Must Know W.E.B. Du Bois Concepts on Social Stratification

(W.E.B. Du Bois )
W.E.B. Du Bois was an American sociologist who examined race issues and was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was founded in 1910. And though he discussed the oppression against all non-white people, most of his works are rooted in the African-American experience.

Du Bois is considered to be the first black sociologist and often attributed his accomplishments to having more opportunities than many other black people. This privilege led to him attending college at Frisk University, and then Harvard and then the University of Berlin for his Ph. D program.

At the start of his career, Du Bois was very optimistic that racial problems could end under the capitalistic system. But as time passed with little to no progress, he got frustrated and started to support the socialist movement. But as even more time went by with little progression, and him entering his old age, his views became more radical. This is when Du Bois started to support the communist movement as he was greatly impressed with the strides that the Soviet Union and China had made in obstructing inequality. In the tail end of his career, he joined the movement's party.

Here are his key findings on social stratification:

1) The Philadelphia Negro

a) Class and Caste

In Du Bois' scientific study of race, he found that there was a wide economic spectrum that blacks fell into. And through this finding, he was able to develop a class system, where he put blacks who were well respected and had enough income to live well into Grade 1. Grade 2 included blacks who were respectable working class people and had a steady income. People in Grade 3 were poor blacks who didn't have a steady income and enough to live well. And Grade 4 included blacks from the lowest class. They included criminals, prostitutes, and loafers (people who are lazy and avoid work).

With this knowledge, Du Bois believed that the better classes needed to recognize their duty and help out the lower class blacks rather than look down at them and ignore their fellow brothers and sisters.

"The better classes of the Negroes should recognize their duty toward the masses... toward lifting the rabble." (The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study)

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b) The Benevolent Despot (Benevolent Capitalist)

At the time of the development of this concept, Du Bois was still optimistic that society's racial problems could be fixed under capitalism and with white people. He believed that racial inequality for blacks existed because there was no one preventing them from losing all the knowledge and skills that they had learned and that there was no one encouraging them to go out and learn more. He says that the benevolent despot probably did offer to help by teaching the black community new skills and educating people on discrimination, but there was no one there afterward to do follow-ups.

"No benevolent despot, no philanthropist, no far-seeing captain of industry to prevent the Negro from losing even the skill he had learned or to inspire him by opportunities to learn more." (The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study)

However, he also pointed his finger at blacks for their oppression as well. Du Bois basically believed that blacks had to have self-responsibility and hold themselves accountable for their mistakes, instead of just blaming others.

"The main movement of reform must come from the Negroes themselves, and should start with a crusade for fresh air, cleanliness, healthfully located homes and proper food." (The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study)

But, as mentioned earlier, Du Bois lost his faith in capitalism and joined the Communist Party. He went as far as blaming the Northern capitalists for taking over industries in the south and not having a heart for people -- just capital gains.

"...there is in these new captains of industry neither love nor hate, neither sympathy nor romance; it is a cold question of dollars and dividends." (The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study)

2) Economics

In his debates and discussions on inequality, Du Bois always circles back to the connection between race and economics, as he saw that these two cannot be untied. He noticed there was a flaw in White America, and that if this flaw were to infect the black community, it would destroy them. This flaw was White America's obsession with material things and economic growth. He believed that there was more to life, and wanted black people to recognize this via getting a higher education because this would allow them to want and achieve greater goals in their life.

"The main weakness of the Negro's position is that since emancipation he has never had an adequate economic foundation." (Black Reconstruction in America:1860-1880)

Du Bois is definitely a pioneer in seeing the connection between race and economics and knowing that the only solution to curing racial problems is to repair the economic system. This is a belief that many intellects agree with, but I'm interested in knowing what your thoughts are on this? Share them in the comments.

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