In an ever-changing world where things are subject to transform at any moment has a work’s echo of truth, literary or aesthetic rang so loud through the ages. This effort I am alluding to is that of W.E.B. Dubois in his collection of essays known as The Souls of Black Folk. In Souls Dr Dubois outlines and critiques America’s handling of the problems in as it relates to the American Negro.
These problems consist of but are not limited to economic opportunity, civic liberties, and the acquisition of political power, all components of the burden facing the Negro in America. Until recently I had never took the time to sit down and read this work of literary brilliance. Throughout the years, men of whom I hold in high regard in academia, emphatically expressed that I needed to read this work to get a better understanding of one’s self. Mr. Dubois emphasizes that the proper education of all mankind would help alleviate if not eradicate the ill sentiments in regards to the Negro in America.
He makes in-depth analysis on the elements involving and surrounding the betterment of his race, the Negro Race.
Dr. Dubois contends that the Negro in America lives in a world that lets him incorporate “no true self-consciousness”, thereby having a “double-consciousness” sorts which is using another’s life as a measuring stick for your own existence. This mind frame can still be seen expressed today where so many black children seem to be locked in identity crisis battle.
Currently the popular culture for many Negro youth is participating in the recurring fads that other ethnicities have long ceased using. The current generation of Negro youth to young adults in totality can be viewed as the result of this “double consciousness” type of thinking. Reinforced by a myriad of stereotypes and stagnant wisdom, the Negro is silently bred to believe since birth that his ideas are not equal to that of his economically dominant counterparts.
Therefore dozens of potential innovators go through the decades reaching for the acknowledgement of the “superior” group. For example, Rap and Entertainment star Dwayne Carter also known as Lil Wayne claimed some years past that he was no longer a rapper and now a “Rock Star”.
Now by virtue of innocence one might pose the question “What is wrong with that?” On the surface not a thing, but this statement was to say that he in some respects has eclipsed all possible limits in the genre of rap and no longer finds it suitable.
Now to the known world Lil Wayne has no attributes that would qualify him to take on the title of “Rock Star”. While I am not in Mr. Carter’s inner circle, upon searching one can find that he has no background in musical instrumentation, vocal training, or song arrangement, he had no tangible qualifications to even be a Rock and Roll, artist. Other than his immense popularity, it seems that this title does not fit its host. But the declaration by Mr. Carter may speak to more of a deeper issue of Mr. Carter psyche by holding much esteem to the artists in the predominately Caucasian supported genre.
The statement speaks to the mind-set that somehow Hip-Hop music (which was born from the housing projects of inner city New York and with deeper roots in Africa) is in some way primitive and sophomoric when up against the popular genres of the day. While the business of Rap and/or Hip-hop generates billions of dollars in revenue for music companies and has made Mr. Carter a wealthy man, the downgrading of its respect could be viewed as a testament to how he feels about himself. Though who am I but a lone spectator in a land, which gives one plenty to observe. Now back to your regularly scheduled commentary.
During Mr. Dubois’ time as a notable educator, journalist, and writer he could never reach the popularity of his main rival at the time, Negro philanthropist Booker T. Washington. Mr. Washington, a former slave himself had expressed the ideals that the Negro education should consist of industrialized learning.
This would be accomplished by training the Negro to have a skill set specific to certain jobs all in the quest for money.
With education being an essential element in the uplifting of the black race according Mr. Dubois, these different ideologies were set to clash if not split opinion among the race to which both men were attempting to help.
Dubois protested that buying into Washington’s ideology made the Black Man give up some inalienable rights which were: political power, insistence on civil rights and higher education of Negro youth.
When accessing his situation the Negro comes away with three particular sentiments regarding his position: Revenge & Revolt, adjusting to the will of the superior, or self-realization. He disputes that while Mr. Washington is earnest in his efforts, his view is ultimately short sighted. He feels that because of Mr. Washington’s notoriety it is difficult for critics like Dr. Dubois and others to express true points to counter Mr. Washington’s area of thought. That itself is a problem still facing the world as especially the Black community today. When someone offers the slightest bit of criticism, peers deem he or she “a hater”. Should not one have a say in critiquing those and information concerning a given field especially if the concerned party is a consensus expert? Of course he or she should! By accepting constructive criticisms one can work on their flaws or prove the refutation a lie. It seems that in this generation people’s sensitivities are at all time high thereby creating an issue between given parties involved. But I pose one more question, if everyone is good at everything then who is below average?
According to Mr. Dubois education helps the Negro achieve self-respect which is “worth more than land and houses” in all he refutes Mr. Washington’s attitude of submission and adjustment. With a century gone since its first publication, the ringing of Dubois’ alarm in the form of social diagnosis by observation brought about a changing of the minds in some respects. Institutions such as my very own Grambling State University, (once named the Colored Industrial and Agricultural School) have shifted from its original educational strategy of the Booker T. Washington mindset to more of than Dubois’ school of thought. It is my belief that Mr. Dubois would not be impressed but may be satisfied with the education that is given by Grambling and universities alike. Due to the lack of vision, corruptness, and laziness many Negro institutions as well as other places of higher learning do their students a disservice and provide grounds for students to fail themselves, for reasons many in number. But there are bright spots among departments within certain colleges and universities, though it serves little in the total scheme of things, some educators in the world today are still able to cultivate and nurture exceptional minds they come in contact with.
Upon completion of this beautiful piece of work, I challenged myself if not ever before. Mr. Dubious stated every Negro man has a responsibility to himself, his family, and his race to strive for better and achieve. Every man is not an intellectual but every man has the right to set his mind on higher and go and get it, as long it is for the uplifting of what is right. In reading Souls of Black Folk I am convinced that we as black people are obligated to be better than what the world has allowed us to be.
Sirarminius Williams is a senior history major from New Orleans.