Influence of W.E.B Dubois on US Society

W.E.B Dubois is an early African American sociologists who is devoted to seeking solutions to racism faced by the black culture of America. Most of his ideas and experiences as a member of the African American community are shared in his book, The Souls of Black Folks, in which two chapters from the book called, Of Our Spiritual Strivings & Of the Faith of the Fathers, are represented in this article. These two chapters primarily focus on the strengths and weaknesses of religion in resisting the forces of slavery and racism, and ultimately the oppression faced by the black culture of American society ..

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        Throughout the article, Dubois coins a lot of important concepts and phenomenon in order to acknowledge the experiences that African Americans had to endure as an oppressed group in American society. He introduces this article by stating that the white community are always asking the black community how it feels to be a problem. Dubois starts off by telling  a story of when he first realizes that he was a problem, and it was this incident that made him realize he was different and that he was excluded from the world of the white community by a vast veil. Dubois uses this as a metaphor to describe the color line that African-Americans would live with for life. They would always live with the knowledge that they were different, and that others would see them differently. Regardless of how hard they tried, they would never be able to rid themselves of this distinct difference. Essentially, the veil prevents white people from seeing black people as Americans, and from treating them as fully human. At the same time, it prevents black people from seeing themselves as they really are, outside of the negative vision created by racism. This was when he decided that he would dedicate himself to being better than the whites at most things in life in order to be superior. Instead of letting himself succumb to the injustices of the veil, he decided that he would pursue education as a way to empower him.

Throughout the first chapter, Du Bois keeps asking himself why God chose to make him a problem. He could not understand why the Negro was created in the shadow of all the other races; he says that the Negro is a sort of “seventh son” (DuBois 9), who was born with double consciousness and was always looking at himself through the eyes of others. The American Negro was not only a problem, but also, according to Du Bois, a symbol of struggle. This group was not only attempting to reach self-conscious manhood after years of captivity, but also trying to merge two conflicting identities into one ultimately better one. He argues that this task is difficult as black men are seen as weaknesses and they are faced with what he calls, a double aim. In other words, they were not only looking to escape white contempt and gain acceptance but also struggling to survive and have better living conditions, thereby facing this double burden before being able to move up. During the slave era, black people dreamed of freedom and imagined that one divine event would end not only slavery but all the prejudice and hardship they were forced to endure. However, forty years after Emancipation, they have yet to truly experience freedom. They faced hardships such as the Klu Klux Klan, the bloody paths of civil war, and the lies of carpet-baggers. So according to Dubois, the next step to seeking justice and equality through voting and education. He saids that education can be empowering yet self-defeating for black people; even as it equips them with knowledge and skills, it also awakens them to the reality of the vast injustice they face. Furthermore, dedicating time and energy to education has allowed black people to engage in a process of self-disparagement; forced to view themselves through the veil meaning that they can come to feel self-conscious about the issues of poverty and ignorance. As a result, some may come to accept the racist notion that white people are a higher race.

According to him, the only solution is that African Americans need a strong sense of community, as well as the assurance that black history, thought, and culture are important and valuable. At the same time, if white Americans opened itself to the culture and values of black people, the country as a whole would likely be vastly improved. In essence, black people’s ties with their own kind will strengthen the overall harmony of American society; but in order for this to happen, white America must stop viewing black culture as a threat and excluding black people from public institutions, opportunities, and conversations.

In Of the Faith of the Fathers, Dubois introduces the concept of the black church and religion as an essential part of the Blacks’ identity during slavery and after emancipation. He begins this section with an anecdote of his first experience at a black church. He states that his experience at this church was the opposite of what he had been used to; instead of engaging in a somber service, the southern black worship relied on many different and vivid factors such as a charismatic preacher, the spiritual music and the frenzy or shouting as a way to engage a connection to God. He emphasizes that the Negro Church was the center of black social life, and that the church provided support, entertainment, education, political and economic power, and essentially a voice to the black community. This oppressed group was prevented from political engagement and excluded from proper educational and economic resources, and thereby built their own organization to meet these needs to create a sense of belonging. He also states that Studying the African American religious rituals is crucial to understanding not only African-American history but American history as a whole, as black Christians had a huge influence on the Methodist and Baptist churches of America today.

Before Emancipation, African slaves initially practiced nature-worship, which is the belief in invisible surrounding influences, good and bad, and the worship was through incantation and sacrifice. However plantation life destroyed the kinship relations around which these African religious communities were structured. Some elements of the old religions endured and others didn’t such as the existence of the Priest or Medicine-man. From this figure arose the black preacher, who came to play a different role yet retained many of the Medicine-man’s characteristics. After Emancipation, black Christian communities largely cut ties with the white church, which gave rise to new institutions such as the African Methodist Church, which Du Bois calls the greatest Negro organization in the world. In essence, the evolution of traditions and figures that now characterize the black church highlights the enduring strength and resourcefulness of black people who created new ways of existence during extreme suffering and violence.

There were two extreme views that characterize Christianity for the blacks. One view is that Christianity provided comfort and strength to those who lived in extreme means of racism and oppression. The other view came from freed slaves or freedmen who emerged as leaders prior to Emancipation, and they tended to hold a darker and more intense religious faith as their desire for abolition was tinged with dreams of revenge. So the African-Americans lived a double life; a double life that gives rise to double thoughts and double ideals. On the one hand, the intense suffering caused by racism turns religion into a bitter expression of pain. On the other, many black people find strength and determination through their identification with God. Through Christianity, black people are able to find both a recognition of their pain but also a source of strength and justice not available to them in the outer world.

In his last few words, Dubois interprets the the extreme divergence of ethical tendencies characterized by African Americans in the north and south. Black people in the South resorted to deception or what he calls, a hypocritical compromise, while the North turned to radicalism. by forming a black aristocracy. This in turn lead to bitterness and pessimism in the north through intellectual awareness. However, he expresses that majority of the African American population actually lie in between these extremes, who are cut off from their own history and from the opportunity to live freely, turn to religion and trust that there is a coming of an eventual Awakening.

Dubois’ primary purpose for these two chapters was to emphasize the oppression that the blacks faced throughout the 1900’s and how religion, specifically Christianity, had a immense power and influence on how they view and endured this struggle.  He describes how religion can be a force that either exist as a guide that would awaken and motivate people to make changes and bring end to racism or a guide that creates comfort and optimism for people who have been enslaved or have dealt with severe injustices.

In section three of this book, there exist a common trend within each article. Each article emphasizes the influence of religion on an oppressed group in American society in either a positive or negative light. In Dubois’ case, he focuses on African Americans and how they have use the strengths of religion during their times of resistance and struggles. Other authors like Marx, for example, argued that religion has a negative impact on the oppressed working class. He believes that religion has kept the injustice system of economic disparity where the bourgeoisie (the wealthy) is continuing to be powerful while keeping the proletariat (working class) in their lower place. Moreover, he states that religion acts as an opium, a drug that soothes the severe pain felt the proletariat, and in turn, is keeping them from revolting. The drug is essentially relieving the pain that can be used to drive resistance and revolution. This argument is in contrast with Dubois as Marx argues that religion is a bad component for the working class. There is, however, a slight comparison as both argues that religion does play in a role in helping each oppressed group relieve the suffering pain. Nevertheless, Dubois contends that this is a good thing as it encourages the blacks from moving on, while Marx contends that this is a bad thing as it keeps the lower class from acquiring opportunities and from achieving their full potential.

        When comparing Dubois’ article to Medina’s article, there exist a common concept of what Dubois coins as the double consciousness. In Medina’s case, she discusses the words nepantla and mestizaje, a term meaning a strategy for living with two cultures and the idea of mixedness. These terms are referred to the consciousness of the Borderlands, a consciousness shaped by the common Chicana/o experience of belonging to two nations (Mexico and the US), yet being seen as belonging to neither. The Chicana/os are despised in Mexico for their inauthentic ways and their inability with speaking Spanish, and at the same time, they are faced with racism in the United States and the accusation that they don’t belong. This resembles the double consciousness depicted by Dubois who states that the African Americans are trying to integrate two identities, being black and being American into one ultimately better one. Medina  views this as living in the middle, the confusion between the ability to commit to indigenous identities and assimilate into colonizing cultures. This middle space, as she calls, develops acts that shape the world around them. In religious terms, this means that taking in one’s belief in between indigenous religions and Christianity as the colonizing religion.

In McCarthy Brown’s article, she further adds to Dubois’ work by reiterating the oppression faced by an indigenous group. In this case, Brown focuses on voodooism and how it is a tool or practice to guide these groups of ways where they can address the injustices they faced in their everyday lives. In addition, the emphasis of voodooism was also mentioned in Dubois by interpreting that voodooism was initial practiced by slaves but was destroyed through experiences of plantation. Similarly, Brown talks about the African diasporic religions that came to existence during the slave trade in America, specifically where white Catholics controlled practitioners of West African indigenous religions. These catholics forced the slaves to stop practicing their religion and to practice Roman Catholicism instead. Through this coercion, the slaves made sense of a new religion by seeing the saints and spirits as representing the same beings, blending Catholicism with their ancestral religion to produce the African diasporic religions. This religion involves the attachment of the spirit in forms of possession and embodiment. In practicing this religion, it is a subtle form of resistance argued by Dubois, rather than an encouragement of revolution argued by Marx. Furthermore, spirits have given these oppressed groups social power and freedom that can’t be acquired in the outer world.

        Likewise with previous articles mentioned, Mahmood’s article talks about the oppression faced by a certain group in America, and in this case, the struggles faced by muslim women. Mahmood explores the restrictive structure and oppression faced by muslim women under the patriarchy system. She contends that muslim women’s involvement in the Islamic piety movement by coming together in a mosque to discuss and support values that Western feminists would see as patriarchal and oppressive to women. This arrangement is what she calls an agency, or the ability to act in one’s own interest, reconstructing it as a phenomenon evidenced in the lives of the women in the mosque movement. This reflects the idea of the black church made known by Dubois, who states that the black church acts as the center of the community’s social life, providing support, entertainment, education, political and economic power.

The last two articles in this sections focuses on the LGBTQ community and how they have created a space for themselves within the traditional religious structure. Many assume that religions have not entirely welcomed the LGBTQ community as it has been traditionally marginalized and condemned by views of these religions. However, there are branches of f Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism that are opened to the LGBTQ people, and have no opposition to same-sex practices. This community is doing what he calls, sifting through traditions, where they are filtering their religious traditions through their own values and beliefs. Thus, some LGB people in traditional religions come to the conclusion that their sexual orientation is no obstacle to their participation in the religion.

To conclude, Dubois’ connection to all six articles in this section is largely focused on social injustices faced by oppressed groups of US society. Each article emphasizes the influence of religion on the negative experiences faced by these groups. Dubois’ article,Of Our Spiritual Strivings & Of the Faith of the Fathers, is immensely significant as it allows readers to understand the struggles faced by African Americans and how they have come to endure their pain through religion.

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