Songs of the Black Soul

“Lo! We are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our writing is in vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men? (W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk)

In a world that demands nothing less of excellence from all of its inhabitants, and yet condemns education and innovation from within the black community. How are we to grow as a community, and strive for greatness when we are consistently being seen as nothing more than ‘hired help’? This narrative is still very much prevalent today, this idea that we shouldn’t strive for better, and that we should just settle for the roles assigned to us, by a society, not made for us.

In the Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B Du Bois begins every chapter  with a song, a negro spiritual if you will. This sets the tone for the chapter and gives a little peak into to the ‘inter-workings’ of the black community.  Slavery is a very uncomfortable topic for most people, and whenever the topic of slavery is brought up in conversation, others are quick to dismiss or justify the injustices done, without taking the time to listen. Each song gives the reader a taste of what is to come without ‘overwhelming’ them with facts. W.E.B. Du Bois begins with the question “How does it feel to be a problem?”, and goes on to tell us that being a ‘negro’ in America is synonymous with having little to no rights or respect. And although things have evolved since then, mostly for the better, I do not think this has changed very much. Du Bois introduces this idea of a double-consciousness, and talks about how young black children have to develop this at such a young age. He also talks about how blacks often had to work twice as hard and be twice as educated just to receive not even half the respect. And, although this is not a new concept, it is very problematic, newly freed slaves believed that they were owed ‘carefree lives’. Suffice to say this was not the case, after being freed many slaves were arrested for thieving. And although all of this is true, W.E.B Du Bois discusses the fact that history makes it seem as if slavery was unwillingly thrust upon America, and as if the south was completely blameless.

After this we take a shift to the civil rights march, arguably one of the most famous and influential social justice movement in American history. Today there are so many different movements (ex. movements in support of minority groups in America), and so many different groups of people seeking the rights and justices that they have been denied for so long. Actively being a part of and supporting one social movement is a huge commitment, but what if you belong to more than one of these minority groups? Many times people are forced to choose which movement (ex. black rights vs. feminism) is most important. Angela Davis discussed the importance of understanding the intersections and connections between the many different movements in occurrence. I believe that this thought, will be key in the coming years as many different movements begin to evolve and gain traction.

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