“The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois
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In chapter one of The Souls of Black Folk, written by W.E.B. Du Bois, the point is the Negro is born with a veil that separates him from the world of White people. This world only allows the Negro to believe that he is less than or unequal to White people because he can only see himself through the revelation of the White world, which believes they are better than him. The veil shuts the Negro out from the White world.
In the first chapter of The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois discusses the strange experience of the Negro being a problem. Du Bois discussed a childhood experience about how being different from other children in his class made it evident to him that he was a problem because he was different. He realized that he was blocked from their world by a veil. In chapter 1, Du Bois also discusses double consciousness, which means always looking at you through the eyes of people other than yourself. In addition, Du Bois wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without the association of negativity. Also, he explains that the nation wants Black people to be content with being servants; therefore, Black people are still seeking freedom. According to Du Bois Negroes are working toward human brotherhood, through the ideal of race.
In this chapter Du Bois focuses on the veil, which he says every American is born with. This veil acts as a separation of the Negro from the White world. It separates the Negro from many opportunities afforded to White people. Moreover, the veil acts as a point of difference. The point of difference is a symbol that the person behind the veil is different from everyone who is not behind the veil. Because a veil covers and hides the person behind it, that person can only be seen through the veil. Therefore, a person without a veil, looking at someone with a veil, will look at the person with the veil and see someone who is different from them because the veil creates a different appearance for the person who is behind it. Thus, the veil is a point of difference.
Du Bois focuses on the veil to show why the Negro views himself as being unequal to the White world. This feeling comes from a suboptimal world view, which is a fragmented, non-cohesive, non-coherent worldview. In addition this feeling is stirred by a dichotomous logic, which means using external criteria to determine your self-worth. These external criteria include, but are not limited to: skin color; gender; and a family history of material wealth. When the Negro uses this comparison method he will always feel that he is less than White people. He will feel this way because these external criteria are viewed by White people as the requirements for being somebody worth having a positive interaction with.
This is the White worlds’ requirement not the Negroes’; therefore, he is unequal because the scale is not his own and is not fit for him. Du Bois writes, “…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” (Du Bois, 11), illustrating how the Negro comes to the conclusion that he is unequal to the White world. He is not unequal based upon his intelligence and ability, but because his basis for being unequal is a comparison with a culture that is not his own and wishes to degrade him and keep him down. Moreover, the Negro views himself as unequal to the White world because he has been shut out from it.
The veil shuts the Negro out of the White world. Because the Negro is shut out from the White world, he is made to feel unequal to the this world. He has no choice. When someone is shut out from a place this means that they do not belong there, usually because they do not fit in with the demeanor of that place; therefore, they cannot enter. In addition they do not have any say in the matter. So, the Negro does not fit into the demeanor of the White world. Because he is different he does not belong there. Although difference does not equate to being unequal, in the context of Du Bois’ writing he shows that being shut out is a reflection of being unequal. Du Bois writes, “The exchange was merry, till one girl, newcomer, refused my card,-refused it peremptorily with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others…shut out from their world by a vast veil” (Du Bois, 10). Because the girl refused his card peremptorily, which means marked by arrogant self assurance, shows that she viewed him as less than her.
When someone is arrogant and self assured they view themselves as better than those who are not arrogant and self assured. So, this girl viewed herself as someone who was better than Du Bois. In addition, Du Bois explains in this chapter that at this time he was going to school with White children; therefore, this particular girl was White. The fact that this White girl refused Du Bois’, a Black boys’, visiting card with arrogance and self assurance further shows that she felt that she was too good to except his card; therefore, believing she was better than him. This act of showing that she was better led Du Bois into feeling shut out from her world. As a child you feel that one person represents a group of people. So, because Du Bois felt shut out from her world, he felt shut out from the White world because she was White.
This connects the feeling of being shut out to the feeling of being less than and unequal to the White world. The veil, which acts as a separation between the Negro and the White world, is used to shut the Negro out. In other words, the veil creates differences that allow White people, such as this little girl to cause the Negro to feel unequal to them. Without this difference, which is the veil, there would be no opportunity for any Race to feel superior or inferior to the other because there would be no point of difference. Because the veil makes the difference of being Negro evident, it shuts the Negro out of the White world causing him to be viewed as less than by the people in the White world. However, he is viewed this way both by White people and himself. The Negro, unlike White people, was born with the capacity of one choice, to view himself through this veil.
The Negro was born with a veil; therefore, he has no other option than to live as a person shut out from the White world. Du Bois writes, “After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil…” (DuBois, 10). This shows that a Negro at birth already has this veil, the point of his differences that cause him to be shut out and viewed as unequal to the White world. When you are born with something it stays with you forever, unless a tragedy occurs. For example, I was born as a human being with eyes and I will be a human being and I will have these same eyes for the rest of my life. The Negro was born as a Negro with a veil and he will be a Negro and have that veil for the rest of his life. He cannot get rid of it because it is a part of what he is, a Negro.
In closing, Du Bois focuses on the veil in chapter one to show the world why the Negro has been looked at as different and to show how the Negro has been shut out from the White world. It is the veil that makes the differences of the Negro evident. In addition, it is the veil that shuts the Negro out from the White world. Moreover, showing the world the veil and its significance is a building block for a better understanding of the Negro and his struggle.