During the early part of the 20th century, history offers the opportunity of witnessing an exchange that is all too often unfamiliar in today’s society; a substantive ongoing debate regarding the progress of the African American population. The two main contributors, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and Mr. Booker T. Washington, were recognized for their common interest in the overall well-being and advancement of African Americans. Unlike many of our contemporary voices of influence within the African American community, they were also bound by the common thread of publicly expressing their own ideologies and criticisms. Despite the fact that they both recognized the plight of African Americans during the post-civil war time period, they were both willing to engage in the process of stimulating dialogue and critical thought through the medium of expressing disagreement.
Points of contention
In regards to the progress and equality of African Americans, both men expressed different methods of securing achievement. In light of education, Washington believed that industrial education was essential for advancement. Du Bois argued that African Americans should not be exclusively exposed and relegated to industrial education. They should assert themselves by insisting upon opportunities of expanding their intellectual capabilities through higher education. Washington also embraced the subservient practices of passivity and submission in relation to civil and political rights. To the contrary, Du Bois endorsed the approach that African Americans should take systemic and collective steps in securing their own civil and political rights.
In light of such, I am often disturbed as to why individuals of influence within the African American community often fail to express opposing views in a public manner. It is almost as if they are overly concerned about the possibility of offending others, not realizing that they are literally reinforcing the stereotype that African Americans are unable to engage in independent thought.
While attempting to gain an administrative position within a public school system in Washington D.C., Du Bois was denied due to his ideological beliefs which were perceived as a threat to the status quo. At this point, the majority of Caucasian citizens in the North and South embraced the subservient and non-threatening ideas embraced by Booker T. Washington. In hindsight, the denial of opportunity for Du Bois seems unfortunate based upon the following attributes:
1) Dr. Du Bois had earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University. In fact, he was the first African American to experience such an achievement.
2) Dr. Du Bois was willing to use his talents in the pursuit of providing advocacy for African Americans. He was not content with the mere idea of resting upon his laurels. He believed that he was obligated to challenge others to pursue their own freedom through education.
3) Dr. Du Bois had embraced (and expressed) a controversial philosophy of self assertion in relation to progress and influence. Thus, he was willing to offer and endure criticism for what he believed to be important for the advancement of those who were less fortunate than himself.
A blessing in disguise
Interestingly, this denial of opportunity led to the Niagara movement and the formation of the NAACP; which established an impetus that led to protests, civil rights legislation, and affirmative action programs. Inevitably, the denial of opportunity for Dr. Du Bois catapulted his efforts to affect the progress of individuals throughout the nation and the world. In fact, many of the social movements that exist today model their respective strategies and attribute their achievements to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
As fathers, let’s defy the media-based stereotypes associated with African American progress. Intellectualism is not an attempt to act white, it is an attempt to act right. Criticism is not synonymous with disloyalty; it is the mark of integrity, serious inquiry, and moral development. Finally, consider adopting a grateful disposition in relation to instances where controversy and denial are experienced. Ultimately, these seemingly unfortunate experiences might be an indication of greater opportunities of influence and progress in the days ahead.