Dubois and His Critics: My Intervention
Race is one of the most controversial concepts in today’s society. At present, there is no clear definition or explanation of race. To this day, it is unclear as to whether or not it is possible to characterize and classify racial groups. The concept of race is always defined in terms of the physical and/or biological factors such as skin color. The initial classification by skin color continues to be a problem in classifying race. Humans need a shared knowledge regarding the empirical and socially appropriate identification of persons into groups in order to have a “just” social structure. W.E.B Dubois offers such an explanation that could help categorize race based on the spiritual or human constructed characteristics. “Race, then would be understood as a cluster concept which draws together under a single word references of biological, cultural, and geological factors thought characteristics of a population” (Outlaw, 20). The previous statement states that race cannot be defined purely with the biological/physical factors; the spiritual factor, which includes culture, history, must be taken into account. In fact, Dubois reasons that physical factors of race are intermingled with the spiritual factors because the definition of race can never be simply given. The focus of this paper will be an argument in favor of Dubois’s following explanation of race, “what, then is race? It is a vast family of human beings, generally of common blood, language, always of common history, traditions and impulses, who are both voluntarily and involuntarily striving together for the accomplishment of certain more and less vividly conceived ideals of life” (Dubois, 230). This paper argues that Dubois does not simply attempt to transcend the nineteenth-century scientific definition of race; in fact, he attempts to explain race. On the other hand, several critics argue that Dubois is attempting to transcend the biological definition of race. Dubois refers to these criteria as the spiritual factors. In order to understand the origin of these arguments, a brief background on “The Conservation of Races” is provided below. In the essay, “The Conservation of Races,” Dubois discusses the belief that American Negroes have in unequal opportunities among the races. Dubois infers that unequal opportunities among races create significant issues. For instance, there will be a lack of unity among the Negro race, and the Negro race as an institutionalized structure will face oppression from economically driven outside structures. Dubois goes on to analyze race from two particular criteria: spiritual and physical factors. In addition, Dubois supports his claims with a level of theoretical hesitation. This theoretical hesitation is evident in the wording of the supporting data for his propositions and/or claims. The essay deduces that physical factors can help define race. Dubois approaches the first criteria of race, physical factor, by collecting scientific data. Dubois writes that scientific studies points to intermingling of races (Dubois, 229). The data and words choices of Dubois infer that the physical factors are based on only the observational characteristics of race such as color, hair, cranial measurements and language (Dubois, 229). Dubois goes on to say that the evolution of the human does not correlate well with physical racial differences. However, Dubois says that society still uses “subtle” (Dubois, 230) differences to categorize the races. Dubois mentions that using these differences transcends scientific laws. Once again these opposing thoughts and concepts are proof of the Dubois’s theoretical hesitation. Dubois informs his audience that physical differences, although commonly used, are not enough to divide the races into particular groups. “…yet no mere physical distinctions would really define or explain the deeper differences—the cohesiveness and continuity of these groups. The deeper...
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