Throughout his life, Du Bois writes, and educates, studies, liberates, and resists the systemic racism in America until his indictment as a communist in 1951 and subsequent deportation (his white co-conspirators were allowed to remain in the U.S.) So he continues the fight abroad until his death in Ghana 1963 in the midst of the U.S. civil rights movement. In The Souls of Black Folk, he writes:
“The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.“ – W.E.B. Du Bois
Life as one man, with a double consciousness, American and African, is no small task. Given the right set of consequences and an incredible support group, perhaps it is doable. Having access to housing, healthy food, good educators, healthcare, job, mental health professionals, community, equal pay, and time. If you are wealthy, male, and white that is all a given (even after successive failures.) A person of color has to look for opportunities and open the doors to sneak in squeaky clean. Those POC’s are your Talented Tenth. The other ninety percent of blacks scrounge while what culture is left, if it isn’t based in religion or food, is easily appropriated and it’s origins lost and then regurgitated in a mediated manner. Look at the Arts, Architecture, Technology, Science, Math, Entertainment of the past 30 years alone. Lip service holidays, monuments, and street names mean nothing. The capitalist, white way of life has been Africanized, Asianized, Latinized, oversized and continues to attempt to crush alternative culture, community, history and humanity into dust.
Just ask the people still at Standing Rock or better yet ask any person of color, and be willing to listen without judgement. Perhaps that questioning could lead to a conversation. Also question yourself. I do on the daily.
The hard won battles of the civil rights movement led to the desegregation of schools and public places, voting rights, and laws prohibiting discrimination in education, workplace, and the housing market. Every day from then until now the fight for these rights laid out by law must be fought for over and over again. Today we have over 2 million people of color incarcerated and yes we have President Barack Obama, and celebrities like Oprah, Beyonce, Kanye… We’ve got black people at the top of capitalism’s high spires and still millions more people of color and people at the bottom wallowing, scrambling, screaming, and working their fingers to the bone, for what? So that the current President of the United States can help make America great again, by casting out refugees and immigrants, defunding public education, the arts, destroying the environment and putting what little money is leftover from the people’s federal tax dollars into buffering the military, privatizing prisons, and spreading corporate globalisation?
What does America have to teach the world? Perhaps innovation, cohabitation, acceptance, resilience, bravery, and full transparency if we can get there without imploding first. As for the concept of double consciousness, if Du Bois were alive I would be bold enough to ask is there a 3rd, 4th, or 5th consciousness. Are these splits in consciousness being acknowledged and exploited? I ask this because as the categories of identity increase it sometimes feels like having to work through several layers of veils to see that the one white way isn’t the only way.
~This is a part of a series following a W.E.B Du Bois reading group in Philadelphia, moderated by Dr. Anthony Monteiro. Following each meeting of the group, we’ll post a reflection by one of the members. If you’re in the Philadelphia area and would like to join the group for the next session, go to the Facebook group and join us for the next meeting.
This reflection on the Du Bois reading group was written by Anita Holland. Anita Holland is a multiracial artist and human being residing in what is currently Philadelphia, PA. Today’s platitude of choice: “Let me answer your question with a question.” You can follow her on Twitter at: @AMSunshin3.