Thursday, February 21, 2013

Masculinity and Self-Assertion as Necessity in Destroying the Color Line

Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meager chance for developing their exceptional men?  W.E.B. Dubois Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others 25

In his essay Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others, W.E.B. Dubois brings to terms the potential flaws he sees in Booker T. Washington’s ideologies.  The question Dubois poses forces us to recognize the limited nature of Washington’s teachings: if the African-Americans in the South are limited to only learning industrial and agricultural knowledge, how will they ever be able to advance the race beyond the servile nature of their previous existence in the United States.  Without at least the option of higher education for those both willing and capable of its pursuit, the African American people will never be able to develop educators, litigators, political leaders, etc.

Furthermore, Dubois highlights the key differences between the approach taken by Frederick Douglass and other prominent leaders in the African-American community who emerged before Booker T. Washington.

…they recognized the slavery of slaves, but insisted that they themselves were freemen, and sought assimilation and amalgamation with the nation on the same terms with other men…together as men, they said, not as slaves; as “people of color,” not as “Negroes…”  Douglass in his old age, still bravely stood for the ideals of his early manhood,--ultimate assimilation through self-assertion, and on no other terms…Booker T. Washington arose as essentially the leader not of one race but of two,--a compromiser between the South, the North, and the Negro…compromise which surrendered their civil and political rights. 23-24

Unlike Douglass and others who fought for equality with whites- to be seen as people and not as “Negroes,” or any other designation determined for them by whites, Dubois contends that Booker T. Washington concedes to this notion that the color line should exist, and people should be designated by color as opposed to simply being recognized as “people.”  Dubois argument is especially potent, regarding Booker T. Washington’s The Atlanta Exposition Address. “Governor Bullock introduced me with the words, ‘We have with us to-day a representative of Negro enterprise and Negro civilization” (Washington 146).  Washington almost states this proudly, even though the Governor views him solely in the capacity of a “Negro,” and not another human being.  This is incredibly condescending and Washington’s acceptance of this indicates Dubois’ assessment of his overall outlook as having merit.

Dubois also takes a number of shots at Booker T. Washington’s ineffectiveness in asserting himself in a masculine demeanor as well; he defines Washington’s approach as being emasculated: “Mr. Washington’s counsels of submission overlooked certain elements of true manhood…” (22).  Considering his earlier sentiment regarding Douglass’ “bravery” in standing for the “ideals of his early manhood,” Dubois carefully crafts Washington’s argument and “propaganda” as lacking the strength and masculinity of his and other renowned figures in the African-American community.

Lastly, Dubois warns against the damaging effects of Washington’s conceding to the Southern notion that the problem African-Americans now face lies entirely in their own hands.  He claims Washington fails to understand that slavery and prejudice are largely at fault in the current position of the African-Americans in the South; that education was not readily available to African-Americans upon emancipation, because it took time to develop schools and educate their teachers; and although they are capable of advancing their race in many ways themselves, they must still rely on the acceptance, aid and understanding of the whites in the South if they ever hope to make any significant strides forward.  Additionally, opportunities must be afforded to the African-American population, such as higher education and acceptance in political and community roles if any further advancement should be achieved.

Works Cited:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Dubois, W.E.B. "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others." The Souls of Black Folk. 20-29. Kindle.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Washington, Booker T. "The Atlanta Exposition Address." Up From Slavery. Excerpts from Up From Slavery Packet. 146.