Academic journal article African American Review

W. E. B. Du Bois's UnAmerican End

Academic journal article African American Review

W. E. B. Du Bois's UnAmerican End

Article excerpt

The treatment of the Negro is America's greatest and most conspicuous scandal. For the colored peoples all over the world, whose rising influence is axiomatic, this scandal is salt in their wounds.... [However,] the American Negro is thoroughly American in his culture and whole outlook on the world. He is loyal to America, and there is no danger that he will betray it.... America, for its international prestige, power, and future security, needs to demonstrate to the world that American Negroes can be satisfactorily integrated into its democracy.--Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944)

I believe in communism. I mean by communism a planned way of life in the production of wealth and work.... Who now am I to have come to these conclusions? ... This is the excuse for this writing which I call a Soliloquy.--W. E. B. Du Bois, The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (written 1958-1960, first international publication 1964, first US publication 1968)

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During and after World War II, as liberation struggles and the costs of war undermined the system of territorial colonialism employed by European powers, US neocolonialism emerged as the ascendant form of international hegemony, one that superseded colonial methods of direct rule with political and economic domination and a preponderance of military strength. As postcolonial countries achieved a negotiated independence, they found themselves facing the effective control of the United States, which sought to manage global decolonization through a discourse of anti-communism and a transnational capitalist system that included the unprecedented penetration of US capital and goods into formerly restricted economies. The presence and power of the Soviet Union, however, meant that the subordination of formerly colonized states to US hegemony remained contingent to a degree. The Soviet Union sought to undermine consent for US influence in Asia and Africa by publicizing acts of racial violence and segregation in the United States, claiming these acts as evidence that white supremacist doctrine suffused the world-ordering ambitions of the US and the social relations of international capitalism. Central to the postwar rise of US neocolonialism, therefore, was the necessity to manage the racial contradictions that gave rise both to decolonization in formerly colonized states and to anti-racist movements in the US.

Because it proved capable of managing such contradictions, racial liberalism emerged as a central political ideology and mode of social organization in post-war US society. In contrast to white supremacy, racial liberalism acknowledged racial inequality to be a problem and secured a liberal symbolic framework for resolving racial antagonisms centered in legal equality, African American attainment of possessive individualism, and inclusive civic nationalism. The watershed document of racial liberalism, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (1944), a social scientific study of US race relations spearheaded by Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal, dominated the rationality and politics of race in the United States until the mid-1960s. (1)

In the first epigraph above, An American Dilemma calls for a liberal nationalist anti-racism that was to become a tenet of Cold War ideological battles: "The treatment of the Negro is America's greatest and most conspicuous scandal. For the colored peoples all over the world, whose rising influence is axiomatic, this scandal is salt in their wounds.... America, for its international prestige, power, and future security, needs to demonstrate to the world that American Negroes can be successfully integrated into its democracy" (Myrdal 1021). Although the study takes it to be self-evident that decolonization and the ascendancy of the United States have elevated race to a global symbol and that the visibility of racial inequality compromises US dominance, this situation does not invalidate US claims to global leadership. …

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