Thursday, December 21, 2017

W.E.B. Du Bois

Readings by W.E.B.Du Bois in The Critical Tradition are On Double Consciousness from The Souls of Black Folks and Criteria of Negro Art.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is sort of a seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world – a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, - an American, a Negro; two souls, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

“If white civilization”, wrote Du Bois in The Superior Race, this vast Frankenstein monster- really served its makers; if it were their minister and not their master, god and king; if their machines gave us rest and leisure, instead of the drab uniformity of uninteresting drudgery; if their factories gave us gracious community of thought and feeling; beauty enshrined, free and joyous; if their work veiled them with tender sympathy at human distress and wide tolerance and understanding - then ,all hail White Imperial Industry. But it does not. It is a Beast! Its creators even do not understand it, cannot curb or guide it. They, themselves, are but hideous, groping higher Hands, doing their bit to oil the raging, devastating machinery which kills men to make cloth, prostitutes women and eats little children. Is this superiority?”

What has art  to do with the world? What has Beauty to do with Truth and Goodness – with the facts of the world and the right actions of men? “Nothing” the artists rush to answer. That somehow, somewhere eternal and perfect beauty sits above Truth And Right I can conceive, but here and now and in the world in which I work they are for me unseparated and inseparable.  I am but the humble disciple  of art who tells the truth and exposes evil; and seeks Beauty and for Beauty to set the world right.

But we- the American Negro- must not fail to realize that the Beauty of Truth and Freedom which shall some day be our heritage and the heritage of all civilized men is not yet in our hands. . . We are bound by all sorts of customs that have come down to use as second-hand soul clothes of white patrons. We are ashamed of sex and we lower our eyes when people will talk of it. Out religion holds us in superstition. Our worst side has been so shamelessly emphasized that we are denying we have or ever had a worst side.

We have, to be sure, a few recognized and successful Negro artists; but they are not all those fit to survive or even a good minority. They are but the remnants of that ability and genius among us whom the accidents of education and opportunity have raised on the tidal waves of chance. We black folks are not altogether peculiar in this. After all, in the world at large, it is only the accident, the remnant, that gets the chance to make the most of itself; but if this is true of the white world it is infinitely more true of the colored world. In all sorts of ways we are hemmed in and our new young artists have got to fight their way to freedom. Ultimately it is they would must judge themselves, build themselves up into that wide judgment, that universality of temper which is going to enable the artist to have his widest chance for freedom. We can afford the Truth. White folks cannot. When through art black folks compel recognition of their humanity then let the world discover if it will that their art is as new as it is old and old as new.

No comments:

Post a Comment