There are very few people in the world whose footprint continues to dominate how we understand and study human beings today. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois and his research on the issues of racism have left an impressionable impact on sociology and sociological research. The focus of my paper is W.E.B Du Bois and his tireless work towards breaking the stereotypes surrounding black people. He defies all the odds against him and his people. Du Bois did not let white supremacists and oppression block him from pursuing success. He earned multiple bachelor degrees and a PhD from Harvard University in an age where African Americans are categorized as biologically inferior (Morris, 2017, p. 4). Du Bois did not internalize the hateful stereotypes against his race. Instead, he flipped the script and thrived in educating himself and earning prestige for his studies. Being the first African American to graduate from Harvard University with a PhD, he radiates a powerful influence on marginalized groups in society (Morris, 2017, p. 4). Du Bois worked his entire life to break the racial oppression of people of colour. He transformed sociology into what it is today.
Colonization in the late 18th century initiates the emergence of racial discrimination and racial inferiority. As European countries are replacing Native land with an exploitative industry, the working class composed of black people start to suffer segregation (Seltzer, 2017, p. 3). In an economy where African Americans are characterized as biologically inferior to white people, W.E.B. Du Bois’s work only appears in the margins. America is racist in every aspect, including its study of sociology (Morris, 2017, p. 2-3). Morris (2017) reveals black people are hung from trees and did not have the right to vote (p. 3). They are treated like animals by white people, rather than human beings with rights and freedoms (Morris, 2017, p. 3). America classifies itself as a democratic country, however, that label is inconsistent with the segregation of black people. To rationalize the oppression and isolation between the races, white supremacy begins to validate the argument of racial inferiority (Morris, 2017, p. 3). The idea that black people belong in the bottom of society because their DNA is naturally inferior to white people becomes appropriated (Morris, 2017, p. 3). In other words, God created African Americans biologically less than ‘normal humans,’ therefore, black people permanently and rightfully belong to the bottom of the social ladder (Morris, 2017, p. 3). This ideology is popularized during Du Bois’s era which is why his work was never recognized in the 19th century. Regardless, Du Bois did not allow white supremacy to stunt his brilliance. He rose up against the bigotry and became one of the world’s most educated persons (Morris, 2017, p. 4). Du Bois understood that the social sciences are built on the racist ideas of white scholars (Morris, 2017, p. 4). He rejects the notion that black people are biologically inferior and insists that this conception of racism stems from opinion, not facts (Morris, 2017, p. 4). Du Bois actively focuses on constructing a new social science that incorporates science. To achieve this, he aimed to conduct studies among black people who are victims of racism to discredit the ignorant beliefs of white scholars (Morris, 2017, p. 4). Du Bois explicitly states that “the ultimate evil was stupidity,” not “black DNA” (Morris, 2017, p. 4-5). Understanding that Du Bois was a positivist, he pushed for the use of a scientific method which includes utilizing quantitate data methods and empirical studies (Morris, 2017, p. 5). According to Du Bois, one cannot justify nor establish ‘sociological truths’ from inside of their office. He coined this concept as the ‘car window’ sociology because white scholars were problematizing black people in America without actually interacting or studying them (Morris, 2017, p. 5). This lead to the promotion of racist ideologies (Morris, 2017, p. 5). Du Bois counteracted this error in his work by doing fieldwork with the help of no one (Ritzer, 2017, p. 197). He achieved this by placing himself in the realities of suppressed black people. Du Bois’s work impacts sociology significantly because he is one of the first social scientists to link colonialism with racism (Morris, 2017, p. 6). He intimates white scholars because his work threatens tradition (Seltzer, 2017, p. 10). Du Bois’s work is not included in sociology during his time because sociologists were composed of white scholars who chose to ignore the ideologies of a black man (Ritzer, 2017, p. 189).
Du Bois contributes many theories to our understanding of sociology concerning the issues of racism. This includes his fundamental ideas of the Veil and double consciousness. To begin, Du Bois references the Veil as a delicate barricade separating white people from African Americans (Ritzer, 2017, p. 204). In general, a veil is typically transparent and thin in material. This barricade separating the two races is delicate because the Veil between them is not opaque. However, it acts as a division of different races (Ritzer, 2017, p. 204). Du Bois’s goal of lifting the Veil appears in his book, The Souls of Black Folk, where he describes his intention and desire of the “souls of black people in America” to be seen by white people (Ritzer, 2017, p. 204). Referring back to our description of a veil, Du Bois sometimes describes the Veil between the races as more opaque than transparent. Also, instead of it being a thin material, he expresses the Veil as frequently heavy or weighted making it very difficult to lift (Ritzer, 2017, p. 204). To emphasize, W.E.B. Du Bois visions the Veil as something black people are always born with. It separates them from opportunity, education, and their communities (Ritzer, 2017, p. 204). The Veil essentially locks them away from the rest of society which harms everyone, including white people (Ritzer, 2017, p. 204). Furthermore, Du Bois recognizes that the idea of the Veil disappearing anytime soon is highly unlikely. To completely remove the Veil between the different races is a life long journey (Ritzer, 2017, p. 205). Corresponding with his concept of the Veil, Du Bois constructs the analogy of the ‘double consciousness’ which identifies his version of the ‘self’ (Morris, 2017, p. 7). Du Bois defines the self as a product of social interactions with other individuals in the community in the presence of influences such as “race and power” (Morris, 2017, p. 7). The term double consciousness implies that people of colour look at the product of their self through the eyes of others, more specifically, white people (Ritzer, 2017, p. 205). African Americans tend to experience double consciousness because their black identity is repressed through racism by white Americans (Ritzer, 2017, p. 205). Therefore, their black status is divided from their American status. Those two identifications are not integrated into their internalized self. Du Bois mentions a complementary concept linked to his theory of double consciousness which he refers to as ‘twoness’. Du Bois writes on twoness as “an America, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warning ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (Ritzer, 2017, p. 205). The systematic racism and oppression African Americans are constantly facing interferes with the development of their true oneself. Their black identity encourages them to embrace their culture and freedoms (Ritzer, 2017, p. 205). However, the persecution and suffering they face from being black diminish or reduces their black identity (Ritzer, 2017, p. 205). Ritzer (2017) refers to African Americans as being both “insiders and outsiders” of society (p. 206). This produces tensions and strains within African Americans themselves as they are placed in a conflicting arrangement (Ritzer, 2017, p. 206). Their internalized self has trouble forming because white people outcast them from being citizens. The lack of social interaction with the dominant white society clashes with their black identity. Therefore, they experience twoness because both of their identifications are incompatible, severely harming the construction of their unique self (Ritzer, 2017, p. 206).
Racial discrimination continues to exist in contemporary societies. Du Bois’s work does not go unnoticed by many social theorists today and people who are standing up to racism. Specifically, the younger generation is fighting for change through political movements (Morris, 2017, p. 10). During the time of Du Bois, young black students led protests to address the injustice of African Americans (Morris, 2017, p. 11). Du Bois encourages young people to fight back the oppression that guards them against equality (Morris, 2017, p. 11). In comparison, contemporary societies witness similar movements like the symbolic Black Lives Matter. It targets discrimination black people experience (Morris, 2017, p. 10). The Black Live Matter movement and the protests during Du Bois’s era are both led by the younger generation and fight racist ideology (Morris, 2017, p. 10). The ideas of Du Bois are relevant today because racism has not disappeared. People of colour are still the victims of discrimination and suffering because their skin colour is not white. Du Bois’s analogy on car window sociology is also important to recognize today. Social theorists should not formulate sociological truths from speculation (Morris, 2017, p. 4). To truly understand the nature of something or someone, the theorist should place themselves within the context or the lives of what they are studying (Morris, 2017, p. 4). Du Bois gives his full dedication to conducting empirical studies. He led interviews among families to collect his data (Seltzer, 2017, p. 8). It is morally unjust and ignorant for a theorist to claim black people are inferior with no supporting evidence. Du Bois’s double consciousness may also help deepen the understanding of the hardships black people endure. We must grasp the idea that many people of colour, especially immigrants, have a hard time integrating into society because they are not fully recognized as a member. Following the ideas of Ritzer (2017), immigrants are displaced both inside and outside the community (p. 206). In comparison to modern western societies, immigrants have noticeable dissimilar customs and culture. The transition of ‘fitting in’ and maintaining their foreign identity is difficult. They often face alienation from their community or pretend to be someone they are not. Du Bois established theories that are crucial in the world we live in today. To disregard or ignore his theories would be a crime.
W.E.B Du Bois, in general, is one of the most important persons in history. His contributions have made a significant impact that continues to be influential and necessary for humans today. For a black man in the 19th century to be writing and fighting against racism fearlessly, he requires great courage and determination. Du Bois is a hero in my eyes because he rose up against all of the hateful assumptions of black people and proved them to be wrong. His theories on the Veil and double consciousness are very critical today. Although societies have advanced, the persecution many people face because of how they look or what their faith continues to occur. It is important to recognize that racism has not vanished. I learnt that Du Bois created the first scientific school of sociology at Atlanta University (Morris, 2017, p. 1). His bravery and intelligence made him a momentous historic figure.