The Souls Of Folk, Black, White, And Colorfast

As the days tick by laden with political ads, reports documenting, forecasting, driving the downward spiral of the world’s economies, and the barest mea culpa is uttered by Alan Greenspan in his leaden, Ayn Rand, non-speak, the pall mall race to E-Day remains significantly a matter of race. In a recent article residents of a small town in western Pennsylvania were interviewed about the upcoming presidential election; the tendency, not surprisingly, was that race did matter as a criterion for selecting the next president. It was stated that these residents believed that for as many blacks who voted for Barack Obama, there would be as many whites who will vote against Obama and for John McCain. The reason for the offsetting votes was not a matter of policy but an exclusive issue of race. When one leaves the relatively static atmosphere of small towns and enters the less parochial climate of larger cities, one finds the tendency in personal public disclosure to be more circumspect. Rather than declaring an aversion to casting a ballot for anyone on racial grounds, many deflect the issue toward a matter of policy or ideology, which, if honesty prevails, is a valid method to reach a decision, and thereby, reserving the exercise of one’s rights as a citizen to the privacy of the voting booth; however, what augury can accurately divine the potency of prejudice or its existence when one is shielded by the drawn curtain?  Put another way, how many percentage points does it take to offset a secret ballot?

W. E. B. DuBois had the benefit of studying with a pantheon of American thinkers; as a student of William James, Josiah Royce, and George Santayana while he was at Harvard, DuBois was surely prepared for the revolutionary changes in psychology ushered in by the Twentieth Century. 50 years after he published The Souls Of Black Folk, DuBois revisited his work in the preface to the Jubilee Edition of 1953. DuBois resisted changing what he wrote in 1903, with the exception of emendations of a very few words and no substantive alteration in meaning, the original text remains intact. In fact, in a brief revised preface added to the Jubilee Edition, DuBois cites only two trends he did not anticipate in his original work: the influence of Freud on psychology and the impact of Karl Marx on the modern world. DuBois adds:

So perhaps I might end this retrospect simply by saying: I still think today as yesterday that the color line is a great problem of this century. But today I see more clearly than yesterday that back of the problem of race and color, lies a greater problem which both obscures and implements it: and that is the fact that so many civilized persons are willing to live in comfort even if the price of this is poverty, ignorance, and disease of the majority of their fellowmen; that to maintain this privilege men have waged war until today war tends to become universal and continuous, and the excuse for this war continues largely to be color and race.

We have turned another century since the extraordinary perceptive work and observations by W. E. B. DuBois, and his accuracy and prescience are hauntingly even more applicable as this nation prepares to elect a president who, we hope, will possess the foresight, courage, patience, and resolve to lead a nation and a world threatened by economic and moral conflagration. It is a peculiar irony that this black intellectual educated at Harvard before the Twentieth Century captures the essence of what may be appropriately termed a world wide malady. Ours is a world of unending war, whether or not the Bush-Cheney Doctrine was foisted upon us and the rest of the world; we preside over a battlefield where excess and poverty are ranged as enemies and it is not certain in which camp we may find ourselves once the battle commences.

What seems clear to me is that neither jargon nor flippancy are appropriate responses; maverick, patriot, soccer mom are weak shibboleths to use to call upon the inner strength of the people of this nation. For every personal saga of suffering in one community there is an equally tragic account from another community. War hero or an infant tortured with famine or aids, what inhuman calculus should one employ to determine the higher value of suffering or the greater tragedy of loss? The passion of hatred resolves ultimately into absurdity; the irrevocable toll of pain, injury, and death which we, as gatekeepers of an unsustainable way of life are complicit, will be a fate we can only forestall and not elude. It is time for our adolescent religions and our puerile ideologies to be tilled under as fallow fields in preparation for a new crop. It is time we co-authored a book about the souls of all folk, a book of life!

One thought on “The Souls Of Folk, Black, White, And Colorfast

  1. Excellent, Tom. I finding myself turning more and more to Marx and now want to read DuBois. Funny, but no matter which ways we turn we stumble over and again on the issue of wealth and deprivation and the origins of comfort in the discomfort of others. Steve

Comments are closed.