Blog 4: Du Bois on Racism and White Supremacy

In “The Souls of White Folk” (1920), a more radical critique of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W. E. B. Du Bois addresses the idea that white privilege is invisible to Whites, whereas Blacks are considered “clairvoyant” because they are able to see both the hypocrisy and delusion of Whites and can see what it means to be White. In the past, “darker peoples” were considered to be “of dark, uncertain, and imperfect descent; of frailer, cheaper stuff; cowards in the face of mausers and maxims; [with] no feelings, aspirations, and loves; fools, illogical idiots; ‘half-devil and half-child’,” and were “useful to whites . . . to raise cotton, gather rubber, fetch ivory, dig diamonds, – and be paid what [white] men think they are worth” (368). He then discusses how society at the time was supposedly color coded as “everything great, good, efficient, fair, and honorable is ‘white’; everything mean, bad, blundering, cheating, and dishonorable is ‘yellow’; a bad taste is ‘brown’; and the devil is ‘black’,” and how racism was expressed in every form of media to promote the theme that “a White Man is always right and a Black Man has no rights which a white man is bound to respect” (369). While focusing on the political economy of race, racism, and whiteness, he also discusses the belief of white supremacy, in which the “white race” feels they are superior to other races and should therefore dominate other races by influencing institutions, both national and international, and underpinning Western imperialism and the global “status hierarchy” of nation-states. This causes him to suggest that “the European world is using black and brown men for all the uses which men know,” and “slowly but surely white culture is evolving the theory that ‘darkies’ are born beasts of burden for white folk,” for “it is the duty of white Europe to divide up the darker world and administer it for Europe’s good” (368).

There is nearly an abundance of films that deal with the topic of race/racism, all of which appear to epitomize Du Bois’s views on white supremacy. 1988’s Hairspray and its 2007 remake both emphasize how black people were inflicted by segregation in 1962 Baltimore, as they were placed in special education/detention in high school and were unable to participate on a popular dance show (despite the fact that there is a “Negro Day” on the show on the last Thursday of every month). Racism plays a major role in 1994’s Do the Right Thing, as tensions dangerously escalate for the white and black citizens of a Brooklyn neighborhood on the hottest day of the summer; one character even questions the local pizzeria’s “Wall of Fame” and demands how there should be some pictures of black celebrities on the wall, since the pizzeria is in a black neighborhood and sells pizza to black people. 2011’s The Help epitomizes black maids in the early 1960s and how they suffered unfair treatment while working for prestigious and uptight white families; at one point, one of the maids is fired for using the house bathroom instead of her outhouse during a thunderstorm. With the exception of Do the Right Thing, both Hairspray and The Help (and even this year’s 42) demonstrate how black people were able to overcome the discrimination that was placed upon them in order to prove that they too had a part to play in society and shouldn’t be shut out of it.


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