W. E. B. Du Bois

Start Free Trial

"Thus all art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent." What are the challenges facing Black artists at the time Du Bois wrote this piece? What does he conclude, and why?

The given lines are taken from a speech that Du Bois gave in 1926. The challenges facing Black artists at this time were many, but the main challenge that Du Bois was concerned with in this speech was how to forge a new kind of Black consciousness through art. Du Bois concluded that all art produced by Black artists should be produced primarily as propaganda to further the cause of Black Americans.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In 1926, W. E. B. Du Bois, a prominent African American writer, gave a speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). At this time, there were many challenges facing African American artists. The provision of public education for African Americans, for instance, was generally poor. This meant in turn that there were fewer opportunities for potential African American artists to flourish. Du Bois addressed this problem through a magazine called "The Crisis," which he edited. He used "The Crisis," for example, to promote contests for African American writers.

In his 1926 speech however, Du Bois was mostly concerned with the challenge of how to use art to forge a new Black consciousness which could counteract the racist portrayal of Black people propagated by popular culture. At this time, Black people were often portrayed in popular culture (such as minstrel shows or the hugely popular 1915 movie Birth of a Nation) as animalistic, criminal, lazy, and foolish. Du Bois wanted Black artists to use art to promote Black people as intelligent, noble, and strong. He believed that promoting African Americans in this way would in turn encourage Black people to have a greater respect for themselves, and to love and be proud of their Blackness rather than be ashamed of it. This was the new Black consciousness that Du Bois thought art had a moral duty to help create.

When Du Bois said that he did "not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda," the implication is that the need for a new Black consciousness was so urgent as to make any Black art not concerned with the promotion of this consciousness redundant, or irrelevant. Du Bois also dismissed the "wailing of the purists." The "purists" argued that art should exist for art's sake, and should not be politicized. In opposition to this view, Du Bois suggested that art should not and could not exist in a vacuum, and he proudly asserted that all art that he had ever produced had been produced as "propaganda for gaining the right of Black folk to love and enjoy." In his 1926 speech, Du Bois concluded that in a time when African Americans were so widely vilified and persecuted, this must likewise be the primary purpose of all African American art

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team