The Color Line: An Introduction to W.E.B. Du Bois
178 Stanton Street
New York, NY 10002
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” With these words, the noted intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois laid bare the experience of African-American subjectivity at the turn of the 20th century. In his seminal text, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois boldly addressed ”the problem of the color line” by blending his pioneering social-scientific analyses with humanistic reflections. What he proposed was nothing less that the creation of a new African American intellectual vanguard that would lay the foundations for the uplifting of black lives.
In this course, we will carefully read The Souls of Black Folk within its political and philosophical context, considering important historical events such as the failure of Reconstruction, the consolidation of the Jim Crow legal regime, the advent of American imperialism, and the formation of the American public sphere. How did Du Bois’s education and experience contribute to his formulation of the “complex double vision” that he urged black intellectuals to embrace? In what ways did his fusion of high-culture aspirations and political commitment challenge prevailing notions of both culture and politics, creating a new ideal of cosmopolitan activism? How should we understand Du Bois’ pivotal role as one of the founders of modern American sociology? Finally, we will consider Du Bois’s relationship to Williams James’s pragmatist philosophy and the impact it had on his understanding of cultural pluralism, which acknowledged the realities of racism even as it sought to work beyond racial thinking. Working through Du Bois’s text alongside selections from his autobiography, James’s writings, and more contemporary thinkers like Jürgen Habermas, we will explore how Du Bois’s vision of democratic culture and citizenship still illuminate contemporary debates about racial injustice within a broader politics of inequality.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
June 08 — June 29, 2016
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