W. E. B. Du Bois

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What does Du Bois mean by "the veil"?

The veil is a metaphorical separation that, ironically, also binds blacks together. To quote Du Bois: But, after all, this is an old world, and the more one studies history the more he realizes how persistent has been man's desire to make one brotherhood out of many. This dream of universal peace and brotherhood is as old as history ... The black veil stands in opposition to what Du Bois perceives as white society's inability to return this love or to see him as an equal. He embraces it as a way to distinguish himself from "the others" without denying his common humanity with them.

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W. E. B. Du Bois references this veil in his famous work, The Souls of Black Folk. In it, he discusses the invisible and visible separation that black people endure in dominantly white American society.

The veil itself can represent different aspects of being Black. One is their actual, darker skin color, as if shaded by a physical veil. Another is the unseen "veil" that separates blacks from whites in society. For Du Bois, understanding that he lived inside this veil was a powerful realization. The veil isolated him from white society but also gave him a sense of identity as an outsider to them. To quote:

I was different from the others; or like [them perhaps] in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil ...

By "the others," he means white folks. Although Du Bois recognizes that he and they, as humans, must have some commonalities in their hearts, their worlds are kept separate by this "vast veil." Once he realizes this, Du Bois embraces the veil as an essential part of himself. In the same way as white people held him in contempt, he could do the same for them, because they were not veiled as he was or his fellow people of color were. The veil, therefore, gives him a new sense of connection with other black Americans.

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