Segregation, Poverty, and Mortality in Urban African Americans

By Anthony P. Polednak | Go to book overview

Du Bois' emigration to Africa is ironic when considered in the historical context of the "colonization" movement of the nineteenth century. Many abolitionist whites (including Presidents Lincoln and Grant) and Congress planned to transport blacks, voluntarily (according to Lincoln) or otherwise, to various countries including Africa. Some black intellectuals, down to Du Bois and S. Carmichael, supported various forms of colonization. Earlier, even F. Douglass, although a staunch advocate of an integrated, "color blind" society, had "toyed" with it ( Freehling, 1994). Instead of the "colonization" of blacks, an internal "colony" model of blacks has emerged ( Henry, 1990), along with calls for blacks to "decolonize" themselves from a "color caste" society that devalues blackness (especially higher degrees of black skin color) ( hooks, 1995).

The complex changes in Du Bois' attitudes and writings over his long life are symbolic of the continuing dilemmas and ambivalences some American blacks have with regard to forms of integration or (to use the more extreme term) "assimilation" that deny the value of black cultural heritage and devalue blackness itself into a society plagued by both white racism and the denial of its existence. The life of Malcolm X, strikingly different from that of Du Bois, demonstrated a different evolution. At the end of his short life, Malcolm X envisioned the potential benefits of combatting white racism and working with whites. The place of Malcolm X, the "great prophet of black rage" ( West, 1994), is recognized among those black thinkers who inform blacks about "decolonization" and resistance ( hooks, 1995). However, the views of Malcolm X and of other black nationalists betray a fear of "cultural hybridity" or an African-American culture that has always been a unique mixture of elements from African, European, and Amerindian sources ( West, 1994). West ( 1994) argued that black self-esteem, self-love, and self-determination can be accepted without embracing black nationalist ideology.

hooks ( 1995) has associated black nationalism with an unrealistic, utopian vision of Africa before the advent of white colonialism, and separatism was rejected in favor of the hope of forging a new version of M.L. King Jr.'s "beloved community" that does not require that African Americans surrender ties to their African cultural heritage. Black "self-determination" ( hooks, 1995) recalls Du Bois' ideas on strengthening the black community economically, socially, and morally, with the incorporation of pre-colonial African cultural and social values. These ideas were unacceptable to the NAACP, which he left in 1934 (although he later returned, before the final breach) ( Stuckey, 1987). However, these ideas, including the nurturing of black schools and colleges as well as black communities, are enjoying a revival among black scholars, as well as increased interest among anthropologists ( Harrison, 1995).

While accepting integration as a long-range goal for blacks, Du Bois (in The Conservation of Races, 1897) described a "racial two-ness" reminiscent of F. Douglass' "nation within a nation," Two Nations ( Hacker, 1992, 1995) was subtitled Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, paraphrasing the "separate and unequal" black and white "societies" idea in the Kerner Commission report on civil disturbances during the 1960s ( Kerner, 1968). Hacker's tone was decidedly pessimistic, and the preface warned the reader not to "look for a

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