How does Du Bois engage Western Civilization? Does he find it valuable in challenging racism or problematic in legitimizing it?

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litelle209 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good question! Du Bois is a firm believer in one part of Western civilization, namely higher education. In particular a humanist education within the realm of the academy. This is reflected in his essay "The Talented Tenth" in which he argues for a college educated class of African Americans (the talented ten percent) to lead the black majority.

Racism, he finds, can best be countered at the abstract level through theoretical debate. Hence, he rejects Booker T. Washington's appeasing idea that the black man needs to be trained in the trades to eventually reach equality with white America. The notion of labor as a power of economic salvation is in itself a western idea and is addressed in the writings of Karl Marx, who regards slavery not as a race problem, but rather as an economic problem disguised in rhetorical terms of race.

The idea of public and democratic debate is at the core of western civilization and dates back to ancient Greece and the Socratic dialogues. Du Bois maybe considered a partial believer. One the one hand, he believes in man's higher faculties, logic, reasoning abilities, and that human beings are good at heart if they understand they right way, but he also rejects the idea that the oppressed minority which he is part of should be enticed to more training in manual labor. He wrote once that he finds the idea of African Americans being encouraged to enter trades degrading since that is what they have been doing for two hundred years anyway.        

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The Souls of Black Folk

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