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The kinship of all the souls of the black people

“From time to time, school attendance dwindled and I went out for a walk to discover the reasons,” writes WEB Du Bois in The souls of the black people, about his experience as a school teacher in the mountains of Tennessee (USA), in the late 19th century. Then she discovered how much those families needed their children at harvest time, even to care for their younger siblings. “But we will send them again next week,” they answered, when the teacher became interested in the absences.

The souls of the black people, which has just been published in Spanish (published by Captain swing), is a founding book of blackness, written by the sociologist, historian and activist for civil rights, in 1903, as a compilation of the struggles of a bloody century in which the American countries abolished slavery but, in exchange, sent its African American citizens to the front lines of the war fronts. This work also marked the dawn of a century in which pan-Africanism would open the way to new reflections. Because Africa had not remained in Africa, but was now part of the whole world.

“For the majority of those for whom slavery was a vague memory of childhood, the world was something enigmatic: the world asked little of them, so they responded with little; however, the world made fun of what they offered, ”writes Du Bois, in a memoir entitled Of the meaning of progress. That uprooting of the descendants of slaves that Du Bois described reached North America, so far and so close to Africa, and it seems to have crossed the entire 20th century as the great paradox of the Africans of the diaspora.

And perhaps that is the burden that the intellectuals who, in Europe, guided the pan-Africanist movements, from Aimé Cesaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor to the leaders of the great wave against racial segregation and the Black Power of the sixties, in the rest of the planet. Among them, some Black panthers, who ended up living and dying on the continent of their ancestors, as was the case with Stokely Carmichael, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago (in 1941), raised and studied at the University of Washington, and then spent most of his adult life in Guinea Conakry, as a student of Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah and as an advisor to the president Ahmed Sekou Touré.

Hence the value of reviewing the souls of the black people that nurtured life trajectories on both sides of the Atlantic and north and south of the Mediterranean. This work by an American about North America, which starts with the question “what does it feel like when it’s a problem?”, Allows you to sail the oceans on other ships: “[Un negro americano] He would not want to whiten his black soul in a wave of white Americanism, because he knows that black blood has a message for the world ”.

Engraving ‘My right is a future of equality with other Americans’ (1947), by Elizabeth Catlett and book cover.

The double standard

Du Bois speaks of the “double consciousness”: “It is a peculiar sensation, that sensation of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s own soul with the scale of a world that observes with jovial disdain and with pity. You always feel that duality: an American, a black; two souls, two ways of thinking, two irreconcilable struggles; two ideals in combat in a dark body, whose stubborn strength is the only thing that prevents it from breaking into pieces.

Double consciousness seems a consequence of the double social standards that some sectors of the population continue to suffer as the decades pass. However, Du Bois wants to examine it, in depth, in the first person: “The history of the American Negro is the history of this struggle, of that desire to reach a conscious maturity, to fuse that double being into a better and truer one.”

The abolition of slavery was the key to the first door, but after that, thinkers and activists found many other closed doors: “Work, culture, freedom, we need all this, not separately, but jointly, not successively but at the same time (…) black problem It is but concrete proof of the principles underlying the great republic, and the spiritual struggle of the sons of the freedmen represents the hard work of souls whose burden almost exceeds the limits of their strength, but who bear it in the name of a historical race, in the name of this land, the land of the parents of their parents, and in the name of human opportunity.

The color barrier

Du Bois reviews the questions from before and after the bloody North American civil war, when fugitive slaves were treated as contraband of war (they were handed over to the owners as soon as they were looking for them), until he describes the moment when the House Blanca emancipated them to turn them into workers. It narrates the social experiments of the XIX, the anger of the whites and their actions before the biased courts of Justice, as well as the shipwreck of the so-called Office of the Libertos. As if it were not more than a century old, the book reads that there are areas where the destiny of the population is death or jail, before which Du bois anticipates: “The problem of the twentieth century is the color barrier.”

The actuality of The souls of the black people it lies in the depth with which Du Bois addresses issues as closely linked as education and its counterpart, the alienation of crime. It sounds like an essay today when it emphasizes the need for a strong network of public schools with equal access and its accurate definition of the role of the university: “It is not simply teaching how to earn a living, providing teachers to public schools or be a center of social gathering; it must be, above all, the organ of that harmonic adjustment between real life and an ever-increasing knowledge of life, an adjustment that constitutes the secret of civilization ”. This reflects while he himself rides in the wagon Jim crow, that of the segregated.

The spirit of pan-Africanism

“What did slavery mean to the African?” Du Bois wonders. And he continues: “What judgment did good and evil deserve him, God and the devil? Where did their anxieties and efforts go and, therefore, where did their ailments and disappointments lie? Then he invites us to read the impotence in front of the whip, without over acting any pain, but explaining the depth of the scourge that led the slaves to have a spiritual life so populated, full of music, guided by the charismatic preacher and, therefore, inciting social researchers to inquire without prejudice into religious sentiment, idolatries and their catharsis: “The music of black religion is that plaintive rhythmic melody of lesser emotional cadences that, despite caricature and desecration, remains the most original and beautiful expression of life and human toil born so far on North American soil ”.

Finally, Du Bois makes explicit the wish that “vigorous thoughts and sensible actions” emerge from his book. Precisely, the image that illustrates these lines is part of one of those shoots, in this case, artistic, thanks to the inspiration of the Ivorian painter Roméo Mivekannin, which exhibits, these days, his series entitled The souls of the black people, in the gallery Cecilie Fakhoury from Abidjan (Ivory Coast), and which we will report in this same space.

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