The Minds of Black Folk

It was a recent Washington Post article, written by Vanessa Williams, a black woman, that recalled Du Bois’ “double consciousness” theory to my mind.

A black person can be just as guilty as anyone of providing the impetus for one’s adopting his thesis as a form of social orthopraxy. The article is Williams’ rather racist postmortem about why Democrat Stacey Abrams, a black woman, was narrowly defeated by Republican Brian Kemp, a white man. Without getting too deep into the specifics of Williams’ reasoning – you can read the article for yourself – she essentially is placing the blame for Abrams’ loss at the feet of the 11 percent of black men who, to her apparent consternation, voted for a white man over someone who, in terms of skin color, looks like them (hence the article’s headline).

 

In 1903, sociologist and civil rights activist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, more commonly known as W.E.B. Du Bois, published his classic and widely-respected work The Souls of Black Folk. The book is a series of essays in which Du Bois leverages his own personal experience as a black man in America to comment on the larger societal struggle for equality of black people decades after Reconstruction.

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois is unapologetically dogmatic in his assertion that, given the overtly prejudicial attitudes embedded within American society against black people, they must always maintain what he referred to as a “double consciousness”. That is, an ongoing awareness and cognizance of: 1) how blacks view themselves, and 2) how society views them. And though I don’t necessarily concur with Du Bois in that regard, as it would require black people to make some of the same unfounded generalizations and assumptions of others as are being made of them, I can nevertheless understand why he would offer such admonitory counsel.

It was a recent Washington Post article, written by Vanessa Williams, a black woman, that recalled Du Bois’ “double consciousness” theory to my mind and reminded me that a black person can be just as guilty as anyone of providing the impetus for one’s adopting his thesis as a form of social orthopraxy. The article is Williams’ rather racist postmortem about why Democrat Stacey Abrams, a black woman, was narrowly defeated by Republican Brian Kemp, a white man. Without getting too deep into the specifics of Williams’ reasoning – you can read the article for yourself – she essentially is placing the blame for Abrams’ loss at the feet of the 11 percent of black men who, to her apparent consternation, voted for a white man over someone who, in terms of skin color, looks like them (hence the article’s headline).

In other words, Williams is lamenting the fact that 11 percent of black men, all of whom were legally registered to vote in the state of Georgia, volitionally exercised their Constitutional right, in conjunction with the dictates of their respective individual consciences and without regard to either Abrams’ or Kemp’s ethnicity or sex, voted for the gubernatorial candidate of their choice.

Why…why…the horror!

How dare they?!

Do these men not realize they’re…black?!

In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois declared, “For this much all men know: despite compromise, war, and struggle, the Negro is not free.” Du Bois was right. There is ample empirical evidence that black Americans, not only in the late 19th and early 20th-century but for many decades after, were not “free” to the same extent as their fellow image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:275:1) who were white. In fact, one might very well argue that what Du Bois maintained more than a century ago is still a reality in 21st-century America. The extent to which such an assertion may or may not be the case is not a question this commentary is intended to address. Suffice it to say that inequity and injustice are both natural and expected by-products of a world beset by sin (Rom. 5:12), the metastasizing effects of which we, as sinners, are to blame with regard to our deliberate and incessant maltreatment of one another (Mk. 7:17-23).

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