12 Apr The Souls of Black Folk: The Dual Challenge of African Americans

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In the 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk, W.E. B. Du Bois offers a vision of the struggle of Africans in America that I find useful in setting the compass for my striving as a Black man. 


In many ways, we are reminded of our internal struggle  more than a century later. As we reflect on Black History this month, this struggle remains unreconciled for many of us.  We still face institutional barriers to progress while at the same time we celebrate the ascension of a Black man to the highest office in the land.  


"One ever feels his two-ness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.


"The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, -- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.  In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost.  He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa.  He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world.  He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face."


Du Bois offered a way of affirming our destiny conceived in an approach leading to neither assimilation nor separation, but proud hyphenation.  His description of Africans in America began as the struggle of the American Negro. Many of us have reconciled our own identity struggle by identifying ourselves as African Americans.  The goals remain the same:


"Freedom... the freedom to love and aspire.  Work, culture, liberty -- all these we need, not singly but together, not successively but together, each growing and aiding each, ... not in opposition to or contempt for other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic."


The pathway he offered was to achieve three things: First, political power through the right to vote; Second, insistence on civil rights; and Third, the education of Black youth according to ability.


As we reflect on our progress toward those goals, we can see that many individuals have attained the highest levels of participation in our society.  Yet the disturbing gaps in education, wealth, joblessness, and crime remind us that too many of us have not fully enjoyed the fruits of the freedom described above.


The dual challenge of African Americans in the 21st century is the contrast of individual progress with poor progress of the group as a whole.


Du Bois challenged us to make progress "not singly but together."  Our striving today must include a broader perspective on solutions that leave no Black child behind. This is a challenge that we must meet ourselves, and not rely on others to lift us up. The path has been worn with the footprints of many who have gone before us.  Our history reminds us how far we have come.  


We must continue the struggle... not singly but together.
Last modified on Sunday, 02 October 2016 23:55