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Hiding The Financial Discrepancy in The Souls of Black Folk

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In 1903 the controversial black rights leader W.E.B. DuBois wrote one of the most influential African-American books to date. In The Souls of Black Folk, DuBois proclaims that the “problem of the twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line”(xxxi). Now, the twenty-first century has begun and it seems as though the color-line issue, of distinct racial prejudice, has been resolved through the elimination of slavery and racial segregation and the application of the Civil Rights Act. In truth however, America has not conquered the race problem. Now, though less identifiable, the new problem of the color-line is even more applicable post the benchmark Civil Rights Act. Though there have been slight advancements in social equality, there is, more than ever, economic conflict and class struggle embedded in racial discrimination, leading to the new problem of the twenty-first Century, racial inequality in economics and class.

DuBois very broadly describes the “problem of the color-line” in The Souls of Black Folk, in much length and expertise. However it can be summed up in one question from the book: “How does it feel to be a problem?” To which, DuBois answers “being a problem is a strange experience” (DuBois, 1). DuBois poses this query to himself, other blacks in America, and even whites. He asks African Americans to revaluate their current status in America. DuBois seeks out blacks that will not only understand and realize the current anti-black sentiment of the time, but also actively work to change the distinctive conception of black racial identity, in a society that viewed blacks with contempt. DuBois openly announces that he is the problem. He doesn’t wish anyone to avoid the issue of racial division, saying such things as “I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville” (DuBois, 1). He admits to contributing to the twentieth century problem in America, the continued struggle for social recognition and cultural identity of blacks.

The problem is both as simple and complex as the statement. According to DuBois, the problem in twentieth century America is blacks. However, complexity arises when analyzing the social situation of blacks in America. The “problem” is rooted in ethnic divisions between blacks and whites, but develops much further into the effects, mentally, economically and socially, on African Americans. Thus we have the seemingly changed twenty-first century, where due to elimination of forced slavery and segregation, we have so proclaimed “equality” between blacks and whites. However, does this forgiveness of the dark side of American history, really give us evidence of equality?

Though we have made advancements, racial inequality is still prominent in our post-Civil Rights age. Is equality evident in schools, where teenagers still self-segregate between races? In Gary Younge’s article “White-Only Proms Dancing to an Old Southern Segregationist Tune”, he reported in 2003, students in rural Georgia at Taylor County High School self segregated their prom. A milestone event, the school held its first integrated prom in 31 years in 2002. However, due to interracial conflicts in the 2002 school year, school officials stopped sponsoring dances, and shortly after, parents and students began organizing separate dances for whites and blacks. However, this self-segregation is not an isolated issue; Bob Jones University in South Carolina only lifted its ban on interracial dating in 2000. Also in 2000, the high school in Coldwater, Mississippi, held separate votes for its black and white homecoming queens (Younge). Though these situations were all self imposed by blacks, self-segregation instances do shed light on an important critique in American social inequality. If blacks were made to feel equal with whites they would not self segregate themselves, and perhaps be more motivated to incorporate themselves into a higher social and economic status, on par with whites.

Thus we begin to uncover the psychology of the black individual, the fragmentation of power. DuBois refers to the “strange experience” as being “born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world… 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” (DuBois, 38). This fragmentation creates a sense of two selves, neither one recognized by whites. In a study connecting physical ailments with subtle racial prejudice, Rob Stein reported Sarah Person, a member of the study; to having said “It (racial prejudice) happens all the time. It’s part of day-to-day experiences, unfortunately. But you are never prepared for it, it makes you feel like you’re out of rhythm with the rest of the world, and like there’s no justice.” Blacks want what we all want, to better ourselves. They however, must first merge the double self into one truer self, recognized by all of America. Unfortunately, this decision to change cannot be made by blacks alone. DuBois called out to Americans all across the nation to “make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed rough in his face” (DuBois, 39).

The doors of Opportunity, unfortunately, have not been completely opened to blacks, even since DuBois’s call for justice in 1903. Though advancements have been made in black education efforts, social welfare and sports, America has really not developed as well or as quickly as the “greatest nation on earth” should have. White America fails to recognize many important black attributes. For example, in the 1996 Olympics, “European squads’ fantasies of gold were being crushed by a U.S. Dream Team of eleven West African-Americans and a lone white” (Sailer). However, we ignore those aspects of American society where equality is most important, such as equal employment opportunity and social equality.

One may argue that blacks are slowly rising to equality in these areas, for example, publicly important figure Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. However, only upon investigation of her role as Secretary of State can we truly understand her function as a false ethnic icon. Rice stands on a pedestal to be viewed by all American’s, blacks and whites. Her purpose is to portray blacks as rising in social and economic standing. According to The Black Commentator, blacks, historically excluded from high titles, have applauded every African American “first” as collective victory.

“This was a logical and correct response to the solid wall of white refusal to tolerate the presence of Black faces in high places. In such circumstances, which still prevail today in vast swaths of American society, individual advancement actually does represent a kind of collective triumph. The rule applies, even in areas of endeavor having little effect on the lives of Black people. Indeed, the more exclusively white the enclave or activity, the greater the shared victory once the color line is crossed” (The Black Commentator).

However, as one critic states, “Rice is the purest expression of the race traitor” (The Black Commentator). Many would say, according to DuBois, that she has “bleached her Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism”, supporting such anti-black opinions as the Bush party’s campaign against affirmative action. Though we are making progress, at what alarmingly slow rate is this progression continuing? Blacks are still the targets of economic and social prejudice in mainstream areas, such as the American judicial system.

The Federal Bureau of Justice revealed an alarming statistic; “Twenty percent of all black men born from 1965 through 1969 had served time in prison by the time they reached their early thirties. By comparison, less than 3 percent of white males born in the same time period had been in prison.” Being jailed in federal or state prisons has become so common today that more young black men in the United States have done time than have served in the military or earned a college degree. (Schwarz). Spending time in jail, or persecution by the law seems to be an everyday part of black lives. Is it that blacks are really dramatically more crime prone than whites? Or could the issue at hand be unequal treatment under the law?

This concept is so real and appropriate nowadays that the issue of unequal racial treatment under the law has even forced itself into contemporary music. Popular black rapper, Jay-Z, brings light on the subject in his song, 99 Problems. The song describes all of the problems a young black man faces, one being unequal race treatment. The song details the correspondence between a white police officer and the black male driver he has pulled over:

White officer: “Son do you know why I’m stoppin’ you for?”

Black man: “Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hats real low. Do I look like a mind reader, sir? I don’t know. Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo’?”

White officer: “Well you was doin fifty-five in a fifty-fo’. License and registration and step out of the car. Are you carryin’ a weapon on you, I know a lot of you are.” (Jay-Z)

Contrary to the common stereotype, there is no evidence to suggest blacks are simply more violent or prone to crime. They are perhaps, more motivated to commit profit crimes in order to rise in economic status. Therefore, there is a social and psychological reason behind these crimes. We, as Americans, then have a more complex dilemma to solve, establishing economic equality between blacks and whites. Thus, blacks would be less inclined to commit the two most frequent non-violent crimes in the United States, theft and drug possession with intent to sell (Federal Bureau of Justice). Then blacks can be further integrated into higher American society, enough to shed their double selves for a more concise, accurate and respected one.

Economic inequality is further evident where black wages are still lower than white wages. PhD. Professor of Sociology, David Newman states, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, that the average annual income for black households is $30,43, compared to $44,232 for whites. Black unemployment is also twice as high as that of whites and only 48% of blacks own their own homes compared to 74% of whites (Newman, 389). Though America has abolished such inequalities as slavery and forced segregation, Americans have not proved the wishful idea that after years of racial inequality, blacks and whites are finally equal in all aspects of law and society. The color-line problem has not been resolved, merely changed to show the economic and psychological aspects of black fragmentation and powerlessness, the new problem of the twenty-first century.

The problem of economic inequality is simply an expansion of the racial crisis. This powerlessness was horrifically made known to the rest of America after the crisis of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. Over a million people were displaced after the class five hurricane hit the city of New Orleans on August 29, 2005. The official death toll stands at 1,325, with 6,644 others unaccounted for, and 1,300 of them “feared dead” (Hurricane Katrina). The hurricane not only did irreplaceable damage to one of America’s great cities, it also devastated America’s progressing racial equality.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2004 New Orleans population to be 20% white and 68% black. Within the city itself, the poorest citizens tended to live in the lowest parts that are most vulnerable to flooding, most of these citizens being black. Vivid news video and photographs accurately showed primarily poor, black citizens stranded in New Orleans, without food, water or shelter. Furthering the racial conflict, specific derogatory language was later used in regard to predominately black citizens, referred to as “looters”. Looting usually means large-scale theft and pillaging, not the taking of necessities such as water, that some desperate people engaged in.

On September 2, while presenting the Concert for Hurricane Relief, music producer and rapper Kanye West openly said what so many black activists and political minds were thinking. He strayed from his script and addressed the racism of both the government and of the media, stating, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” He also asked the media to stop labeling African-American families as “looters” while white families were depicted as “looking for food” (Hurricane Katrina). Hurricane Katrina has opened many American minds to United States racial inequalities, including that of health.

Poverty, unemployment, and neglect all contribute to the health divide for the poorest black communities across the United States. However, the result is a racial health gap, which has endured and even grown, despite years of health development and overall economic growth. As we struggle to rebuild the damage of Katrina, the most destructive and natural disaster in the history of the United States, American, now more than ever, should analyze and speculate to create more racially equal communities. “It is even more important that we and others apply these lessons to help the many other individuals and communities who continue to languish out of the public eye” (Dickinson).

The root of under employed and under paid black Americans is unequal racial prejudice and discrimination. If blacks are not equal in racial standing how can they receive equal treatment, legally and socially? Therefore we have the altered, the veiled economic problem, of the twenty-first century. In The Souls of Black Folk, DuBois coins one of the most simple and descriptive terms in understanding the quintessential African American experience. He reveals that all African Americans are living in “the two worlds within and without the Veil”, a Veil of uncertainty that implies the white’s lack of clarity in seeing blacks as true Americans, deserving of every legal and social right they themselves posses (xxxi).

The veil also explains blacks’ lack of understanding as to how they see themselves, separate from white America and their stereotypes and assumptions. Even after racial advancements such as the Civil Rights Act, we have a new crisis that is not actually so different from the old one. Racial inequality has been veiled, though evident in so many aspects of everyday American life, to reveal economic inequality, the new racial problem of twenty-first century America.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emma. “A Virtual Katrina’ of Deaths Every Week in US Due to Racial Health Gap”. 20 Oct. 2005.

British Medical Journal. 5 Dec. 2005. <>

DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folks. Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Co., 1903.

“Hurricane Katrina”. Wikipedia. 6 Dec. 2005. < Hurricane_Katrina#Race_and_class_issues> Jay-Z. “99 Problems.” The Black Album. Rick Ruben., 2005.

Newman, David M. Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2004.

Sailer, Steve. “Great Black Hopes.” 12 Oct. 1996. National Review. 4 Dec. 2005. <>.

Schwarz, Joel. “More Young Black Men Have Done Prison Time than Military Service or Earned College Degree, Study Shows.” 20 May 2004. The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog. 4 Dec. 2005. <>.

Stein, Rob. “Study Links Discrimination, Blacks’ Health Stress From Persistent, Subtle Slights May Increase Heart Disease Risk in Women” Washington Post 1 May 2005. A17

The Black Commentator. “Condoleeza Rice: The Devil’s Handmaiden.” 4 Dec. 2005. <>.

The Federal Bureau of Justice. “Key Crime and Justice Facts at A Glance”. 13 Nov. 2005 . 5 Dec. 2005. <>.

Younge, Gary. “White-Only Proms: Dancing to an Old Southern Segregationist Tune.” Guardian Unlimited. 3 May 2003. Guardian Newspapers Limited. 10 Nov. 2005 < 0,,949782,00.html>.

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The Veil of Economic Inequality. (2018, May 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from
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