W.E.B. Du Bois was perhaps one of the most polarizing figures of the 20th century, certainly during his era immediately following the Civil War and during the so called "Reconstruction." As an educator, he had a unique perspective on the struggle of Blacks in this new America. Du Bois saw many of the same struggles we face today in 1903. As you read his book, The Souls of Black Folk, you realize sadly that not much has changed in America since 1903. Yes, blacks are not being dragged out into the streets in mass and persecuted overtly as in 1903, but there are many similarities as the social structure in America really hasn't changed. What I mean is this...
The wealth generated from hundreds of years of slavery, where did it go? Did the African slaves get it? Is it not still with the generations of heirs of slave owners? If the wealth that was generated through slavery remained with the slave owners, how can Blacks have equal opportunity with unequal starting lines? Equal opportunity is a myth. You see, the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment only gave us freedom from slavery, but it did not change the social and economic structure in America. Now, instead of beating you, hanging you, and lynching you into obedience, they starve you and deny you equal resources (education, housing, land, etc.). This is done until you have no choice, but to take that job you hate if you're luck to get hired, or you must resort to less-acceptable means to support yourself. Either way, you're still doing something you don't want to do to survive, you're still a slave, but congratulations, you have civil rights.
Here is an excerpt of what W.E.B. Du Bois writes in 1903. Let me know if this sounds familiar.
"The appearance, therefore, of the Negro criminal was a phenomenon to be awaited; and while it causes anxiety, it should not occasion surprise.
Here again the hope for the future depended peculiarly on careful and delicate dealing with these criminals. Their offences at first were those of laziness, carelessness, and impulse, rather than of malignity or ungoverned viciousness. Such misdemeanors needed discriminating treatment, firm but reformatory, with no hint of injustice, and full proof of guilt. For such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories; its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination. For, as I have said, the police system of the South was originally designed to keep track of all Negroes, not simply of criminals; and when the Negroes were freed and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of reenslaving the blacks. It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man's conviction on almost any charge. Thus Negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of injustice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them as martyrs and victims."
"When, now, the real Negro criminal appeared, and instead of petty stealing and vagrancy we began to have highway robbery, burglary, murder, and rape, there was a curious effect on both sides the color-line: the Negroes refused to believe the evidence of white witnesses or the fairness of white juries, so that the greatest deterrent to crime, the public opinion of one's own social caste, was lost, and the criminal was looked upon as crucified rather than hanged. On the other hand, the whites, used to being careless as to the guilt or innocence of accused Negroes, were swept in moments of passion beyond law, reason, and decency. Such a situation is bound to increase crime, and has increased it."
"But the chief problem in any community cursed with crime is not the punishment of the criminals, but the preventing of the young from being trained to crime. And here again the peculiar conditions of the South have prevented proper precautions. I have seen twelve-year-old boys working in chains on the public streets of Atlanta, directly in front of the schools, in company with old and hardened criminals; and this indiscriminate mingling of men and women and children makes the chain-gangs perfect schools of crime and debauchery."
As I read those words, I was dumbfounded because I suppose I thought the struggles of Blacks in 2018 was new, as if it didn't use to be like this. I always had the impression that our plight was mostly self-inflicted as I see us killing our own blood around the country. Reading Du Bois showed me, how the "making of a slave" became the "making of a criminal." What we see today is the full grown version of the seeds Du Bois was writing about in 1903. Our social and economic structure has created the Black criminal, the off spring of the Black slave. As we now see in our criminal justice system, the incarceration rate for Blacks is 37% of the prison population while we only make up 13% of the total US population. Our prison rate is nearly three times our population. Yet, we are surprised at this. Because most of us have never read Du Bois or researched our own history, we don't understand the problems. This all seems like a new circumstance or situation. Yet, this has been in the making for many years.
Unless we find the root of our problems and dig it up, it will just keep growing stronger and stronger. Understanding the history of the problem, helps to identify the right solution. When you're sick with a chronic disease, what does the doctor want to know? Isn't it your medical history and that of your family as well? Yet, we refuse to learn our own history because what relevance does it have to us today? That is mental laziness and the very same symptom of post traumatic slave disorder which causes us to deny the relevancy of our past and thus, the cure. Yet, the cure does not lie in civil rights or social justice. You can protest, march, and fight for that all you want. It's intangible and for all intensive purposes, it's not a real thing. In the minds of your oppressors, you have civil rights and social justice, so why are you killing each other? You see, the only language the oppressor understands is money, cold hard cash. If you don't have resources, no one will listen to you. And why should they? But it doesn't just take money, but more importantly knowledge.
Du Bois often wrote about the dual consciousness of the Black person during that time and I think it rings true today. He wrote about being both Negro and American, not fully one or the other. The Negro trying to find himself in a society that does not fully accept them as American, yet what is a Negro? To what country do they belong? What is their culture, language, religion? For all such things were erased from their minds, a people without an identity. So, they define themselves through the eyes of the society in which they live, second class citizens. Today, we define ourselves as niggas or hoes. Not much different. Know thyself. Yet, it is not simply a mental knowing or memorization, but a connecting to something deeper within that remembers home, that remembers the greatness of our ancestors. Knowledge will get you everything else you desire. Solomon was right when he wrote "in all your getting, get wisdom." Knowledge of self, knowledge of your history, your people, your society, and your God, knowledge beyond your mind. Remember who you are.
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