In W.E.B Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro he speaks about a study done on the issue of race in a city slum in Philadelphia. The 10,000 African Americans that occupy the Seventh Ward live in unbearable conditions. Isolated from the rest of the population, the blacks are forced to exist in a reality of poverty, crime, ignorance, and harsh labor. The problem is these individuals are ridiculed and discriminated based on their current situation. It seems that they are blamed for the existence of their harsh reality as a result of their own merit. Du Bois argues that you cannot study and make claims on their situation by looking at it in the current state; rather you must view it in a historical context. For to understand their reality, you must see them as an evolving people with a past filled with hardships.
Du Bois then goes on to speak about “the contact of the races” in which he discusses the concept of discrimination. According to the Negro, his blood is “disliked” and therefore he experiences hardship in relating to the outside world. This dislike prevents him from “decent employment, certain public conveniences and amusements, from hiring houses, and in general from being recognized as a man.” However, white people are “unconscious” of such a powerful feeling and rationalize colored prejudice by justifying that interactions with blacks are an impracticality that serves no purpose in maintaining their standard of culture. They do not feel that this view effects the social situation of the Negro. Du Bois then goes on to state that the reality lies somewhere between these two extremes. The situation of the blacks is not entirely the white man’s fault, however their point of view is more powerful than they realize.
At the end of the piece, Du Bois talks about the irrationality of one man’s domination over another’s. Whose right is it to take control, power, or authority over another? In the case of the black man, he has suffered through the worst of this pain. He has endured “the slave-trade, slavery, reconstruction, and present prejudice.” The survival of the blacks is not under question, it is the morals of humanity. In order for discrimination and prejudice to end, the individual must look inside himself to alter his attitude and promote social change.
I think the last part of this essay and Du Bois’s overall point is extremely prevalent today. Discrimination, prejudice and racism can exist between any groups of people. They are concepts that are brought alive in the mind and can potentially live on forever. It is up to the individual to decide how he chooses to see the world and interact with it.