W.E.B. Du Bois - SOC 331: Foundations of Sociological Theory

 Raised by single mother who worked
as a domestic, was 1st black graduate
of his Massachusetts high school
Attended Fisk University, was 1st
African American PhD from Harvard
Studied at University of Berlin, lived
in Europe for 2 years
Taught at Atlanta University 1897-1910
A political activist: founded Niagara
Movement, which evolved into
NAACP, founded the journal, Crisis
Supported the Pan-African
movement and Communist Party,
renounced US citizenship in 1963
Empirical studies of social conditions of African
Americans (e.g., The Philadelphia Negro)
2) Interpretive essays informed by historical research,
personal experience and observation that emphasized
the subjective experience and sources of inequality (e.g.,
Souls of Black Folk)
3) Political essays advocating Pan-Africanist and socialist
solutions to inequality (e.g., Color and Democracy)
 Perhaps first social theorist to problematize the global
racial order and to understand the economic as well as
racial dimensions of the European colonization of
Africa, Asia, and Latin America
 Color line is multidimensional, manifesting as:
 “racialized social institutions” (e.g., Jim Crow laws)
 “symbolic status hierarchy”
 “internalized attitude”
[See Fig. 7.2, p. 337.]
Color line
(internalized attitude)
Color line
(symbolic status hierarchy)
Color line
(racialized social institutions)
 1st major sociological study of an African American
community published in US
 Used statistical and ethnographic data from some 5,000
surveys and interviews to understand the “social condition
of the Colored People of the 7th Ward of Philadelphia”
 Gathered demographic data (on size, age, and sex of black
residents) as well as data on family, marriage,
education/illiteracy, housing, occupations, and
institutions, most importantly, the Black church
 “The Negro Problems of Philadelphia” – we must look at
social conditions to understand
 Slums are a symptom, not the cause
 Du Bois developed a typology of 4 economic classes:
1) The well-to-do, the “aristocracy of the Negroes”
Caterers, clerks, teachers, professional men, small merchants, etc.
The decent hard workers who were doing well
The “worthy poor,” barely making ends meet
The “submerged tenth,” beneath the level of
socioeconomic viability
 “Colortocracy” placed light-skinned blacks, considered the
“Talented Tenth,” on top
 But “Here too are social problems – differing from those of the
whites of a corresponding grade, because of the peculiar social
environment in which the whole race finds itself, which the
whole race feels, but which touches this highest class at most
points and tells upon them most decisively.” (342)
 “[i]ndividual members of the colortocracy at times developed
a notorious but distinctive racial complex involving an
ideology that set them apart from those they viewed as their
inferiors. They would take excessive pride in their “white”
features, including light skin, thin noses and lips, and “good”
hair. Often “colorstruck,” they mimicked and voiced the antiblack prejudices of whites, whose fears, concerns, and values
they understood and partly shared” (336)
 Recalls symbolic schemas of Durkheim, status system of
Weber, ideology in Marx’s theory
 There are other unassimilated groups, but segregation
more conspicuous with blacks, more deeply rooted,
overlapping to greater degree with poverty, ignorance,
crime, and unemployment
 To understand the problems, we must situate the
group in its physical and social environment – “the
surrounding world of custom, wish, whim, and
thought which envelops this group” (341)
 “In the Negro’s mind, color prejudice in Philadelphia is
that widespread feeling of dislike for his blood, which
keeps him and his children out of decent employment,
from certain public conveniences and amusements,
from [renting] houses in many sections, and in
general, from being recognized as a man.”
 “On the other hand, most white people are quite
unconscious of any such powerful and vindictive
 Reality is between the extreme views: color prejudice
does not fully explain the “Negro problems” but it’s
more powerful than most people think
Getting work
Keeping work
Entering new lines of work
Spending money (expenditure)
Rearing children
Social intercourse
The result: “when one group of people suffer these little
differences of treatment and discriminations and insults
continually, the result is either discouragement, or
bitterness, or over-sensitiveness, or recklessness. And a
people feeling they cannot do their best.”

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