

Ideas that are commonly discussed in the media were likely first described in the book using these terms:

  • "the color line"
  • "the veil"
  • "double-consciousness 
  • the "Negro Problem".

What I struggled with:

From my place of privilege and significant whiteness, there were several aspects of the book that I struggled with. The book is laden with references to people, events, and struggles lost on me for reasons including the period of time when they were written, my historical ignorance, and the aforementioned privilege and whiteness.

I have never encountered writing so thick with imagery and dense with content. I had to take pause to process fractions of the meaning he was sharing. His thoughts were often so poignant that it was impossible to stop my mind from wandering down the paths he described, and then I would often try to connect them to today.

A few currently relevant quotes:

"To bring this hope to fruition, we are compelled daily to turn more and more to a conscientious study of the phenomena of race-contact,—to a study frank and fair, and not falsified and colored by our wishes or our fears" (p77, loc2297).
"His doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro’s shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators; when in fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs" (p28, loc1108).
"Discriminating and broad-minded criticism is what the South needs,—needs it for the sake of her own white sons and daughters, and for the insurance of robust, healthy mental and moral development" (p28, loc1085).
"To bring this hope to fruition, we are compelled daily to turn more and more to a conscientious study of the phenomena of race-contact,—to a study frank and fair, and not falsified and colored by our wishes or our fears: (p77, loc2297).
"It is, then, the strife of all honorable men of the twentieth century to see that in the future competition of races the survival of the fittest shall mean the triumph of the good, the beautiful, and the true; that we may be able to preserve for future civilization all that is really fine and noble and strong, and not continue to put a premium on greed and impudence and cruelty" (p77, loc2294).
"The white man, as well as the Negro, is bound and barred by the color-line, and many a scheme of friendliness and philanthropy, of broad-minded sympathy and generous fellowship between the two has dropped still-born because some busy-body has forced the color-question to the front and brought the tremendous force of unwritten law against the innovators" (p86, loc2523).

Final Thought:

I wish we could hear what W.E.B. Dubois would have spoken about mass incarceration as an alternative to murder...

"If worse come to worst, can the moral fibre of this country survive the slow throttling and murder of nine millions of men?" (p29, loc1113).