Du Bois and the Question of the Color Line: Race and Class in the Age of Globalization

When we engage W.E.B. Du Bois’s work and thought to extract useful insights and develop intellectual and social initiatives based on these, we unavoidably must deal with his concept of the color line and the role he assigned it in African and human history (Butler, 2000; Fontenot, 2001; Juguo, 2001; Rabaka, 2001). The concept of the color-line refers essentially to the role of race and racism in history and society. But of necessity, for Du Bois, it requires a multidimensional analysis which identifies and seeks to understand the intersection of race and class as both modes of domination and modes of resistance on the national and international level. Du Bois engages the questions of race, racial domination and racial exploitation with the well-known proposition that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” Although this proposition gains prominence in the forethought of the Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois had already introduced the concept in a lecture at the third annual meeting of the American Negro Academy in 1900 titled “The Present Outlook for the Dark Races of Mankind.” His purpose, he states (1900b: 47), was to consider “the problem of the color line, not simply as a national and personal question but rather in its larger world aspect in time and space.” He seeks to critically examine the question of “what part is the color line destined to play in the 20th century?” It is a critical task which we must engage, he tells his audience, for “the secret of social progress is wide and thorough understanding of the social forces which move and modify your age.” And there is for him no doubt that race as a bio-social category and construction and the racist thought and practice which it produces are among those social forces which will “move and modify (our) age” (Lewis, 1993; Zamir, 1995).

After identifying and discussing major problems of the world, Du Bois concludes (1900b: 54) that his critical survey of these problems “confirms the proposition with which I started-the world problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line-the question of the relation of the advanced races of men who happened to be white to the great majority of the undeveloped or half-developed nations of mankind who happen to be yellow, brown or black…” Du Bois argued that this relationship is essentially one of domination, exploitation and “narrow opportunity” for development for the people of color. In his “Address to the Nations of the World” on behalf of the first Pan-African Congress, Du Bois repeats his proposition and further defines the nature of the problem. He states that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line, the question of how far differences of race-which show themselves chiefly in the color of skin and the texture of the hair-will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization” (1900a: 125).

If on one hand Du Bois’s proposition calls our attention to the gross inequities of power, wealth, opportunity and access between whites and the majority of the peoples of the world, it also raises the problematic of the response of the oppressed of the world and the impact this will have on human society and history. Du Bois is right to argue that the oppressed, of necessity, will rise up in resistance and wage fierce and heroic struggles for liberation and higher levels of human life. Indeed, he anticipates wars of liberation more ferocious than the imperialist wars of conquest, suppression, colonialism, and settlerism. Thus, he states that “as wild and awful as this shameful war [W.W.I] was, it is nothing to compare with that fight for freedom which black and brown and yellow men must and will make unless their oppression and humiliation and insult at the hands of the White World cease. The Dark World is going to submit to its present treatment just as long as it must and not a moment more” (1920: 28; Du Bois’s italics).

Du Bois anticipates here the Vietnam liberation struggle which ruptures the continuity and confidence of European dominance and the subsequent liberation struggles in Africa, Asia, Latin America and even within the U.S. at that time of fundamental turning, the decade of the Reaffirmation of the 60s (Karenga, 2002a: 183ff). And he also anticipates in his dire warning the wars of state terrorism and oppressed peoples’ fierce response to them, using whatever weapons and means they can, arguing security for all or none for any, justice for all or no peace for any and freedom for all or ongoing war, disruption and insecurity for everyone (Ahmad, 2002).

Certainly, the current and ongoing relevance of the color line concept is expressed in how it provides critical and comparative insight into one of the most pressing problems of our times-the practices and processes of globalization (Lusane, 1997; Martin & Shumann, 1997). For globalization, regardless of its disguises and deceptive discourse on democracy and the spreading of civilization and technology, can be usefully understood as a color line project. In fact, it can be seen as a current expression of white supremacy with an enhanced technological capacity to impose itself on the world. In a word, globalization expresses itself as a racialist global project of coercive homogenization of the peoples of the world, politically, economically and culturally, with European peoples as both the central power and paradigm (Munford, 2001). In such an asymmetrical project, Europeans are, of course, the principal beneficiaries, and the peoples of color are the victims and bearers of the burden and the costs, as Du Bois contends in his color-line proposition.

The color line is established when Europe problematizes the existence, meaning, color, worth, and status of the peoples of color. Du Bois speaks to this problematization in the preface to autobiographical work Dusk of Dawn, saying, “My life had its significance and its only deep significance because it was part of a Problem; but that problem was, as I continue to think, the central problem of the world’s democracies and so the Problem of the future world” (1940: vii-viii). To problematize the existence and lives of peoples of color, Europe constructs a bio-social identity called race (Gordon, 2000a). Du Bois’s categories of “color” and “color-line” are synonyms of race. Du Bois tells us that with the construction of the concept of race “‘color’ became in the world’s thought synonymous with inferiority” (1915: 362). It became a designation of devaluation, degradation and domination. For race stripped of all its pseudo-scientific claims is essentially a socio-biological category used to assign human worth and social status using whites as the paradigm (Karenga, 2002a: 306). In such a construction, the closer one is to the paradigm, the higher one’s human worth and social status. And likewise, the farther a person or people is away from that paradigm, the lower their human worth and social status.

The system of social practice which is organized around this concept of race on the national and international level is racism. It is important here to distinguish racial prejudice and racism. For racial prejudice is an attitude of hostility and hatred toward persons and peoples based on negative assumptions about biology and culture. But “racism is the imposition of this attitude as social policy and social practice. In other words, racism is a system of denial, deformation and destruction of a people’s history, humanity and right to freedom based exclusively or primarily on the specious concept of race” (Ibid., 305).

Racism expresses itself in three basic ways. First, it is a violent act of imposition. As a mode of domination, racism is defined above all by its violent character, its disruption and progressive destruction of a people’s life whether it is called colonialism, imperialism, the Holocaust of enslavement, neo-colonialism, settlerism, occupation, or globalization (Fanon, 1968; Cesaire, 1972; Cabral, 1969). Secondly, racism expresses itself as ideology or more precisely an ideology of justification of the imposition. It is an ideology which ranges from the rawest of biological, religious and cultural absurdities to elaborate intellectual and pseudo-intellectual projects masquerading as social science. Indeed, Du Bois recognizes this ideological aspect of racism calling it “race fiction.” He also calls attention to how “it has for years held back the progress of the social sciences” employed in the service of domination (1944: 422), and calls for new social sciences, indeed new human sciences (Gordon, 2000b). He states that “the social sciences from the beginning were deliberately used as instruments to prove the inferiority of the majority of the people of the world, who were being used as slaves for the comfort and culture of the masters.” He criticizes history for its dehistoricization of African people; biology for its exaggeration of physical differences; economics for its inability to “talk straight on colonial imperialism”; and psychology for “the shame of its intelligence tests and its record of ‘conclusions’ during the First World War.” And he calls for a “wide dissemination of truth” to counter the ideological and justificatory aspect of racism (1944: 423). He especially stresses the need for “deliberate and organized action in the front where race fiction is being used to prolong economic inequality and injustice in the world.” Moreover, he calls for “a modern missionary movement, not in the interest of religious dogma, but to dissipate the economic illiteracy which clouds modern thought.” Here Du Bois stresses the need for a political economy which demonstrates the intersection of race and class in the calculus of global domination, and suggests a “union.across the race line” to end exploitation and domination on the national and international levels (Ibid., 424).

Finally, racism expresses itself as institutional arrangement, as structures and processes which promote and perpetuate the imposition and ideology. The educational system, the media, the courts, the legislative bodies, and the economic structures from small businesses to transnational corporations all contribute to the promotion and perpetuation of systemic racism. The practices of transnational structures-such as corporations and now the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, etc.-show the prophetic character of Du Bois’s perception of the intersection of race, class and national interests of white nations over and against the interests of the world’s peoples of color. For, as noted above, the process of globalization has its roots in the classical period of imperialist expansion (Raudzens, 1999). What is definitely new is an enhanced technology at various levels, which increases European people’s capacity for domination and coercive homogenization in the world, with the USA as the single superpower.

It is in this context of the racist problematization of his very presence, and of the lives of the world’s peoples of color, that Du Bois comes into critical consciousness and takes up the cause of the “darker peoples of the world” in terms of both racial and cultural imperialism. He states that “Had it not been for the race problem early thrust on me and enveloping me, I should have probably been an unquestioning worshipper at the shrine of the social order and economic development into which I was born.” But he is constantly confronted with “the truth in the world,” and at the core of this knowledge of the world were “the problems of racial and cultural contacts” (1920: 572f).

Du Bois’s concern with the color line as a central problem of the 20th century finds its newest expression in the 21st century, then, in what we might understand not only as continuing European domination and exploitation of peoples of color, but also and more than ever as the Europeanization of human culture and consciousness. And it is this imposition of views and values, as well as political and economic practices and projects, which has provoked such sustained and severe responses from various segments of the communities of color around the world (Zepezauer, 2002a; Ahmad, 2002; Karenga, 2002b; Barber, 1996). By the Europeanization of human consciousness and culture I mean the systematic invasion and effective transformation of the cultural consciousness and practice of the various peoples of color of the world by Europeans (whites) (Karenga, 2002a: 25f). This is achieved essentially through technology, education, and the media, and yields three basic results. First, the process produces a progressive loss and replacement of the historical memories of peoples of color. Second, it yields the progressive disappreciation of themselves and their culture as a result of a conscious and unconscious assessment of themselves using European standards. And finally, it encourages the progressive adoption of a Eurocentric view not only of themselves, but also of each other and the world. “This in turn leads to damage and distortion of their own humanity and the increasing degeneration of the cultural diversity and exchange which gave humanity its rich variousness and internal creative challenge.”

Here it is important to recognize the centrality of culture as both a ground and support of freedom and an instrument of suppression and domination (Cabral, 1973). Du Bois recognizes this, arguing that at first he did not question “what the white world was doing, its goals and ideals,” which he “had not doubted were quite right.” His concern was the white world’s rejection of him in spite of his ability. But later he would realize how this concept and practice of European civilization presented him with the paradoxes of freedom and enslavement, ideals of peace and realities of war, humanism and racism, universal man and racial stereotypes. In a word, as Fanon would later describe it (1966: 252), the paradox of a Europe “where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their streets, in all the corners of the globe.” Fanon goes on to argue what Du Bois could easily endorse, i.e., a need for us to “reconsider the question of mankind” (254f). And at the core of this proposition is the question of “the Third World starting a new history of Man,” free of the crimes against humanity, the stratification, and “the bloodthirsty tensions fed by classes.the racial hatreds, slavery, exploitation, and above all the bloodless genocide which consisted in the setting aside of fifteen thousand millions [sic] of men.” This “setting aside” of people is of course the racist construction of a color bar-denying and diminishing life choices and life conditions of dignity and decency and narrowing the road to maximum human freedom and human flourishing.

In his classic essay “The African Roots of War,” Du Bois (1915) poses a series of paradoxes inherent in the imperialist expansion of his time which we now call globalization. These paradoxes not only reflect the relevance of race in a critical understanding of the project, but also the intersection of race and class, color and condition, and place and power in this process.

Peace and Imperialist Expansion. The first paradox is the pursuit of peace in the midst of imperialist expansion. He notes that as a result of World War I, Europe was planning “the disarmament of Europe and a European international world police” (1915: 370). And yet while discussing its own peace, Europe was conducting, provoking and supporting various forms of imperialist war and violence in the rest of the world. Du Bois asks then “Must the rest of the world be left naked to the inevitable horror of war, especially when we know that it is directly in this outer circle of races, and not in the inner European household, that the real causes of present European fighting are to be found?”

Du Bois seeks to stress here the European struggle among themselves for control over the human and material resources of peoples of color, and to discuss what it means to Africans and the world (Keene, 2001). These are for him wars of domination and exploitation, regardless of the convenient appeals to democracy, civilization, and other self-congratulatory categories European nations claim. Surely, the colonial and imperialist wars of the 20th  century and their continuation in the 21st century in various forms, most notably in our time as the so-called war against terrorism, reaffirm Du Bois’s insight that peace for European peoples did not mean peace for peoples of color. On the contrary, war against the peoples of color was perceived as a way Europeans could establish peace and advantage for themselves, and whether in Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Middle East, this tends even today to hold true (Blum, 1995). Moreover, the concern for control of resources such as oil and other strategic materials and strategic space has led not only to an ongoing series of so-called low-intensity wars, but also to sustained brutal suppression in Palestine, war in Afghanistan, and currently the imminent threat of war with Iraq, in spite of claims of a war against terrorism and for civilization in the interest of humankind (Zunes, 2002). But Du Bois warns the European powers that they cannot have peace just for themselves and that peoples of color will fight for freedom, justice and equality until it is achieved in the world. Indeed, he states “We shall not drive war from this world until we treat them as free and equal citizens in a world democracy of all races and nations” (1915: 368).

Democratic despotism. The second paradox Du Bois identifies as that of “democratic despotism,” an ongoing brutal domination masked in the disguise and discourse of democracy. He notes, “It is this paradox which allows in America the most rapid advance of democracy to go hand-in-hand in its very centers with increased aristocracy and hatred toward darker races, and which excuses and defends an inhumanity that does not shrink from the public burning of human beings” (1915: 363). He concludes that in spite of white American and general European conversation about bringing democracy to the world, racial domination disguised as the pursuit of democracy domestically and internationally is the regular reality. And certainly, nowhere was this clearer than in the domestic policies of the USA, South Africa and Brazil, and in the colonial policies of the white nations of the world (Marx, 1998). But also in recent times, globalization and increasing corporate power in the USA has certainly diminished or at least made problematic any serious claims to democracy for all (Martin and Shumann, 1997; Greider, 1993).

This insight into the “paradox of democratic despotism” prefigures Malcolm X’s (1965: 26) concept of African Americans as “victims of democracy” rather than its beneficiaries given the racist character of U.S. society. In fact, he defines this form of democracy as “nothing but disguised hypocrisy.” For Malcolm, then, U.S. society was essentially a herrenvolk democracy, a ruling-race democracy in which the key benefits society offered were essentially for the ruling race. Du Bois notes that in such a context on both the national and international levels, cross-racial alliances and common struggles are undermined. For both white owners and workers benefit from an enhanced life of comfort and convenience made possible through the heightened exploitation of the human and material resources of peoples of color around the world.

Moreover, in such a context even whites in less comfortable circumstances could find a measure of psychological gratification by identifying with the racist self-referentiality of European peoples and cultures which posed themselves as superior and uniquely civilized. Du Bois points out that the white working class had become complicit in the exploitation of the people of color because of the promise of wealth, power and luxury previously unseen. He notes that they “”have been asked to share the spoils of exploiting…,” the peoples of color of the world. And the exploiting class was enlarged to include the whole nation bound together not simply by “sentimental patriotism, loyalty or ancestor worship,” but rather by “increased wealth, power and luxury for all classes on a scale the world never saw before.” Du Bois concedes that “the laborers are not yet getting, to be sure, as large a share as they want or will get, and they are still at the bottom large and restless excluded classes.” But he asserts, “the laborer’s equity is recognized and his just share is a matter of time, intelligence and skillful negotiation” (1915: 363f). Thus is created the propaganda and process of racializing work and workers, not only distinguishing them by color but assigning different kinds of work and different levels of monetary and other benefits for this work. It is both a domestic and international process that will have a profound effect not only on the history of the labor movement, but also on race relations throughout the world.

Certainly, the current globalization thrust recalls Du Bois’s insight about the ruling race/class’s building of a racialized consensus around the reputed benefit and need of the project. And, of course, this consensus is reaffirmed in the post-9/11 context in which not only white economic and political interests, but also the security of the country, are posed as under threat. With a heightened sense of vulnerability and trauma as a result of the attack on the U.S., the American population is called upon to sacrifice rights and liberties, support ill-defined and unjust wars, and reduce dissent in the interest of country and cause, i.e., “the war on terrorism” (Chang, 2002). In any case, in spite of the call to all races to join in, the core of the project is racialized although it is most often camouflaged under religious, cultural and even national designations and discourse. The profiling and criminalization of Arabs, Muslims and certain nations of these peoples in this so-called security initiative by the state, recalls the criminalization and mass incarceration of another people of color, the Japanese, and the call for the country to accept it in the interest of national security and the war effort.

Civilized Savagery. Here Du Bois introduces another paradox of color-line thought and practice-the paradox of “civilized savagery” or savagery in the midst of claims to civilization. Having appropriated for themselves the self-congratulatory status of “civilized,” Europeans -continental and diasporan-easily assign the opposite categories of savage, uncivilized, etc., to people of color. This, of course, can be found even in modern times in repeated references to the “civilized world” which one must assume applies essentially to European peoples and others fortunate enough to receive this honorary status having faithfully embraced the European paradigm. Du Bois, however, is not so much concerned with the exclusivity of the European claim as he is with the savage character of its practice in regard to the people of color of the world. He notes how “lying treaties, . murder, assassination, mutilation, rape and torture have marked the progress of Englishman, German, Frenchman and Belgian on the Dark continent” (1915: 361). Moreover, he notes that as a result of their “war-engendering jealousies” and struggle for imperial advantage in Africa and the rest of the world, they have launched “this unspeakably inhuman outrage on decency and intelligence and religion which we call the World War.” (367f). Thus, despite Europe’s claim to civilized status, its actual practice its barbaric treatment of peoples of color and the brutal destructiveness of World War I, which Du Bois calls “the present holocaust” problematizes the claim.

In his article titled “Mexico” in the Crisis magazine (1914: 409), Du Bois criticizes the U.S.’s threat to declare war on Mexico for a minor incident. He sees it as another effort to subdue and exploit a country of color, masked like classical imperialism as a “civilizing mission.” He asks, “how much civilization can we teach the world, anyway?” And “are we civilized,” ourselves? Noting the brutal character of the so-called civilizing mission of classical imperialism, he asserts that “We may blunder into murder and shame and call it a Mexican War. But it will not be war. It will be crime.”

Again, Du Bois calls our attention to the tendency of those who claim to be most civilized to act with savage intensity in race and class suppression, insisting that they have a duty to impose their paradigm and interests on the rest of the vulnerable world. Certainly, discussions such as Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” (1997) and the need to defend European soi-disant civilization against the devalued peoples of the world represent a continuing pattern of racialized interpretations of the world and European peoples’ assertion in the world. This brutal interpretation of white people’s role as bringers and protectors of “civilization,” democracy, freedom and a host of other self-congratulatory claims is clearly expanded and made more urgent in the so-called “war on terrorism.” And the racial aspects of the campaign in the U.S. and around the world are clear even with the camouflage of religious and cultural discourse (AbuKhalil, 2002).

In the midst of the white or European nations’ globalization of racism as an adjunct and essential aid to the political, economic and cultural domination in the world, Du Bois embraces three major initiatives reflective of his commitment to freedom, justice and equality of the peoples of color and humanity as a whole. These are socialism, the peace movement, and Pan-Africanism.

The Socialist Initiative. Du Bois’s road to socialism lies in his critical grasp of the intersection between race and class in the calculus of imperialist expansion. He recognized that imperialism was at its core an economic project, i.e., for acquisition and control of the resources of the world. But he also recognized that fundamental victims and workers in this process, “consist overwhelmingly of the dark workers of Asia, Africa, the islands of the sea and South and Central America.” “These,” he notes, “are the ones who support a superstructure of wealth, luxury, and extravagance” for the white nations of the world (1939: 283). And it is this intersection of racial domination and economic exploitation that defines the central problem of the 20th century for him as the problem of the color-line.

His assumption is that given the all-consuming profit motive which stands at the heart of capitalism, a socialist alternative focused on issues of common human good was imperative. In a commentary on socialism in the Chicago Defender (1948: 353), he defines socialism as “the attempt to regulate the activities of men for the good of the mass of people, instead of letting government or industry be run for the benefit of certain individuals.” He calls communism “the most extreme proposal of socialism” and notes that it is “socialism based on dictatorship and force, and designed to introduce immediately the complete socialistic state.” His interest is and remained in a democratic socialism, in spite of his defiant joining of the Community Party USA to assert his self-determination and right to dissent after decades of government persecution and harassment.

Du Bois, in this brief article, lays out other essential elements of his democratic socialism rooted in the principle of political economy directed toward the common good. These elements include: (1) governmental intervention in planning and regulating “to a certain degree” of corporate activity; (2) public ownership of “a considerable part of capital”; (3) a limit on profits; and (4) limit private “initiative and enterprise whenever they interfere with the common good.” For him the critical question that arises from this vision of common good is whether the demands of social justice are served best by greater “democratic control” of the corporate process or by private control. The recent corporate scandals tend to highlight the importance of Du Bois’s call for government intervention and a more democratic participation, ownership and decision-making in the corporate process.

Du Bois also argued the centrality of Africans in this historical movement and project. The centrality of Africans lies in two areas: as a test of the authenticity of the socialist project, and as a vanguard in the movement given their social location in the race/class hierarchy of the nation and world. Actually, the social location of Africa in the national and international race/class hierarchy is the hub and hinge on which Du Bois’s concept of African centrality in the socialist project turns, given that in the racist scheme of things, Africans, as argued above, are assigned the lowest human worth and social status and are what Du Bois calls “the Excluded class.” In his article “Socialism and the Negro Problem in the New Review, he states that “the essence of Social Democracy is that there shall be no excluded or exploited classes in the Socialistic state” (1913: 339). Thus, “I’ve come to believe that the test of any great movement toward social reform is the Excluded class.” And given that Black people are indeed the definitive excluded class, “The Black Problem then is the great test of American socialism.” This assumption is also made in the world context for the people of color of the world who are “the excluded” in the globalized imperialist project.

Here (338f) he raises a series of critical questions to test the authenticity and viability of the socialist project: “Can the problem of any group of 10,000,000 be properly considered as ‘aside’ from any program of Socialism? Can the objects of Socialism be achieved so long as the [African American] is neglected? Can any great human problem ‘wait’?” Clearly, the answer to all these questions is a resounding “no,” and Du Bois thus reaffirms the essentiality, even centrality of addressing the Black and race question, to creating a just and good society. And it is essential not only because of the condition of exclusion, but also because of the revolutionary potential of those at the bottom of the social ladder. Moreover, added to this is the history of heroic resistance that African Americans would bring to the socialist project. Again, Du Bois stresses the world-historical aspect of this struggle for shared wealth and common good. He states that “All humanity must share in the future industrial democracy of the world.” And “of course the foundation of such a system must be a high, ethical ideal. We must really envisage the wants of humanity. We must want the wants of men.” Indeed, he concludes “these disinherited darker peoples must either share in the future industrial democracy or overturn the world” (1920: 59, 58)

The World Peace initiative. Du Bois’s discourse on peace has a long and instructive history. From the beginning he had contended peace was a central goal and good of humankind, but that it must be based on justice, mutual respect, freedom and other shared goods of the world. In his credo in Darkwater (1920), he states “I believe that war is murder. I believe that armies and navies are at bottom the tinsel and braggadocio of oppression and wrong, and I believe that the wicked conquest of weaker darker nations by nations whiter and stronger but foreshadows the death of that strength.” Again, key to his struggle for peace was his insistence on mutual respect, freedom and justice in the world. In his article on “The Races in Conference” (1910), he notes that “The Races Congress is the meeting of the World on a broad plane of human respect and equality. In no other way is human understanding and world peace and progress possible.” What is called for, he states, is “real democracy of races and nations” (407f). Appreciating efforts by the peace movement, moral reform and social uplift efforts to win the hearts of peoples, he adds that we must put forth. above all, efforts that aim at shared goods for the world, “efforts which aim to make humanity not the attribute of the arrogant and the exclusive, but the heritage of all men in a world where most men are colored.”

In “Prospect of a World Without Race Conflict” (1944), Du Bois is not sanguine about the prospect of a quick resolution of racial conflict and war. But he finds hope and possibilities in the rising struggles of peoples of color. Of special interest is his reference to the triple heritage of Latinos-Native American, African and European-and the role white racism played in dividing the peoples and yet the promising “signs of an insurgent native culture, striking across the color line toward economic freedom, political self-rule and more complete equality between races” (1944: 417). Currently, Latinos’ stress on “mestizaje” as a defining feature of their identity and the basis for a more inclusive multicultural struggle recalls Du Bois’s aspiration that Africans and other peoples of color would recognize a shared human heritage and pose a new paradigm of how humans ought to build and share the world (Karenga, 2002a: 399-405).

The Pan-Africanist initiative. Du Bois is clearly one of the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism (Walters, 1997; Ajala, 1973; Padmore, 1971). His interest in Africa and African liberation and African peoples’ contribution to the forward flow of human history evolves early. His interest and commitment begin with his identification of himself as African and his stated belief “in the African Race, in the beauty of its genius, the sweetness of its soul, and its strength.” (1920: 1). Moreover, in this same credo he reaffirms his “belief in pride of race and lineage and self, in pride so deep as to scorn injustice to ourselves, in pride of lineage so great as to despise no man’s father, in pride of race so chivalrous as neither to offer bastardy to the weak nor beg wedlock of the strong.”

Du Bois’s conception of Africa is multidimensional and his works on Africa reflect this, i.e., The Negro (1915), “The African Roots of War” (1915); The Gift of Black Folk (1924); Black Folk Then and Now (1924) and The World and Africa (1946). First Du Bois approaches Africa as the place of origin of the basic culture of African Americans, and in Souls of Black Folk and elsewhere he seeks to identify the defining characteristic of this cultural legacy. It is, of course, a deep spiritual, ethical and artistic legacy above all (Du Bois, 1925). Also inherent in his description of the people is their communal approach to life which he later argues offers an important contribution to the socialist vision.

Secondly, Du Bois sees Africa as the place of origin of world civilization, flourishing “when Europe was a wilderness” (1920: 32), and thus a place worthy of critical study for models of human excellence and possibility. Here it is important that only in some areas can Du Bois be said to have been Afrocentric in the Asantean sense of the concept (1998, 1990). For Asante (1998: 2), “Afrocentricity.means literally placing African ideals at the center of any analysis that involves African culture and behavior.” Du Bois is more of a “race man” in the sense of his credo, defiantly proud of his own people and self, but not constantly concerned to speak from an African-centered perspective. At times, he seeks to achieve a synthesis of the best of African and European. But in most cases, he is thoroughly steeped in European concepts. It is a reality he recognizes early, as noted above, but from which he cannot entirely disengage.

Du Bois is not grounded in classical African culture and its contribution to world culture through the Nile Valley civilizations (Karenga, 1996). Nor is he grounded in the profound moral anthropology and ethics of the Odu Ifa, the sacred text of ancient Yorubaland which teaches that “humans are chosen to bring good in the world” and that this is the fundamental meaning and mission of human life (Karenga 1999). Indeed, he is ambivalent about Egypt’s Blackness although he concedes some African input, especially in later writings. Especially important here is his lack of grounding in that aspect of classical African culture, especially Egypt, which gave the world its oldest social justice tradition, taught that humans are bearers of dignity and divinity, the oneness of being, the sacredness of life and the ethical obligation to constantly repair and restore the world (Karenga, 1996).

It is this ancient social justice tradition that is raised up and reaffirmed in the historic Million Man March/Day of Absence in October 1995. The Million Man March/Day of Absence Mission Statement appeals to this ancient and ongoing social justice tradition and calls on African men and women of the world to uphold and struggle to defend and promote this tradition. It offers public policy initiatives Du Bois would have embraced and announces as its core obligations the “reaffirming the best values of our social justice tradition which require respect for the dignity and rights of the human person, economic justice, meaningful political participation, shared power, cultural integrity, mutual respect for all peoples, and uncompromising resistance to social forces and structures which deny or limit these” (Karenga, 1995: 2).

In the absence of knowledge of this ancient and ongoing tradition, Du Bois borrows from Europe many of his concepts and assumes European origin for some that are not necessarily derivative. But one must hasten to say that as a radical intellectual he reshapes these concepts in more human and meaningful forms and in the process makes a seminal and enduring contribution to Black intellectual history. Thus, this does not in any way diminish the value of his work, it is only noted to distinguish different ways one can be committed to one’s people. And it is always important to make this delineation for those who through theoretical clumsiness or categorical imprecision use the category Afrocentricity recklessly and/or without the rigor that critical analysis requires.

Another way in which Du Bois views Africa is as a continuing battleground for white nations in their constant quest for resources, as noted in our earlier discussion of “The African Roots of War” (1915; also published in Darkwater [1920] as “The Hands of Ethiopia”). In this essay, Du Bois combines his commitments to Pan-Africanism, peace, and the socialist alternative to war, exploitation and oppression.

Finally, Du Bois also poses Africa as a land of possibility and paradigms. He understands it as a focus and generative force for a Pan-African ideal of solidarity and common struggle of African peoples all over the world. His aspiration and his life work were to see Africans united in a common struggle not only to free the continent but, in Fanon’s phrase, to “start a new history of humankind.” He stated that “when once the Blacks of the United States, the West Indies and Africa work and think together the future of the Black man in the modern world is safe” (1954: 403). Linking the Pan-Africanist and socialist projects, he said, “As the world turns toward Africa as a great center of future activity and development and recognizes the ancient socialism of Africa, [African Americans], freed of their baseless fear of Communism, will again turn their attention and aim their activity toward Africa” (402). They will, he states, see the capitalist exploitation of Africa, led by the U.S., and will dare struggle to aid in Africa’s liberation and development and join other progressive peoples and forces to build a just world.

In the last section of “Africa and the Roots of War,” Du Bois assigns a special and unique role for Africa and especially African Americans in the larger sense of the descendants of Africa who are “spread though the Americas and now writhing desperately for freedom and a place in the world.” It is these Africans in the diaspora who with their brothers and sisters on the African continent, must imagine and pose a new paradigm of human freedom and human flourishing and engage in a common Pan-Africanist and socialist struggle with other progressive peoples to bring it into being.

He says, as Fanon would later reaffirm, that the world is waiting for something new from African peoples, a new paradigm of human society and human relations. And he asks, “What shall the end be? The world-old and fearful things, War and Wealth, Murder and Luxury? Or shall it be a new thing-a new peace and new democracy of all races: a great humanity of equal men? ‘Semper novi quid ex Africa!’ [Always something new out of Africa]” (1915: 371). And here he means Africa not simply as a continent, but as a world community rooted in a rich and ancient and ongoing history, culture and struggle to expand the realm of human freedom and human flourishing in the world, and through this, to pose and bring forth the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest and most promising sense.

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