Du Bois' lifelong body of writings on Asia constitutes a strategic intervention in the tradition of Western scholarship known as Orientalism, one meant to challenge and undermine what Du Bois perceived to be its legacy of colonialism, imperialism, racism, and in the twentieth century, anticommunism.
Du Bois entered the formal tradition of Western Orientalism with his famous 1900 proclamation, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” The description of a national and global racial divide between blacks and whites, East and West-what Du Bois called more explicitly in 1915 “The World Problem of the Color Line” — was a direct challenge to nineteenth-century racist eugenics theorists like Count Arthur de Gobineau, cited by Edward Said in his classic 1978 work Orientalism as a pioneer of white supremacist thought (8, 99, 150). Gobineau's 1853 volume Essai sur l'Inegalite des races Humaines provided a segregated hierarchy and taxonomy of the “three basic races”-Aryan, Semitic, Negroid-to demonstrate that “[d]ifferent civilizations are in mutual repulsion” (Said, 274). Like other nineteenth-century Orientalists, Gobineau's Manichean worldview erected and preserved a mythic political, biological, and cultural “color line” between whites, Asians, and blacks. In his early work “The Star of Ethiopia: A Pageant of Negro History,” Du Bois posited a countergenealogy, one central to contemporary Afrocentric debates, fancifully describing the ancient mingling of Asian and Egyptian cultures as a historical starting point of black liberation (Pamphlets 206). In the face of Orientalist theories of race, eliminating the “color line” after 1900 for Du Bois demanded recognition of patterns of miscegenation between the black and Asian worlds.
Du Bois' rival and nemesis among early twentieth-century Orientalists was Lothrop Stoddard, the primary American proponent of nineteenth-century Eu