Racial Relations Today and a Century Ago
RacialRelations Today and a Century Ago
The American literature field has been graced by numerous prolificwriters among them William Edward Burghardt Dubois (1868-1863). Thisman has made immense contribution to American literature and thefield of sociology especially in matters relating to civil rightsmovement in America. Born in 19th century as an AfricanAmerican, his works capture an important era of American history. Twoof his most prominent books are “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903)and “The Philadelphia Negro” (1899). These books, throughpublished over a century ago capture an ever present situation ofcyclical racial relations problem.
The idea subjective experience on discrimination and racism isrecurrent in the works of Du Bois. In “The Souls of Black Folk”(1903), he addresses some issues that he felt were at the core of theAfrican American identity. He repeatedly makes reference to howindividuals uniquely felt about some government policies, other racesand even commented on random actions by other people. This way, DuBois indicates that Racism and ethnic rivalries will remainsubjective experiences whose worth is as much as allowed by the oneor two parties involved. This subjective approach to the issue ofrace and discrimination is necessary today (Hunter, 2013). This isbecause there are double standards on what equates to racism or not.For instance, it is widely accepted in America that African Americanswill use the term ‘nigger’ in reference to one of their own butthe same is viewed as negatively when used by another race. Thisshows that racism and discrimination all depend on perception betweentwo or more groups of people.
In both books, Du Bois depicts some ills that face the AfricanAmerican society then and now are self-inflicted. In “ThePhiladelphia Negro” (1899), Du Bois is quick to note that his‘people’ rejected him as he attempted to conducted interviews atseveral homes owned by African Americans. Once the book waspublished, he noted that African American students avoided the bookthat talked about the problems facing them. In another book, Du Boiswrote “The colored people of Philadelphia received me with no openarms” to which he adds that “They had a natural disliketo being studied like a strange species” (McDaniel 1998, p. 156).He identifies this as one of the greatest problems affecting theAfrican Americans, fear of confronting their fears and challenges.The same situation exists today as the African American communitycontinues to be faced by the drug menace, alcoholism, high crimelevels and even high incarceration rates (Cartier & Caetano,2013). Given that these numbers have remained high, it is presumablethat much has not been done today to address the problems. Parentsneed to be reminded of their role in bringing up responsible childrenand guide them well through life to avoid falling to such traps.
African Americans have been their own greatest enemy. Du Bois wrotethat African Americans have been gifted with a hindsight that refusesthem to see the world in their own eyes but rather through the eyesof others. The others in this case refer to the white race inAmerican which viewed African Americans as the problem hence theslavery and segregation, accordingly, an African American is likelyto see his fellow African Americans as the problem through the eyesof the white people rather than perceiving him as an equal. Du Boisbelieved this was the reason why some African Americans resisted himin conducting his studies and even avoided reading his work oncepublished which presented the world in through the eyes of a fellowAfrican American. The same case is being witnessed today in America. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, murders for AfricanAmericans were 6.3 times higher than the rate for whites in 2011 with95% of the murders of black being by persons of a similar ethnicity(Cooper & Smith, 2013).
Another common theme presented by the books is that the white racehas always held back the progression of African Americas. Although DuBois portrays the core problem as being something close to aninferiority complex among African Americana, he feels that the seedwas planted in this particular race by the whites, he notes instanceswhen the white people have oppressed and held back African Americas.In “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903 p. 143), he narrates thestory of a kid who an African American kid who dreamt of being apriest but the white priest told him that the church would not accepta ‘negro priest’. In same way, in “The Philadelphia Negro”(1899), Du Bois shows that from the study, African Americans had cometo accept what they seemed to be their rightful careers. They coulddream no more as their dreams were barred by the ‘superior’ whiterace. For instance, Du Bois writes that the African Americans womenof Pennsylvania believed that they had only three career options:domestic service, sewing, or married life.
Perceptions towards issues facing African American are shifting. Inone of the books, the author presents the findings of the study inwhich he makes major conclusions. One of them is that while the whiterace has created conditions in the past that have placed AfricanAmericans at a disadvantage, African Americans are not challengingthese conditions where they still exist. Today, there exist numerousprograms such as community based organizations in government ranprograms that are aimed at addressing the special challenges faced byAfrican American in given neighborhoods. Although, Du Boisacknowledges that the white man played a role in the misery of theAfrican Americans, he felt that African Americans needed to beaggressive and stand to be counted as equals. For instance, he wroteAfrican Americans did not value education very much to pursue highereducation. He thus blamed African Americans for not changing withtimes while other races changed. The same case is very alive today inthat there are some sections of African American who still blameslavery that existed several centuries ago on their current problems.
The two books were published within a period of four years. Althougha lot took place within those four years, the plight of AfricanAmericans did not change much and has not changed in part today. DuBois noted that African Americans had made very little progress overthe years in addressing the same problems that affected them asslaves. Du Bois was largely treated as an outsider by the studysubjects as he rightly acknowledged in one book. However, there ismarked change in the manner that Du Bois perceives discrimination,racism and the veil that haunt the African American race in the laterbook. He rallies the people by challenging them to reject the statusquo and demand more from the white majority. He calls for bettereducation, better employment opportunities and even equality of pay.He views himself as an African American who is blinded by his ownchildhood experiences. He thus relies on the works of other peoplesuch as Booker T. to understand what African Americans were goingthough at that time. What this means to modern African Americans justbecause they have not experienced racism, discrimination orrace-specific challenges does not mean that they do not exists. Theycan rely on the experiences others, conduct surveys or reviewsstudies to understand the actual situation and view their fellow menthrough their own eyes and not just the eyes of other.
Today, African Americans must rise up with one voice. What is clearfrom the works of Du Bois is that people might choose to deny racismor race-related challenges in American and around the world justbecause they have not experienced them. However, this will not sendthe problems away. It is important to follow the footsteps of Du Boisand conduct social research studies among minority ethic groups tounderstand what they go through. It is only through this way the bestpolicies to address the challenges that they face can be discoveredand implemented.
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