20. Pan-Africanism (2): Understanding WEB Du Bois

Reviewer: Ahmet Sait Akçay
Review Publisher: Independent Türkçe
Author: Adekeye Adebajo (eds.)
Date: 26 March 2021

In my previous article, I briefly mentioned the importance of re -emerging Pan-Africanism.

Assuming that Africanism is still marginalized today, we should read the discussion of Pan-African thought and the redefinition of the historical process as a reaction to the one-dimensional reception of global modernity.

That is why The Pan-African Pantheon: Prophets, Poets, Philosophers opens up a new field of discussion in terms of the points it draws attention to and revises.  Although Edward Wilmot Blyden, who is known as one of the pioneers of Pan-Africanism, was influential in the next generations with his works, he was the defender of the “civilising mission” that the West systematically applied to discipline and control the blacks , and moreover, King Leopold, known as the Congo Conqueror , ignoring the brutality of Congo in Congo, calling him a humanitarian and benevolent, and even defending the sharing of Africa in the name of civilization shows the blindness in his view.

Adekeye Adebajo , editor of the Pan-African Pantheon, describes the transatlantic slave trade as “Europe’s original sin against Africa

Stating that the aforementioned study enables the reproduction of Pan-Africanism thought on a global level today, Adebajo states that the release of the book as a timing also responds to the efforts demanding the liberation of universities from the colonialist thought.

Blyden’s civilizational outlook made it impossible for him to read the serencam of slavery.

If we take a look at the poem “On Brought to America from Africa” , which she wrote as a slave when she was fourteen years old , the founder of African-American literature, female poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) ; we can read the poem as an ironic approach to the “practice of dehumanizing blacks” of slavery that has wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of people for centuries :

It was mercy that brought me here from the land of Pagan,
Taught my soul in darkness to understand
that there is a God and a Savior;
Once upon a time, I neither knew nor saw penance.
Some despise our dark skin,
‘Their color is the devil’s paint.’
Remember, the Christians, as black as Cain,
attain the Emancipation and enter the realm of the angels.

This poem not only reflects Wheatley’s ambivalent attitude, but also shows the tragicness of the historical and ideological burden on his back.

In the real sense, the founder of Pan-African thought, even the name referred to as the “prophet” is WEB Du Bois.

As a philosopher, Du Bois has been an active actor as well as a crucial pioneer in the political and cultural transformation of blacks.

Du Bois said at the first Pan-African congress in 1900:

The issue of the twentieth century is racism.

This determination, based on the background of the Blacks and the experience of struggle of that day, reflects Du Bois’s profound foresight.

1903 published by the Black People’s Souls (The Souls of Black Folk) books in the “About Our Spiritual Effort” font in the blackness and black identity açımlark the “double consciousness” (Double Consciousness) concept suggests.

Du Bois, who reconstructs the black self on a metaphorical mirror plane, detects that two consciousnesses meet in this mirror.

Based on his own experience, he senses that blackness prevents merging with white as a “veil” and never lifts the veil.

He sees skin color as a part of destiny and invokes:

Why did God make me a pariah, strange in my own house?

After Egyptians and Indians, Greeks and Romans, Germans and Mongols, Blacks represent a kind of “seventh son,” veiled in the land of America and having a second sight , says Du Bois.

The land of his birth deprived him of an authentic self-consciousness, but only granted him to see himself in the revelation of the other world.

According to Du Bois, this is a special feeling, this dual consciousness, this sense of constantly seeing oneself in someone else’s eyes, weighing their soul on the scales of a self-deprecating gaze is characteristic of blacks.

One always feels this duality – an American, a Black; two souls, two thoughts, two irreconcilable struggles; A black body that, with its stubborn resistance, can hold together the two opposing ideals it carries.

The skin color always creates a noticeable distinction, the black soul always contains this confusion.

According to Du Bois, this duality not only creates alienation but also shows capacity.

The concept of “dual consciousness” recommends reading blackness as a consciousness that is “observed” , always ready to be noticed, in the shadow of white racism .

We are talking about a black consciousness that judges even itself by the look of another.

In fact, with this determination, Du Bois creates an opportunity to live, a space. Du Bois aspires to be a black person with both selves.

The struggle of the black self will not end unless it is both black and American.

While Du Bois suggested the possibility of living together in America, another pan-Africanist Jamaican black thinker, Marcus Garvey, called for a “return to Africa” :

Wherever I go, be it England, France or Germany, I am told ‘This is the white man’s country’. Wherever I go in the United States, I’m convinced I’m a ‘nigger’. If the British declare England and the French France their homeland, it means that the time has come for four hundred million blacks to see Africa as their homeland.

According to Garvey, Africa belongs to Africans and he did not believe that any integration was possible.

Du Bois, also a sociologist, deconstructs the concept of the “black race” from an essentialist approach, showing how it is historically and socially constructed identity independent of physical category.

Aldon D. Morris says that Du Bois claims that “race is oppressed not on the basis of biological criteria, but by man-made racial hierarchies created to consolidate human dominance .”

Therefore , Du Bois, who says that race is “social construction” , also opposes the essentialist racial categories produced by the colonial mentality, or more precisely by Western thought, in the name of being scientific.

Du Bois is one of the rare philosophers whose influence still continues in African thought. When Ghana declared its independence, he came to Ghana at the invitation of its first president, Kwame Nkrumah , and served as his advisor.

Du Bois, whom Nkrumah refers to as “a friend and father” , spent the last days of his life in Ghana .

Having set foot in Independent Ghana in October 1961, Du Bois stated:

I have returned so that my dust may be mixed with the dust of my ancestors. I don’t have much time to live. Now my life will flow in the young and dynamic river of life of Ghana, which carries the African personality among the people. And I will not have lived in vain.

Let me also point out: Du Bois and Nkrumah played an important role in the liberation of Africa from colonialism.

Du Bois is one of the rare philosophers who ensured the centralization of African thought, even after a century.

*Ideas contained in this article belong to the author and may not reflect the editorial policy of Independent Turkish.

Ahmet Sait Akçay Comparative Literary | African Studies, Colonialism, Postcolonialism, wrote for Independent Turkish.