Illustration of W. E. B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk

by W. E. B. Du Bois

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What is the author's purpose, and how does his point of view to the strength/weakness of black families?

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Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folks documents how racism, what Du Bois calls the "color line," has infected all aspects of black lives and seeped into the black soul in destructive ways. Du Bois argues that blacks must fight back against those who would urge them to accept permanent second-class status in politics, education, and economics in US life. To save their souls, blacks must develop pride and struggle for the rights that will allow them to achieve and prosper.

Du Bois, however, recognizes that racism and the legacy of slavery has put obstacles in the path of black empowerment. One problem he discusses is the broken black family, which creates a vicious cycle that is both caused by poverty and perpetuates poverty. He talks about very overcrowded households, which, oftentimes leads to family members leaving to go into service (becomes live-in servants in white households) or to seek other work far from home. Many men desert their families, which makes it all the harder for the women who remain to earn an adequate income. Because of the legacy of slavery, many men and women don't marry, making it all the easier for the men to leave in search of a better life. As Du Bois puts it:

the evil [of broken families] is still deep seated, and only a general raising of the standard of living will finally cure it.

Du Bois sees unstable family lives as part of the problem of racism that blacks will need to overcome to gain the economic power they need to live decent lives.

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Dubois states his purpose at the beginning when he states the  problem of the color line is the problem of the 20thC.  He offers ways to address that problem, the chief of which is to recognize the double consciousness of the black experience:  the "Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world." Dubois hopes to lift that veil so that the double consciousness--of being Black, and therefore [as he sees it] deeply spiritual, and of being American and therefore [again as he sees it] materialistic--can merge into "one true consciousness."  Very radically he implies this will benefit the Negro and the white man, so that all people, black and white, will merge into a fused double consciousness:  he "simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American."

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