Theory of “Black Reconstruction and the Racial Wage” by W.E.B Du Bois

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In W.E.B Du Bois theory of “Black Reconstruction and the Racial Wage” Du Bois focuses on the concept of labor wages and Reconstruction in the U.S. post slavery. He explains how this was “an attempt to organize capital and, labor on a new pattern and build a new economy” (191). However, at this time many white and black men were both suffering from poverty and yet the white man was still coming out on top. This was because the agreement from both the North and the South was that laborers must produce “profit,” and the white man was more profitable.

A doctrine was set forth to override Reconstruction and it was then where the whites were united into the same class no matter whether they were a “planter” or if they were “poor.” This created a competition for wages and labor conditions between whites and African Americans. Du Bois introduces the theory of race and how even though the white workers were making a low wage, wages just as low as the African American workers, they were still rewarded by a “public and psychological wage”… their race. For example, even though they were poor they still were given access to the “best” of things such as schools, libraries, parks, etc.

The equally poor African Americans however, were not given access to luxuries and things such as the whites and instead were living in fear of violence and ridicule. These people at the time were in constant fear that their labor would be taken over by the whites, and vice versa, and this caused major tension between the two groups. Because of this concept of “caste” it has suppressed African Americans for so long and Du Bois asks the question of could have been? What would life look like now if this stigmata and caste system had not existed? If the white man had not “brok(en) the spirit of the black man and [humiliated] him into hopelessness; to establish a new dictatorship of property…” (193) then there could’ve been better progress in social relations and individual breakthroughs than there has been.

After reading “Black Reconstruction and The Racial Wage” and having our discussion in class about “Whiteness,” I immediately thought about this year’s 2020 Grammy awards show and an interview I had recently seen on Twitter with Tyler Gregory Okonma, or also known as “Tyler, The Creator.”

Tyler won a Grammy for Best Rap Album for his work called “IGOR,” however, as he tells in his interview, to him being nominated in the rap category “was a backhanded compliment.” He did not hold back when expressing his feelings about his recent win and proceeded to explain how he does not consider himself a “rap artist.” Yes, he agrees that his stuff is different and not very mainstream but he expresses how he was clearly only put into the rap or “urban” category because he is black. He also claimed he felt snubbed from the pop category and he made a very powerful analogy where he said “Oh my little cousin wants to play the game, let’s give him the unplugged controller so he could shut up and feel good about it.”

I feel that this situation is a clear illustration of what Du Bois was talking about even back in 1935. That even so many years after Black Reconstruction and the Civil War African Americans are not totally free because they are not completely freed from their stigmata. Here we have an extremely successful, well educated, accomplished, and talented artist like Tyler and yet despite all of his credentials and talent he gets the short end of the stick just because of his skin color. For some reason, society, even a society as progressive (or that claims to be progressive) as the music industry cannot get past the theory that is of race.

I do not necessarily have a critique of this work from Du Bois, but more so I have a curiosity if it applies in this situation; was this an act of “open deliberate discrimination” (193)? Tyler, The Creator fits this role of Du Bois’ African American man that has made headway in the arts but still does not get the credit that they deserve. It’s unsettling to think that in 2020 the voters purposefully would look past someone’s talents and only focus on the color of their skin but after hearing Tyler’s speech and the raw emotion in his voice it sadly seems that was the case. This makes me think back to Du Bois question of what could have been? I would like to hope there would be a difference.

I feel that Du Bois theory is extremely applicable still to this day for many if not all African Americans living in America and it especially is very apparent in the music and film industry which is ruled by upper elite white men . These are artists who have essentially “made it” unfortunately are still robbed of their talents due to events that happened so long ago. I believe with the help from figures like Tyler that the “fight against ridicule and monstrous caricature, against every refinement of cruelty and gross insult…” will continue to become stronger, but the fact that it has been happening for so long it is truly saddening that we must still continue to fight this disgusting “whiteness” and black oppression.

Cite this paper

Theory of “Black Reconstruction and the Racial Wage” by W.E.B Du Bois. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/theory-of-black-reconstruction-and-the-racial-wage-by-w-e-b-du-bois/

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