Illustration of W. E. B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk

by W. E. B. Du Bois
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What was the problem of the color line as explained in The Souls of Black Folk?

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To Du Bois, the color line is the separation that exists between black people and white people in American society. He calls it a "veil" that hides the true lived experiences of black people from white people. It is a problem, because as long as black people in America are...

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To Du Bois, the color line is the separation that exists between black people and white people in American society. He calls it a "veil" that hides the true lived experiences of black people from white people. It is a problem, because as long as black people in America are defined primarily as black, and not as American, they remain separated from the larger society. Moreover, the color line creates in the black soul something called a "double consciousness."

Black people, says Du Bois, long to feel integrated internally and not struggle with reconciling their two selves. However, because of the color line, they are forced to see themselves with the pity and contempt with which white people see them. They have to constantly be aware of—and adjust to—the fact that white people view them as lesser human beings.

Black people, when away from the white gaze, see themselves as fully human. However, Du Bois states, they have to constantly navigate a line in which they juggle their sense of their own full humanity against the lesser way they are seen by white people.

Du Bois argues in his book that black people cannot thrive because the color line holds them down, and, therefore, they must struggle for full equality in U.S. society. He rejects the compromises a previous generation made. Du Bois especially challenges Booker T. Washington for accepting second-class citizenship in return for modest economic gains. Settling for anything less than full equality will keep the troubling color line in place and destroy the black soul, Du Bois asserts.

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