Essential Quotes by Character: W. E. B. Du Bois

Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.


Du Bois begins his essay with the question of black identity. Behind all the questions that ask concern race relations is that one question: How does it feel to be a problem? There are different reasons for not asking it, as Du Bois relates, but Du Bois chooses to ignore the question behind the questions. To him it is too personal, too much at the very heart of the racism of the South, and of the North as well. He continues to examine the problem of being a problem, which leads to a “double consciousness” of the African American population. He himself did not know he was a “problem” until his first encounter with racial hatred, when a girl in his class refused to exchange greeting cards with him simply because of the color of his skin. The struggle with his bitterness derived from this incident, until he learned to exist as a “problem” and yet still function in society.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter...

(The entire section is 1695 words.)