Race and Ethnicity: W.E.B. DU BOIS (1868–1963)

Race and ethnicity: W.E.B. DU BOIS (1868–1963), Race is the idea of classifying individuals into groups according to diverse sets of physical features and the process of giving those groups social significance. The term “ethnicity” refers to the culture of a particular ethnic group which includes its language, ancestry, religion, and customs.

Frederick Douglass, an American social reformer and former slave, brought attention to the persisting prejudice towards black people in the US towards the end of the 19th century. He asserted that although black people were no longer considered members of specific persons, they were nevertheless reduced to social slave status. In order to reinforce white dominance in the workplace, the voting booth, the judicial system, and daily life, he said that “this prejudice and this color line has come out of the depths of slavery.”


W.E.B. Du Bois examined the concept of the color line in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. It investigates the evolving status of African-Americans in terms of the physical, economic, and political ties between black and white people in the South from the US Civil War and its aftermath through the early 1900s. It is a literary, social, and political milestone. “The problem of the color line is the problem of the 20th century,” it adds, referring to the ongoing gap between the opportunities and viewpoints of blacks and whites.

How does it feel to be a problem?

However, what they actually want to know is this: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Du Bois opens his research by pointing out that no white person is ready to talk about race directly, opting instead to act out discrimination in various ways.

The question, according to Du Bois, cannot be answered since it can only be understood from a white viewpoint because black people do not perceive themselves as “a problem.” He then discusses the origins of this conflicting viewpoint and uses his first interaction with racism as an illustration.

When a new student at a primary school refused to receive a card from Du Bois, “it dawned on me that I was different from the others,” Du Bois recalls. He claims that while feeling similar to them in his heart, he was “cut off from their world by a vast veil.”

He claims that he was initially unaffected and did not feel the need to lift the curtain until he reached adulthood and realized that all of the finest great chances in the world were reserved for white people, not black people. He was standing on the side of the color line that was excluded from having power, opportunities, dignity, and respect.

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Identity crisis

Race and Ethnicity: W.E.B. DU BOIS (1868–1963), The color line may also exist internally, according to Du Bois. According to him, black people simultaneously perceive themselves through the lens of the white world, which looks at them with amused scorn and pity, and through their own sense of self, which is less clear-cut and more ambiguous. Du Bois refers to this as a double consciousness, which consists of “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two opposing ideals in one dark body.”

According to Du Bois, the history of the black person in the US is the history of this internal conflict, which is a product of the fight between black and white people on a global scale. He contends that in order to achieve a truly African-American spirit that does neither Africanize America nor “bleach his African soul in a flood of white Americanism,” a black person wants to combine the dual consciousness into one state.

History of Slavery

How had the “problem” of black people come to be? Du Bois explores the history of slavery in the US and an important point of the Civil War in an effort to shed light on this topic.

He said that the conflict, which began in 1861, had its roots in slavery. Slaves escaped to join the Union army of the northern states as it advanced into the South. Slaves were first given back to their owners, but the policy was altered, and they were retained as military labor.

The Freedmen’s Bureau

  • Following the abolition of slavery in 1863, the government established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (also known as the Freedmen’s Bureau) to provide food, clothes, and abandoned property to the “flood” of homeless former slaves who were fleeing their masters.
  • However, the Bureau was managed by military personnel who had the necessary skills to handle social reorganization. The Bureau was also hindered by the sheer enormity of the undertaking; when it became evident that over 800,000 acres were involved, the idea of handing over slave-driven estates to former slaves “melted away.”
  • Offering free education to all children in the South was one of the Bureau’s biggest accomplishments. This was a concern, according to Du Bois, since “the South thought an educated Negro was a dangerous Negro.” In the South, the opposition to black education “displayed itself in ashes, insult, and blood.”
  • The Bureau additionally encouraged conflict in legal affairs at the same time. Du Bois said that it “put the bottom rail on top” by favoring black petitioners in its courts. The civil courts, meanwhile, frequently supported the former slave owners.
  • According to Du Bois, black people were intimidated, beaten, raped, and slaughtered by bitter and angry (white) men, while white people were “ordered regarding, seized, imprisoned, and punished over and over again” by the Bureau courts.
  • Additionally, the Bureau established a Freedman’s Bank in 1865 to accept deposits from former slaves, including men and women. Due to incompetence, this attempt was impeded, and the bank ultimately failed, taking the money from the freedmen with it.
  • The least of the losses, according to Du Bois, was the loss of “all the faith in saving went too, and much of the faith in men; and that was a loss that a nation which today sneers at Negro shiftlessness has never yet made good.”
  • The Bureau constructed common schools, obtained the legal recognition of black people as free individuals, and established a system of free (non-slave) labor and ex-slave property. The Bureau’s biggest shortcoming was that it did little to foster goodwill between freed slaves and their former owners; on the contrary, it served to foster even more animosity. The color line remained, but it now functioned in more covert ways rather than overt ones.

Activist and scholar

Du Bois joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a group that advocates for civil rights. In the 1920s, he assisted in establishing the Pan-African Association in Paris, France, and he planned a number of pan-African congresses all over the world since his ideals were focused on individuals of African origin worldwide. He said that the circumstances needed to produce a pure and united African-American spirit had not yet been met when he wrote about the African soul in the early 1900s.

Du Bois used methodical fieldwork techniques to examine previously unstudied subjects. In order to catalog the specifics of black people’s lives, he used actual data, which allowed him to refute several common misconceptions. For instance, in The Philadelphia Negro (1899), he generated a lot of information on the consequences of urban life on African Americans, which implies that rather than being a result of anything fundamental, crime is a product of the environment.

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Race and Ethnicity: W.E.B. DU BOIS (1868–1963), W.E.B. Du Bois theory about race and ethnicity emphasis on white and black people only while today some scholars have proposed four or five racial categories for the world’s population, others have tried to develop dozens.

Du Bois groundbreaking sociological thought and research had a significant impact on later well-known civil rights leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the most significant sociologists of the 20th century is considered to be Du Bois.

Race is a social construction. Race has actual effects because it is perceived as a genuine phenomenon by most people. Despite the fact that just a small portion of DNA contributes to the physical variations we connect with racial distinctions, we still categorize people according to their ethnicity and treat them differently and more importantly, unequally based on that categorization.

Frequently asked questions

These are few FAQs about Race and Ethnicity: W.E.B. DU BOIS (1868–1963);

What is race and ethnicity?

Race is a term used to describe a group of individuals that have similar inherited physical traits such skin color, facial features, and size. While the term “ethnicity” describes the shared social, cultural, and historical experiences that separate segments of a community and are derived from similar national or regional roots. Similar to this, an ethnic group is a subgroup of a population that has a similar history, culture, and set of social experiences. It also has relatively unique views, values, and behaviors, as well as a feeling of identification as a member of the subgroup.

What Du Bois suggested to the black people?

He suggested patience, the adoption of middle-class white ideals, and the pursuit of self-advancement through self-improvement and education in order to demonstrate their value in the world.

What is the summary of Du Bois theory about race and ethnicity?

Slaves in the South got their freedom during the US Civil War. The government established banks, schools, house ownership, and legal redress for emancipated slaves, but this only fueled white people’s hatred. Although technically free, black people were seen as “slaves of society” because of racial hatred.

Also Read:

Theory of Functionalism By ÉMILE DURKHEIM (1858–1917)

Theory Of Class Conflict By Karl Marx Pdf

What is the Concept of Socialization in Education?

Feminism and Social Injustice: HARRIET MARTINEAU (1802–1876)

What Du Bois demonstrate about Double-consciousness?

Du Bois used the phrase “double-consciousness” to describe the distinctive “two-ness” issue that African-Americans experience in that they must simultaneously build a sense of self and be aware of how they are perceived by others. Young black men are often stereotyped by white culture as being violent and threatening, such as criminals or ghetto gangsters (far right), even if they may be doctors (above and to the right).

How to eliminate racism according to Du Bois?

According to him, black people did not demand full civic rights immediately because they knew that gaining rights “is not by voluntarily giving them away.” Du Bois had planned to end racism and segregation through the study of social science, but he later saw that political activism was the only way to do so.

What Du Bois said about color line during the Nazi occupation?

After reconsidering his examination of the color line, Du Bois concluded that it is a problem that may affect any racial or ethnic group. The race issue went above boundaries of color, physical appearance, belief, and status and involved… human hatred and prejudice. Therefore, the “line,” which may be drawn to express difference and hostility in any group or community, matters more than color.

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