Black Life on the Rise

Using the metaphor of the veil, DuBois paints a stark picture of the separateness of the Black American. In America, the Black person embodies 2 selves, the first is the Black self; ther other, the Black self as the ‘other;’ each at odds with the other for neither can be reconciled to the other. It is within this internal war that the Black must find his own humanity. As former slaves, brought up in ignorance and servitude, the Black must forge an identity in the face of hate and continued degradation. DuBois takes his stand on the Black’s ability to be educated. He himself earning a Ph.D. from Harvard, DuBois is acutely aware of the need to be taught and to pass that learning on through teaching. Who will teach the teachers? He asks.

“The Negro race, like all other races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men,” declares DuBois at the end of his Talented Tenth essay. As He tells it, the Talented Tenth of the race are akin to the “salt of the earth” of Matthew 5:13. They are the teachers of men that “give light unto all that are in the house” (Matthew 5:15b).

Offering up himself as the example of what the Black is capable of, DuBois paints a picture of the hope of the Black race. None before or since has so eloquently described the plight of the Black. As the veil reveals itself, DuBois, finding himself locked out, strove to overcome it. He declared the “sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination time…”

Like Black writers before him, DuBois used his pen to declare and claim his own and the Black race’s humanity and to prove such to the white world that had relegated the race to “looking at one’s self through the eyes of others…” Rather than be defined as ‘other,’ DuBois chose to define himself, helping to lay the foundation for the coming of the Harlem Renaissance.

His identity is clear—I am a Man—a declaration defying circumstance. It is in defiance of the white majority that DuBois excels. It is a kind of conforming defiance whereby he uses the mainstream system of education to declare the very thing the mainstream denies—his manhood. And it is education that DuBois says will save the race.

As an advocate for the millions of Blacks, raising the consciousness of the masses was among his primary concerns. In The Talented Tenth, DuBois asks “What…must a system of education do in order to raise the Negro as quickly as possible in the scale of civilization?” And he answers saying, “[education] must strengthen the Negro’s character, increase his knowledge and teach him to earn a living.” In The Souls of Black Folk, he says that “the function of the Negro college, then, is clear: it must maintain the standards of popular education, it must seek the social regeneration of the Negro, and it must help in the solution of problems of race contact and cooperation” (p. 66).

In A world
Not of it.
Its treasures
Do I covet.

Yet still spurned.

See me as I am
See me, I am a man.
See me
Free me
Skin tone be damned.

I’ve learned
I’ve spoke
I’ve written
To provoke
The man in you
Claiming rights
Though denying
In the night

I come not begging
I come not bowing
Holes I’m not digging
Nor fields am I plowing.

Sympathy is not my lot
For that, the Negro finds it not.
I know what you know
And then some
As I can show.

Think you only
The taker of knowledge
Propped in your cottage?

Read you this
Read you that.
Reading me?
How’s that?

Can’t see past yourself
With your luxury and wealth
Can’t see me for the trees
But you claim Him who sees.

The Maker.
The One.
The beginning of you AND me
Alpha and Omega
Eternity of free

Claim Him you must.
For you know you came from dust
Do I remind you
Yourself you cannot trust?

Is my skin so unworthy
As to put you into perjury
Of your own belief in self
And knowledge become my shelf?

Set me up with knowledge
Put me down with the lies.
As you fear and dread
Black life on rise.