The Souls of Black Folk Questions and Answers
by W. E. B. Du Bois

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Du Bois begins The Souls of Black Folk by declaring that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." In his first chapter, he shifts the word "problem" so that it applies to himself; he describes how whites will often ask him some variation of the question "How does it feel to be a problem?" Describe what Du Bois means by each instance of "problem," and note the difference between the two uses of the word.

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In the first instance, Du Bois uses "problem" to describe a generic, abstract, widespread issue: the issue of the divide between blacks and whites (what he calls the color-line) caused by racism. Race, as an abstract concept children learn, causes white people to believe themselves superior to black people. It also causes black people to internalize the cultural perception of inferiority in such a way that they display two faces to the world: the...

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