[Essay] W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk and the ‘Veil of Race’ — Tia Byer

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868–1963) was an American sociologist and historian who later became an active civil rights campaigner and Pan-Africanist. As the first black African American to earn a PhD from Harvard University, Du Bois’s writings ‘helped to create the intellectual argument for the black freedom struggle in the twentieth century’.[1] In tracing and attributing black disempowerment to the legacy of slavery, Du Bois’s theorizations of the impact of the Reconstruction Era are considered his most important contribution to African American literature.

Following the American Civil War (1861–1865), the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment emancipated approximately 3.9 million black men, women and children, ending four hundred years of institutional enslavement in North America. The aftermath of emancipation, known as the Reconstruction era (1863–1877), saw an attempt to transform the Confederate states by providing former slaves with legal rights and citizenship. However, when Reconstruction lead to segregation of the races by law, ‘in the South’, as Donald B. Gibson notes, black people ‘existed in a state of peonage […] unprotected by law and bereft of the rights and privileges belonging to other ordinary citizens elsewhere’.[2] For Du Bois, the abolition of slavery may have freed black people from bondage, but the Reconstruction era that followed served only to disempower black people and perpetuate racial conflict. In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois illustrates how the aftermath of Emancipation was responsible for the continued racial tension that defined twentieth-century America.

The Souls of Black Folk (hereafter referred to as Souls), is an amalgam of essays that differ significantly in style and content.[3] As Shamoon Zamir puts it, Souls consists of ‘fourteen chapters ranging across social, political, and economic history, religion and education, psychology, the sociology of music, autobiography, and fiction’.[4] Whilst this extensive list of themes suggests a disjointed reading experience, the text does, as Eugene Victor Wolfenstein says, possess a unifying theme: ‘the idea of permitting the reader to ‘view faintly’ the “deeper recesses of the Veil’’’.[5] This structural metaphor refers to Du Bois’s concept of ‘the awful shadow of the Veil’, which for him represents ‘the strange meaning of being black’.[6] ‘[B]eing black’ is the quintessential ‘problem of the Twentieth Century’, synonymous with ‘the problem of the color line’.[7] For Du Bois, it is the metaphorical ‘Veil of race’ that shrouds, obscures and divides the ‘Black World’ from ‘the White World’; both in perception and consideration.[8]

A physical veil covers from sight and hides that which lies beneath, yet is also diaphanous. Du Bois articulates the veil of race as the symbolic consequence of racial hatred. The veil features in each chapter, taking on a plurality of meanings, leading Gibson to remark that, ‘it is not always entirely clear just exactly what the veil means’.[9] For instance, ‘at times it is the Veil of ignorance which education must lift’, and ‘in yet another sense, Du Bois seems to use the Veil as a symbol of a moral and spiritual
paralysis’.[10] I ground my analysis of the veil in Melvin L. Rogers’s observation that ‘the theme of rhetoric, its political character, and its relationship to emotional states has received scant attention in the literature on Souls’.[11] I argue that in Souls there is a deliberate politicization of the metaphorical veil, inducing a ‘philanthropic effort’ from the white reader to cross the colour-line, ‘lift the Veil and set the prisoned free’.[12] In doing so, Du Bois exposes the economic conditions and deterministic white logic of perceiving black individuals as ‘half-men’, thus re-enslaving African Americans since Reconstruction.[13] By insisting upon the arbitrary nature of the veil, Du Bois makes the white reader see how they are implicit in the ‘determined Negro humility’.[14] I analyse the psychological implications[15], economic post-colonial dependency,[16] and biographical aspects of Souls. This article concludes with an analysis of Du Bois’s most effective rhetorical plea: the deeply personal ‘Of the Passing of the First-Born’, and its evocation of philanthropic urgency.[17] Souls exposes the deterministic conditions sustaining black dehumanization. By a continued ‘black dehumanisation’ I refer to ‘theories of ‘Negroid’ inferiority and ‘Caucasoid’ superiority’ originally used to justify slavery.[18] Du Bois expresses the need to ‘lift’ the veil and journey beyond the metaphorical racial border in order to understand ‘the black folk’. In doing so, Du Bois exposes how arbitrary racism is blind to the ‘handicapped’ black experience,[19] an experience which precludes black self-actualization.[20] By divulging the ways the veil ‘distort[s] the humanity of those within’, Du Bois rhetorically stresses the movable yet nevertheless powerful nature of racially veiled
bias.[21]

The veil symbolises a white refusal of African-American shared humanity, which Du Bois dramatises in the biographical chapter, ‘Of Our Spiritual Strivings’. Du Bois describes how African Americans occupy and exist as the ‘other in a predestined ‘other world’ separate from the hegemonic white race, introducing the veil as symbolising the barrier of racial segregation.[22] In Du Bois’s case, the ‘revelation’ of the veil is a traumatic experience that disrupts ‘the early days of rollicking boyhood’ and violently ‘bursts upon
one’.[23] The ‘shadow [that] swept across’ the young Du Bois manifests when exchanging ‘visiting cards’, he explains: ‘one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card…peremptorily, with a glance’.[24] The stranger disregards the young Du Bois because he ‘was [racially] different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast Veil’.[25] Here, Robinson’s ‘distortion of humanity’ is a wilful disassociation whereby white people refuse to see black people as anything other than as ‘half-men’: ‘an abstraction, an idea, and not a man of flesh, blood, and bone’.[26] Despite exhibiting ‘like’ sentiments, physical distinction in skin tone, indicated by the emphasis on sight, determine African Americans as different and induces Du Bois’s realisation that being ‘colored’ is ‘to be a problem’.[27] The girl sees only the ‘dark body’, as the alliteration seen in the repeated ‘v’ sound in ‘vast Veil’ renders racial prejudice totalising and thus explains her rejection of Du Bois.[28] Du Bois’s discovery is both a veiling, that is, the establishment of the veil of race between the black boy and the white girl, and, at the same time, an unveiling, in the sense that the true nature of racial relations is revealed to Du Bois.

The fact that the ‘dramatic moment of racial discovery’[29] is revealed to Du Bois ‘with certain suddenness’, and is not consciously already known, implies that the indictment of the veil is not an essential fact.[30] This passive statement about the veil having ‘swept over’ Du Bois, against his will is indicative of what Michael G. Cooke calls the unifying ‘stock scene of racial discovery’ in African American literature.[31] In her 1928 essay, ‘How it feels to Be Colored Me’, Zora Neale Hurston explores a similar recognition: ‘I remember the day that I became colored’, suggesting racial identification is an imposed phenomenon.[32] Du Bois only becomes at one ‘with other black boys’ when he understands race ‘to be a problem’, consequently learning to identify with those who similarly feel ‘the shades of the prison-house clos[ing] round us all’.[33] In this chapter, Du Bois’s movement from the differentiating adjective ‘other’, to the collective pronoun ‘we’, implies that racism is both a unifying experience and the ultimate determiner ‘of the Negro’s degradation’ that the white gaze demands.[34]

Du Bois explains his concept of ‘double-consciousness’ as the consequence of the veil, where, ‘one ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body’.[35] With ‘double-consciousness’, Du Bois articulates the psychological imposition placed upon the black individual, induced by conflicting ideas of selfhood that inevitably cause black individuals to become a powerless victim of the veil. The artificiality of the veil is made explicit through the comparison of the splitting of the self to the ‘measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on’.[36] The apparent difference between races are determined by the individual’s transactional engagement in the world and not by instinct. Appiah argues that Du Bois ‘came gradually, though never completely to assimilate the biological nature of race’ and that his efforts to interrogate ‘not just the meaning of race but [also] the truth about race’, remained unrealized.[37] However, within a psychological reading, this is not the case: the contingent social setting of this realization is integral to demonstrating how the veil is a racial-ideological fiction. Indeed, Du Bois’s theory of racial difference can be considered mature in the ways it prefigures contemporary understandings of race as socially constructed. Priscilla Wald emphasises that it is only, ‘with the exchange of greeting cards [that] the children recognize each other and reaffirm each other’s experience of self’.[38] Social conditioning inherent in racial dynamics is vital to understanding the creation and implementation of the veil as a construct divided along societal lines.

In stressing the interactional dynamic, it is possible to determine this ‘stock scene’ as evidence of S. Smith’s ‘racialized…social self’. According to William James, brother of Henry, tutor of Du Bois, and the Father of American Psychology, the ‘social self’ is a psychological term describing the developmental stages of consciousness where self-definition and recognition derive from ‘images of [one’s] person in the minds of others’.[39] James argues that self-image and identity are dependent on the recognition of others and the social context in which that recognition takes place. In The Souls of Black Folk, ‘Looks of approval or disapproval on [other’s] faces’ guide the individual’s self-perception, and for Du Bois this creates a self-policing according to the principle of double-consciousness.[40]

Double-consciousness refers to how African Americans risk ‘being torn asunder’[41] in the ‘warring’ between the two elements of self: one enforced and one ‘truer self’. Jacques Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’ further explains the individual’s ‘perpetual psychological effort of suturing self-identification to image’, which renders learnt-identity a ‘social determination’ and an ‘artificial…activity’.[42] Lacan’s theorization describes the formation of the Ego as caused by one’s external expectation, image, and ultimately misrepresentation of oneself. Consequently, the secondary prescribed self-awareness is ‘founded in misrecognition, in one’s misrecognition of self in and as an image reflected in the mirror’,[43] producing ‘the effect in man of an organic insufficiency in his natural reality’.[44] Shawn Michelle Smith states, ‘for Du Bois, double consciousness result[s] from an inverted mirror stage brought about by a classmate’s racialized rejection of him’: it is thus ‘an effect of misidentification’.[45] Therefore, racial self-awareness of the supposed ‘dehumanised’ black race is socially predicated and not a moment of ‘true’ self-actualization.

Employing the ‘purportedly “universal” psychology’[46] of James and Lacan in conjunction with Du Bois is justifiable, when we consider Ossie Davis’s similar ‘process of niggerization’.[47] ‘Niggerization’ is the racially explicit ‘mirror-stage’ and ‘social self’, where socio-racial ‘material trappings’ lead to a ‘two-sided’ state of ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘self-doubt’ for the African American, which in turn thwarts ‘autonomy, and self-respect’.[48] Davis’s explanation of the indignity suffered by the forcibly racialized individual evokes ‘Hegel’s philosophy of reciprocal consciousness’[49] in ‘the relational nature of blackness and whiteness’.[50] The veil is a form of psychological enslavement, enforced by a similarly contrived white supremacy. For instance, Du Bois’s ‘sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others’ [51] and being misrecognized as an object of ‘amused contempt’, recalls Hegel’s theory that ‘both master and slave…realize that their dominant and subordinate points of view are a consequence of a contingent state of affairs’.[52] James’s theorization of ‘the social self’ is also Hegelian in that ‘self-consciousness requires recognition by another self-conscious person’.[53] The latter establishes ‘a form of recognition … that is one-sided and unequal’ where ‘inessential consciousness…for the master…constitutes the truth of the certainty of himself’.[54] In being ‘shut out’ from the white world, Du Bois’s African American suffers predestined rejection ‘in the name of human opportunity’, and at the hands of racist power dynamics.[55] Continued colonial disempowerment ‘thwart[s] the possibility of …mutual recognition between’ races,[56] leaving Du Bois ironically stating: ‘the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land’.[57] Racialized identity and its signified degradation overrides an initial self-truth of shared humanity but does not disprove it.

Du Bois’s confusion at his racial discovery derives partially from his geographic origin, namely the unique New England experience: a ‘boy’s paradise’,[58] where ‘racial prejudices were muted’.[59] Du Bois articulates situational racial privilege in being removed from the ‘Southern outrages’ of physical ‘repression and degradation of the Negro’, whose ‘youth’ and ‘strife was not so fiercely sunny’ as his own.[60] Here there is a sense of a seemingly extended childhood racial oblivion. Du Bois further exhibits ignorance of the extreme ‘burden he bore upon his back, that dead-weight of social degradation’, through the defamiliarization device of the third person employed to describe fellow African Americans.[61] Nevertheless, in professing; ‘I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of them that live within the Veil’, Du Bois defends his position as spokesman of shared racial dehumanization.[62] For biographer David Levering Lewis, the ‘small hurt… the visiting card incident’ [63] seems inconsequential, and Gibson claims that ‘it is not entirely clear…where Du Bois stands in relation to [the Veil]’.[64] According to Gibson, given the shared primal encounter yet acknowledged difference contained in the statement ‘leaving, then, the white world, I have stepped within the Veil’, Du Bois’s.[65] This is a valid observation, as Du Bois presents a racially complex case in being both an African American but also a product of a racially ‘muted’ state and upbringing. However, this article will later argue that Du Bois’s ‘relation’ to the veil becomes clearer, especially in my analysis of the ‘large insults of his life’ such as the sufferings recounted in the ‘Of the Passing of the First-Born’ chapter, which evinces how the severity of veiled suffering is geographically contingent and divided along the American north/south divide.[66] In particular, I show how Du Bois’s ambiguous privilege as an ‘interpreter’[67] and ‘mediator between opposing sides of the American veil’[68], takes a poignant and devastating turn whilst in Atlanta, which retroactively establishes him as victim to consequential ‘insults’ of veiled existence.

To remove the veil, the reader must recognise the ‘souls of black folk’,[69]—where ‘souls’ is a term ‘synonymously used with consciousness’[70]—by understanding how ‘so vast a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self-questioning [and] self-disparagement’.[71] To step beyond racialized structures, Du Bois urges the reader to ‘receive [the] little book in all charity, studying my words with me’, and in doing so adopt a ‘philanthropic effort’.[72] The white reader must attempt to understand the situation of the African American. Only when the reader journeys beneath the veil can they stand:

before that nameless prejudice that leaps beyond all this he stands helpless, dismayed, and well-nigh speechless; before that personal disrespect and mockery, the ridicule and systematic humiliation, the distortion of fact and wanton license of fancy, the cynical ignoring of the better and the boisterous welcoming of the worse, the all-pervading desire to inculcate disdain for everything black[73]

achievable through ‘love and sympathy’,[74] to counter how ‘lack of mutual recognition […] dehumanizes the racialized group’.[75] In other words, for Du Bois, compassionate regard will enable transgressive progress in race relations. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), the eighteenth-century philosopher, economist and ethicist Adam Smith defined sympathy as the ‘fellow-feeling for the misery of others’.[76] As a process of cognitive simulation characterized by ‘conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the situation’ and in turn ‘changing places in fancy with the sufferer’, Smith’s ethical system centres around the human capacity and willingness to extend one’s understanding of others.[77] To evoke sympathy, Du Bois takes the white reader to the ‘land of the Color-line’: the ‘Black Belt’, characterized by ‘the rich legacy of human life; shadowed with a tragic past’.[78] Du Bois desires an imaginative reconfiguration, seeking ‘to forge a partnership of discovery and transformation’, and expand the ‘cognitive-affective capacities [of white] human beings’[79] to resist the racist structures that ‘threaten not only the souls of Black folk but also the heart and soul of humanity’.[80] The reader becomes a formal tool when Du Bois invites them on a journey, commanding, ‘if you wish to ride with me you must come into the ‘Jim Crow Car’.[81] Here, the ‘discovery’ requires physical repositioning, where the reader joins Du Bois under the veil and inhabits what Du Bois calls ‘Negro…second-sight’,[82] where veiled ‘African-Americans possess the power to see where others are blind’.[83] The latter allows for accurate surveillance and the deduction of how the economic restraints of Reconstruction led to a ‘second slavery’.[84]

In the chapter ‘Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece’, the South represents an ‘economic organization [that] is radically wrong’, causing Du Bois to ask: ‘who is to blame?’.[85] He writes:

To be sure, there are those who wag their heads knowingly and tell us that the capital of the Cotton Kingdom has moved from the Black to the White Belt—that the Negro of to-day raises not more than half of the cotton crop. Such men forget that the cotton crop has doubled, and more than doubled, since the era of slavery, and that, even granting their contention, the Negro is still supreme in a Cotton Kingdom larger than that on which the Confederacy builded its hopes.[86]

When whites ‘seldom study the condition of the Negro to-day honestly and carefully’ and ‘are loth to have’ preconceived ‘conclusion[s]….disturbed by facts’,[87] Du Bois intentionally exposes the dynamics that ‘wreak havoc on the development of the African American’.[88] The ‘disturbing’ and ‘untold story’ of orchestrated dehumanisation implies that white culpability has historically been ignored.[89] In providing an objectively revised and authoritative account of how ‘racial order is neither natural nor just but the result of the determination of one group to maintain its power over others’,[90] Du Bois demonstrates the deterministic constraints suffered by African Americans, showing how, ‘despite…war, and struggle’ the ‘Negro is not free’.[91] Dehumanisation and economic disenfranchisement are ‘reciprocally confirming’ as capitalist exploitation ‘constitutes a sense of reality’ and ‘a sense of absolute experienced reality’ that ‘is very difficult for most members of the society to move’ beyond.[92] Here, Marxist rhetoric of social immobility explains the black southerner’s ‘dull monotony of daily toil’,[93] whereby the ‘interlocking oppressive system’ of both ‘racism’ and capitalist ‘political economy’ disenfranchise and disempower African Americans.[94] Dehumanization through self-sacrificing labour impedes self-actualisation in the South.

These discriminatory ‘productive forces’[95] position Du Bois’s simultaneously within the ‘now and yesterday’,[96] demonstrating how, despite and during Reconstruction, ‘the old plantation life seemed revived’.[97] Southern race dynamics reflect Landow’s regressive postcolonial understanding, identifiable in the white need, post-abolition, to ‘reduce the Negro to Serfdom’.[98] Serfdom is a form of ‘legal bondage’ and, for Bush, ‘slavery and serfdom had much in common’, where ‘they are regarded as forms of extra-economic coercion’ and characterized ‘as systems of human ownership…a widely employed means of pre-capitalist [and] commercial production’.[99] As Du Bois points out, these ‘black Serfs’ have, in theory, received ‘personal freedom’,[100] but in the aftermath of Reconstruction they ‘remained under the (circumscribed) authority of their former owners’.[101] This is because ‘the Negro farmer started behind’, caught in an economic ‘system…bound to bankrupt the tenant’.[102] For instance, ‘the merchant of the Black Belt [who] is the most prosperous man…when the crop is grow[n]’ immediately ‘takes possession of it’, leaving ‘black proletariat[s]’, with ‘a debt in the sense of [the] continued inability […] to make income cover expense’.[103] Du Bois sums up the futility of the African-American condition in the South:

Out of the hard economic conditions of this portion of the Black Belt, only six per cent of the population [has] succeeded in emerging into peasant proprietorship; and these are not all firmly fixed, but grow and shrink in number with the wavering of the cotton-market. Fully ninety-four per cent have struggled for land and failed, and half of them sit in hopeless serfdom.[104]

Thus, economic subjection renders Southern African-Americans devoid of agency despite gaining notional legal freedoms. Reconstruction following Emancipation in 1863 was not a ‘single climatic event but …a long process that stretched across a near-century’.[105] Instead, it saw the former slave ‘called to purchase his survival in a white-oriented world’ with ‘manual labour, turning himself into a mechanic[ism] of white dominance’.[106] Du Bois shows how, following reconstruction, whites sustained their supremacy by making African Americans ‘laborers and nothing more’.[107] As Marx and Engels put it: ‘the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production’, meaning ‘men [are] distinguished from animals [only] by consciousness’.[108] Forcibly implemented black subjugation renders the antithesis, white superiority, an empty signifier. The now ‘disturbed’ and ‘honestly’ reviewed ‘social facts’ [109] have decentered the previously purported fixed origin of racial dynamics controlled by whites. ‘Through realistic facts’, Du Bois shows how ‘white Americans wished to have them living in submission and silence […] requiring that Negroes remain powerless and dependent in slave capacities’.[110] When ‘consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life’ deprived self-actualization appears systematically and economically contrived.[111] Thus, for Du Bois, this psychologically hindering and Hegelian ‘unequal form of recognition’ is reinforced by economic structures of oppression.

The ‘purely subjective’ chapter ‘Of The Passing of The First-Born’, marks ‘a dramatic shift in the tone and mood of the book’, seeing Du Bois ‘intentionally abandon[ing] the discursive mode of discourse and resort[ing] to an appeal to the emotions of his audience’:[112]

Then the day ended not, and night was a dreamless terror, and joy and sleep slipped away. I hear now that Voice at midnight calling me from dull and dreamless trance—crying, ‘The Shadow of Death! The Shadow of Death!’ Out into the starlight I crept, to rouse the gray physician—the Shadow of Death, the Shadow of Death. The hours trembled on; the night listened; the ghastly dawn glided like a tired thing across the lamplight. Then we two alone looked upon the child as he turned toward us with great eyes, and stretched his stringlike hands—the Shadow of Death! And we spoke no word, and turned away.[113]

The chapter depicts the moment Du Bois’s infant son dies, as both parents watch on helplessly ‘alone’.[114] Du Bois’s statement: ‘into the starlight I crept, to rouse the gray physician’ becomes significant in light of how ‘the circumstances of Burghardt’s death, perhaps the very reason for his passing, exists in the material condition of the colour-line’.[115] For Robert K. Karp and Bobby Gearing, ‘Du Bois lost his son’ due to their location ‘in the South where separate and unequal services and facilities deprived them of the benefits of medical advancements’.[116] Du Bois states that it is specifically, ‘in the land of the Color-line I saw, as it fell across my baby, the shadow of the Veil’.[117] For Karp and Gearing the ‘unwillingness to provide antitoxin to a Negro child in the southern United States underlay Burghardt’s death from diphtheria’.[118] In particular, Karp and Gearing point out that ‘were Du Bois to have remained in Boston or Berlin’ the infant ‘would have received diphtheria antitoxin’.[119] As such, the chapter as a testimonial of ‘great pathos’,[120] becomes a ‘personalization of the race problem’[121] where Du Bois ‘elicit[s] an emotional response… generat[ing] a reasoned desire to alleviate the condition’ of being black.[122] As a black man, but a uniquely privileged one who grew up in the comparatively more comfortable North East, Du Bois’s testimony shocks the white reader. The reader, initially perceiving Du Bois in a privileged position, now vicariously experiences racist essentialism at its most arbitrary, wherein a geographic lottery determines the extent of suffering and death becomes preferable to a life of racial oppression. This is symbolised in the simultaneous emotions of  ‘sorrow’, and ‘awful gladness’, as Du Bois’s conclusion, ‘fool that I was to think or wish that this little soul should grow choked and deformed within the Veil!’, urges philanthropic necessity.[123]

In Du Bois’s work, the veil has the power to psychologically incapacitate and dehumanize the racialized individual’s humanity, resulting in a self-consciousness that is founded on the very idea of a spurious but perceived inequality. The dehumanised state is ensured by the physical and economic impossibilities of the African American condition and Du Bois’s exploration of its inner Marxist disenfranchisement exposes the self-reciprocating nature of black subjugation, rendering the African American predestined to disadvantage. In reducing racism to the politics of geography, Du Bois’s sympathetic rhetoric takes effect, whereby the loyal reader, familiarized with his deceptively privileged relation to the veil, becomes blindsided by the essentialist racism that ultimately kills his child. This enjoins the reader to a ‘philanthropic effort’ and a radical reassessment of racial perception and misperception.

*

Tia Byer is a freelance journalist who recently graduated from The University of Edinburgh with a Master’s degree in US Literature and Cultural Values. For her undergraduate degree in English Literature she studied at York St John University and she has published on Native American literature, the American Renaissance, Caribbean literature and song, dystopian fiction, and African American fiction.

Notes

[1] Manning Marable, Living Black History: How Reimagining the African-American Past Can Remake America’s Racial Future (New York, Citivas Books, 2011), 96.

[2] Donald B Gibson, ‘Introduction’ in The Souls of Black Folk (London: Penguin, 1989) vii–xxxviii, xvii.

[3] First published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk throughout this article is paginated in reference to the 1989 London Penguin reprint of the original edition. W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (London: Penguin, 1989).

[4] Shamoon Zamir, ed. ‘Introduction’, The Cambridge Companion to W.E.B. Du Bois (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 1–6, 7.

[5] Eugene Victor Wolfenstein, ‘Recognition and The Souls of Black Folks’Souls, 7 (2005) 129–139, 130.

[6] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1.

[7] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1.

[8] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 65, 1. The ‘color-line’ is a term used by Frederick Douglass in 1881 but made famous by Souls. Douglass defined ‘the color-line’ as the ‘long-standing prejudice’ between the races. See: Douglass, Frederick, ‘The Color Line’, The North American Review, 132 (1881), 567–577, 567.

[9] Gibson, ‘Introduction’, The Souls of Black Folk, xii.

[10] Jerold J. Savory, ‘The Rending of the Veil in W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, CLA Journal, 15 (1972), 334–337, 334.

[11] This article intersects with Rogers’s reading of ‘the politically transformative possibilities of Du Bois’s…rhetoric in influencing the character of white Americans’ but differs in content as Rogers’s predominant focus is legal disqualification. See: Melvin Rogers, ‘The People, Rhetoric, and Affect: On the Political Force of Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk’, American Political Science Review, 106 (2012), 188–203, 189.

[12] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 136, 174.

[13] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 10

[14] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 6.

[15] Exploring the psychological effects of the Veil, as ‘double-consciousness’,i I claim that Du Bois unveils the ‘notion of race [as] thoroughly social constructivist’.ii White projection of the Hegelian slave consciousness onto the (in theory) ‘freemen, transforms former slaves to ‘black proletariat[s]’, devoid of agency and consequently subjugating ‘negroes to serfdom’.iii By ‘Hegelian slave consciousness’, I refer to the famous master-slave dialect of the German Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). Describing the development of the self-consciousness during an encounter between a Master and a Slave, Hegel demonstrates the arbitrarily and enforced self-perceived superiority of the white Master that arises from this power dynamic.

i Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 5.
ii Joel Olson, ‘W.E.B. Du Bois and the Race Concept’, 119.
iii Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 104, 166, 30.

[16] My argument aligns with George P. Landow’s understanding of postcolonialism, which he deems an arbitrary discursive signifier describing a progressive stasis. Although postcolonial experience, by definition, signifies imperialist resolution and political agency, for Landow the linguistic qualifier is deceptive because in many so-called ‘postcolonial’ settings, ‘nothing has changed’. Colonial power is a transhistorical force whereby enforced power dynamics resonates and oppression continues. With the terms ‘colonialism and colonize’ signifying ‘codewords for any relation involving exploitation’, the antithesis ‘postcolonial’, becomes paradoxical, whereby, despite indicative temporal difference suggested by the prefix ‘post’, the initial ‘exploitation’ continues in an echoing of colonial dynamics.ii In Souls, historical notions concerning African descendants as ‘lowly’ inhuman subjects, remains discernible post-abolition.ii Reiland Rabaka claims that ‘Du Bois’s discourse…critically destabilizes’ the immediate implication of postcolonialism by ‘point[ing] to a period … between colonialism and post-colonialism, what Du Bois conceptually characterized as ‘quasi- colonialism’ or ‘semi-colonialism’’.iii

i George P. Landow, ed. ‘Why I Use the Term ‘Postcolonial’’. Political Discourse: Theories of Colonialism and Related Terms (Brown University revised June 2002) <bit.ly/2H5VHRV> [29 Feb 2020].

 iii Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, p.6.

iv Reiland Rabaka, ‘The Souls of Black Radical Folk: W. E. B. Du Bois, Critical Social Theory, and the State of Africana Studies’, Journal of Black Studies, 36 (2006), 732–763, 742.

[17] Rabaka, ‘The Souls of Black Radical Folk, 169.

[18] Joel Olson, ‘W.E.B. Du Bois and the Race Concept’, 118.

[19] This article counters K. Anthony Appiah’s thesis that obscures Du Bois ‘with charges of essentialism’,i by proposing that ‘Du Bois was thrown back on the scientific definition of race, which he officially rejected’.ii I align with David S. Owen’s claim that Souls ‘is often cited as an early precursor to the contemporary field of critical whiteness studies’, by ‘destabilizing the hegemony of whiteness through exposing it as the unquestioned norm’ to ‘bring to the attention of his white readers the depth and pervasiveness of white supremacy’ in the US.iii

i Joel Olson, ‘W.E.B. Du Bois and the Race Concept’, 119.
ii K. Anthony Appiah, ‘The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race’, Critical Inquiry, 12 (1985), 21–37, 29.
iii David S. Owen, ‘Whiteness in Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk’, Philosophia Africana, 10 (2007), 107–126, 107.

[20] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 103.

[21] Sierra Robbins, ‘The Souls of Black Folk and the Essentiality of Human Connection’. Arts One: The University of British Columbia, (revised May 2016) <https://bit.ly/2K1FiA5. Accessed 2 April 2019> [29 February]. Potential problems of this article derive from aligning Du Bois’s ‘experiences of racism in the united states [with]…European philosophical traditions’ and theory.i For Elizabeth Abel, the latter risks interpreting black writers without the ‘acknowledgement of racial difference’.ii However, I side with Claudia Tate who claims that ‘theoretical models can be modified to fit culturally diverse circumstances’, as the flip-side of potentially ‘advanc[ing] Western hegemony over the cultural productions of black Americans’, can in fact ignore how ‘infinitely variable rather than reducible to any racial formula’ the ‘experiences [of] life as a Negro’ can be.iii In reading Du Bois’s double-consciousness as a Lacanian and Jamesian ‘racialized social self’, this article thus follows Shawn Michelle Smith’s dual emphasis on European psychology and racial identity.iv I also counter claims that Marxism and Race Theory are ‘often at odds with each other’,v by drawing on Rabaka’s black appropriation of ‘Western Marxism’, who claims that ‘Du Bois’s critical thought, though it began with a race base, ultimately developed a conjunctive model that did not privilege one social or political problem over another’.vi

i Shamoon Zamir, ‘Introduction’, The Cambridge Companion to W.E.B. Du Bois, 4.

ii Elizabeth Abel, ‘Black Writing, White Reading’, 481.

iii Claudia Tate, Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocols of Race (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 196, 192, 5.

iv Shawn Michelle Smith, Photography on the Color Line W.E.B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 28.

v Zeus Leonardo, ‘The Unhappy Marriage between Marxism and Race Critique: Political Economy and the Production of Racialized Knowledge’, Policy Futures in Education, 2 (2004), 483–493, 483.

vi Rabaka, Reiland. ‘The Souls of Black Radical Folk’, 748.

[22] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 3.

[23] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 4.

[24] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 4.

[25] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 4.

[26] Gibson, ‘Introduction’, The Souls of Black Folk, xiii.

[27] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 4.

[28] Du Bois,The Souls of Black Folk, 5.

[29] Priscilla Wald, Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 186.

[30] Wald, Constituting Americans, 4.

[31] Michael. G Cooke, Afro-American Literature in the Twentieth Century: The Achievement of Intimacy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 72.

[32] Zora Neal Hurston, ‘How It Feels to Be Colored Me’, The World Tomorrow, 11 (1928), 215–216, 215.

[33] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 4.

[34] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 44.

[35] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 5.

[36] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 5.

[37] Appiah, ‘The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race’, 22.

[38] Wald, Constituting Americans, 22.

[39] William James, The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1 (New York: Henry Holt, 1890), 61.

[40] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 61.

[41] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 5.

[42] Jacques Lacan, ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience’, Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), 1–7, 2, 1.

[43] Smith, Photography on the Color Line, 30.

[44] Lacan, ‘The Mirror Stage’, 3.

[45] Smith, Photography on the Color Line, 31.

[46] Smith, Photography on the Color Line, 35.

[47] ‘A Conversation with Ossie Davis’, Souls, 2, (2000), 6–16, 9.

[48] ‘A Conversation with Ossie Davis’, 9.

[49] Anna Tyrina, ‘W.E.B. Du Bois and the Articulation of the Black American Double Consciousness: Social Fact or Fiction?’ Aisthesis, 9 (2018), 16–22, 17.

[50] Owen, ‘Whiteness in Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk’, 108.

[51] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, p. 5.

[52] Owen, ‘Whiteness in Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk’, 115.

[53] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Terry Pinkard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), xxiii.

[54] Hegel, Phenomenology, 114.

[55] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, p. 12.

[56] Karida Brown and Jose Itzigsohn, ‘The Souls of Black Folk’, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 4 (2018), 162–163, 162.

[57] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 5, 7.

[58] W.E.B Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1940), 13.

[59] Robert J. Karp, and Bobby Gearing, ‘The Death of Burghardt Du Bois, 1899; Implications for Today’, Journal of the National Medical Association, 107 (2015), 68–74, 68.

[60] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 4, 162.

[61] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 9.

[62] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 2.

[63] David Levering Lewis, W.E.B Du Bois: Biography of a Race 1896-1919 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1993), 279.

[64] Gibson, ‘introduction’, The Souls of Black Folk, xii.

[65] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1.

[66] Lewis, W.E.B Du Bois, 279.

[67] Wolfenstein, ‘Recognition and The Souls of Black Folks’, 133.

[68] Houston A. Baker Jr., ‘The Black Man of Culture: W.E.B. Du Bois and The Souls of Black Folk’ in Critical Essays on W.E.B. Du Bois, ed. W. L. Andrews (Boston, MA: G.K. Hal, 1985), 120–135, 132.

[69] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 12, emphasis added.

[70] Arnold Rampersad, The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 74.

[71] The Souls of Black Folk, 10.

[72] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 3.

[73] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 9.

[74] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 83.

[75] Brown and Itzigsohn, ‘The Souls of Black Folk’, 162.

[76] Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 11.

[77] Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 12.

[78] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 91, 100.

[79] Melvin Rogers, ‘The People, Rhetoric, and Affect’, 189, 193.

[80] Reiland Rabaka, ‘The Souls of Black Radical Folk’, 744.

[81] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 93.

[82] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 5.

[83] Thomas C. Holt, ‘The Political Uses of Alienation: W.E.B. Du Bois on Politics, Race, and Culture, 1903-1940’. American Quarterly, 42 (1990), 301–324, 306.

[84] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 11.

[85] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 123.

[86] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 112.

[87] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 112.

[88] Anna Tyrina, ‘W.E.B. Du Bois and the Articulation of the Black American Double Consciousness: Social Fact or Fiction?’, 16.

[89] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 100.

[90] Joel Olson, ‘W.E.B. Du Bois and the Race Concept’, 118.

[91] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 33.

[92] Raymond Williams, ed. ‘Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory’, Culture and Materialism: Selected Essays (London: Verso, 2003), 31–50, 38.

[93] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 119.

[94] Rabaka, ‘The Souls of Black Radical Folk’, 744, 749.

[95] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology: Part One (1947) (New York: International Publishers, 2004), 59.

[96] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 92.

[97] Ira Berlin, The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 328.

[98] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 30.

[99] Michael Bush, ed. ‘Introduction’, Serfdom and Slavery: Studies in Legal Bondage (London: Longman, 1996) 1–18, 2.

[100] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 33, 126.

[101] Michael Bush, ed. ‘Introduction’, Serfdom and Slavery, 55.

[102] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 122.

[103] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 121, 113.

[104] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 130.

[105] Berlin, The Long Emancipation, 18.

[106] Panteleimon Tsiokos, ‘Veiled Interpretations of Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903)’, US Studies Online (revised January 2018), <bit.ly/2VH3Qzi> [29 February].

[107] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 87.

[108] Karl Marx, ‘Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’ in Marx: Later Political Writings, ed. Terrell Carver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 158–162.

[109] Anna Tyrina, ‘W.E.B. Du Bois and the Articulation of the Black American Double Consciousness: Social Fact or Fiction?’, 16.

[110] Tsiokos, ‘Veiled Interpretations of Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903)’.

[111] Marx, ‘Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’, 160.

[112] Gibson,‘Introduction’, The Souls of Black Folk, xi.

[113] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 172.

[114] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 172.

[115] Shannon Mariotti, ‘On the Passing of the First-Born Son: Emerson’s “Focal Distancing”, Du Bois’ “Second Sight”, and Disruptive Particularity’, Political Theory, 37 (2009), 351–374, 365.

[116] Robert J Karp, and Bobby Gearing, ‘The Death of Burghardt Du Bois, 1899; Implications for Today’, Journal of the National Medical Association, 107 (2015), 68–74, 68.

[117] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 170.

[118] Karp, and Gearing, ‘The Death of Burghardt Du Bois’, 72.

[119] Karp, and Gearing, ‘The Death of Burghardt Du Bois’, 73.

[120] Shannon Mariotti, ‘On the Passing of the First-Born Son’, 352.

[121] Wolfenstein, ‘Recognition and The Souls of Black Folks’, 134.

[122] Rogers, ‘The People, Rhetoric, and Affect’, 195.

[123] Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 173, 174.

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