The United States of America, since its commencement, has been a “melting pot” of different nationalities. While the term melting pot sounds forthcoming, this is not the case in reality. Many times cultures collide due their differences in ideology, culture, and geographical proximity. Such culture clashes have marked the history of the United States. Race is usually thought of in the physical sense with difference in skin color, hair, facial features, and language. Although race usually follows along physical lines, it is much more far reaching and extends into the social and cultural beliefs.
In the past, the dominant trend was to keep these beliefs separate, consequently increasing the feeling of racial unity and racism in society. History has shown us that man has used segregation as a method of not only keeping the peace, but also of keeping the purity of a race in tact. In 1897, an address to the Negro Academy entitled “The Conservation of Races,” W. E. B. Dubois states: “The question, then which we must seriously consider is this: What is the real meaning of Race; what has, in the past, been the law of race development, and what lessons has the past history of race development to teach the rising Negro people?
I thought the caliber of Dubois’ intelligence and boldness to ask the question was compelling. Throughout this essay I will explore and illustrate how Dubois comes to answer the questions, which he asked his audience. I found it easier to dissect the complex question into three separate questions.
First I will illustrate how Dubois defines race. Then I will pinpoint where the basis of the law of race development is formulated. Finally, he answers the question; what can lessons of past history of race development teach the rising Negro? W. E.
B Dubois writes that he believes that the conservation of races is the cornerstone of keeping the Negro race pure and intact. Thus, for him, race preservation is not backed only with racial motives, but to help society better itself as a whole. The history of the world is outlined by the histories’ of different groups and races. He states, “If it be true the history of the world is the history, not of individuals, but of groups, not of nations, but of races, and he who ignores or seeks to override the race idea in human history ignores and overrides the central thought of history (pg.142).
In “The Conservation of Races” Dubois stresses the importance of surveying the whole question of race. He criticizes a biological account of race. He claims that such an account is inadequate because it fails to explain both the wide variety of physical traits within a race and the physical likenesses shared by all humans. For example he states, “Many criteria of race differences have in the past been proposed, as color, hair, cranial measurements and language. And manifestly in each of these respects differ widely (pg 142)”.
Instead, Du Bois proposes a definition of race based on sociohistorical criteria that emphasized cultural and political loyalty. He defines race as: a vast family of human beings, generally of common blood and language, always of common history, traditions and impulses, who are both voluntarily and involuntarily striving together for the accomplishment of certain more or less vividly conceived ideals of life (pg. 142). I would have to agree with Dubois that race is a combination of language, traditions, color, impulses, common blood and ideals of life. This is extremely evident in the anatomy of the world.
You can have people who are physically, spiritually, politically, socially, etc. very different be members of the same race. “Although the wonderful developments of human history teach that the grosser physical differences of color, hair and bone go but a short way towards explaining the different roles which groups of men has played in Human Progress, yet there are differences- subtle, delicate, and elusive, though they may be – which have silently but definitely separated men into groups” (pg 142). Here Du Bois suggest an ideal of the law of race development.
He further adds, “At all times, however, they have divided human beings into races, which, while they perhaps transcend scientific definition nerveless, are clearly defined to the eye of the Historian and Sociologist” (pg. 142). I think and maybe Du Bois would agree that the idea of race is an outdated, invalid scientific concept used to categorize individuals and validate who is superior or inferior. As discussed in class I don‘t think racism will ever cease to exist, because the ideal of race is far too prevalent from individuals of all sizes, shapes, and colors. And focusing on the illusion of race will never solve the problem of racism.
The only way to stop racism is to end the classification of individuals based on meaningless physical characteristics as a whole and celebrate diversity. Finally, he answers the third part to his complex what can the lessons of past laws of racial development teach rising Negro people. By answering this question he attempts to motivate African Americans to create a recognizable culture and make a difference in the world. He believed that African Americans had potential. He thought that in order eliminate the problems African Americans were facing the focus must first be on boosting the African American culture.
He states, “As such, it is our duty to conserve our physical powers, our intellectual endowments, our spiritual ideals; as a race we must strive by race organization, by race solidarity, by race unity to the realization of the broader humanity which freely recognizes differences in men, but sternly deprecates inequality in their opportunities of development” (pg. 145). Dubois also saw the need for one main intellectual entity, a Negro Academy. Dubois eloquently stated, “… for all these products of the Negro mind, which we may call a Negro Academy.
Not only is all this necessary for positive advancements, it is absolutely imperative for negative defense” (pg. 145). He also notes that the African race has not yet been able to share its message. He sates, “For the development of Negro genius, of Negro literature and art, of Negro spirit … Negroes inspired by the vast ideal, can work out in its fullness the great message of humanity” (pg. 144). In closing, races embody within themselves the answers modern society’s problems. However, a better description of the status of the Negro message would be a work in progress.