The Souls of African-Americans

One of the best readings in the entirety of this class was DuBois’ excerpt on the souls of African-Americans. Specifically, DuBois asks questions that are outside the realm of conversation for most of us, including what it means to be African-Americans in a society that doesn’t favor you and what identity means within that characterization. Early on in his passage, DuBois asks a very specific, pointed and frightening question: “how does it feel to be a problem?” Of course, he is not asking this question from his own point of view but rather that of white people, many of whom, particularly in the southern portion of the United States, had their slaves emancipated just years before. This identity crisis undoubtedly played a role in DuBois’ writing.

This writing is so fascinating to me because I have never had DuBois’ experience – that is, of being a problem. My race of people always thought of itself as the “solution” when in reality, it was actually part of the problem. People like DuBois were seemingly tortured, harassed and treated as less-than-equal since the beginning of their existence, and to an extent, they were made to feel as though their complete identity had to do with being treated as the inferior race. This, of course, was by design, and for many years, whites were able to get away with making minorities feel like they were born as a problem. This is why DuBois has to confront this sad reality in his writings; the group of people he belonged to was being treated illegitimately, as the problem.

DuBois also brings up another interesting point, which is the importance of songs in the reclamation of the black identity. This is still true today, as genres like hip hop and rhythm and blues have helped reshape and revolutionize African-American identity. However, let’s remember why music was so important to these people. While whites relied on folk music and oral tradition to reliably pass stories and heritage onto their descendants without incident, African-Americans routinely had their identities questioned by the very people who were supposed to protect them. Therefore, self-identity became an important tool for minorities to reclaim a strong sense of self. In this case, it was no different; DuBois is merely talking about how people like him used music in a positive way. In this sense, though, it was more than just occupational; it was necessary.