The Souls of Black Folk
W.E.B. DuBois’ collection of essays is a foundational work not just of the politics of race in America, but of processes of racialization and of sociology in general. Based upon a series of articles first published in The Atlantic Monthly it is at once a work of history, political struggle, social theory and literature. The Souls of Black Folk is huge. And essential reading for anyone who wants to examine how social relationships are built, maintained, and potentially transformed. As a biographer wrote, “Few books make history and fewer still become foundational texts for the movements and struggles of an entire people. The Souls of Black Folk occupies this rare position. It helped to create the intellectual argument for the black freedom struggle in the twentieth century. Souls… justified the pursuit of higher education for Negroes and thus contributed to the rise of the black middle class. By describing a global color-line, Du Bois anticipated pan-Africanism and colonial revolutions in the Third World. Moreover, this stunning critique of how ‘race’ is lived through the normal aspects of daily life is central to what would become known as ‘whiteness studies’ a century later.”
Starting with a basic call for social and political equality, Souls… goes on to explore the collective psychological manifestation of the colour line, what he calls ‘the veil’, a shroud through which black America sees the cultural, political and economic myths of the society as well as its very real structures and circuits of power. The veil excludes, the veil separates, and the veil provides a unique standpoint or perspective by which those behind it can grasp the real dynamics of the system precisely because of their position. Then historical examinations of individual black leaders, movements, and state initiatives on race. And critiques of black political movements, cultural institutions and collective psychologies in order to better understand the political and human dynamics at play and articulate a radical and engaging politics. And finally stories of autobiography, of music, of spirituality and creativity and the soul of a people.
Historian, theorist, activist, and the first black PhD graduated from Harvard. Professor, poet, founder of the NAACP, Pan-Africanist, socialist, and one of the most eloquent and politically-astute architects of solidarity between Africa and its diaspora. W.E.B. DuBois is simply a giant. And Souls of Black Folk as insightful, as sharp, a politically-relevant today as it was in 1903.