W.E.B. Du Bois vs Barrack Obama

Last year for Black History month I wrote a post that was a bit more entertainment related, but promised I would do something serious later.

Now is later (whut?).  Anyway…

W.E.B. Du Bois was born shortly after the Civil War to free Blacks and for the times, lived a fairly integrated middle class life in Massachusetts.  Needless to say, going to an integrated school and playing with white friends growing up wasn’t common for young Black kids at the time.  He coined the term “talented tenth” and was a very early voice in pushing for full integration and equal rights.  Naturally enough, things didn’t work out for him and became a socialist and moved to Ghana.

But before that he, as someone who was about as “privileged” as an African American could be at that time, fully accepted the culture he was raised and educated in; a Western one.

I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of [the] stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. 

-W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk

Du Bois clearly saw himself as a Western man.  He had a BA in History from Harvard, did post graduate work at the University of Berlin where he traveled Europe extensively, an returned to the US to get a PhD from Harvard.  He saw no incompatibility between being a Black man and embracing the Western canon.

Compare that to another prominent and privileged African American who many decades later, came to a different conclusion.

For three weeks I had traveled alone, down one side of the continent and up the other, by bus and by train mostly, a guidebook in hand. I took tea by the Thames and watched children chase each other through the chestnut groves of Luxembourg Garden. I crossed the Plaza Mejor at high noon, with its De Chirico shadows and sparrows swirling across cobalt skies; and watched night fall over the Palatine, waiting for the first stars to appear, listening to the wind and its whispers of mortality.

And by the end of the first week or so, I realized that I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t that Europe wasn’t beautiful; everything was just as I’d imagined it. It just wasn’t mine.

-Barrack Obama, Dreams From My Father 1995

Class, compare and contrast the differing views of Western culture by two prominent African Americans.  Du Bois, who spent his adult life during probably the most racist period in American history, regarded himself as part of Western civilization.  While Obama, who spent his adult life in an America in which Du Bois’ wildest dreams had been realized, saw himself as an outsider to Western Civilization.

What to make of this?

First of all, in 2021, is there even a single African American public intellectual who would say, “I sit with Shakespeare?”  Is there one who would say, “I summon Aristotle and Aurelius?”

I would say that’s unlikely.

I’ve always felt that the Western canon was open to all races if they chose to accept it.  That doesn’t seem to the trend however.  As noted in The New York Times Magazine, Princeton classicist Dan-el Padilla Peralta, wants to cancel the classics because “Systemic racism is foundational to those institutions that incubate classics and classics as a field itself.” 

This idea of burning down the idea of Western culture doesn’t even make sense in its own terms.  It’s not like African-American scholars are rushing off to Africa to sup at the table of African language, history, art, or culture.  No, they want their own victimization studies that do nothing but demonize what is actually their very own culture.

None of this is sustainable, and it gets loonier as time goes on.

Syria Backtrack

I was as shocked as anyone that President Obama did an about face on firing his phallic symbol-like missiles in Assad’s general direction.  Although I had previously called the administration amateurish, they managed to redefine the word amateur down.

First we’re going to attack, then we’re going to get Congressional approval, but don’t worry, that doesn’t matter, since Obama states he still has the authority to attack anyway, and will, regardless of the vote.

Huh?

Although there are conspiracy theories that the rebels, not the Assad government, actually used chemical weapons as a false flag to trick the US into intervening, I prefer to consider such theories ridiculous until proven otherwise.   As far as figuring out a position on what to do in Syria, I’m just taking the administration’s word that the intelligence is good, and that Assad is the culprit.

However that doesn’t give guidance on how the US should react.

I would really like to support the President in this.  Politics stops at the water’s edge and all that’ however Obama has managed to make it as difficult as possible to support a policy in which the publically stated goals are to accomplish nothing.  They’re not to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons, cripple the regime, or do anything of any military significance. It’s a military mission with no military objectives, and frankly, not even political ones.

Syria isn’t a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, so in a technical sense, they didn’t actually violate “International law.”  The administration is well aware of that since they use terminology “International Norms,” which means things that the international community, such as it is, doesn’t like.  Although no one in the international community feels their norms were violated enough to actually do something about it.

Obama should have just fired his missiles last week without all of the foreplay and advanced warning.  We would have already been on to another issue by now with the feeling that we had sort of accomplished something.  Instead, there was the desperate pleading for international support, an embarrassing House of Commons vote, and now an upcoming Congressional vote that’s likely to be even more embarrassing.

And how will Congress vote?  Very unconventionally apparently.  Noted warmonger Rep. Nancy Pelosi, after wresting with the issue with her 5 year old grandson, is on board to attack Syria. And John McCain, between Smartphone games of poker, is always up for another bombing.  How will the rest of the Congress vote?  It’s not as easy to predict.  Although I can guess how a certain young Illinois lawmaker would have voted:

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now let me be clear–I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied U.N. resolutions, thwarted U.N. inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

But the 2002 edition of Barrack Obama was quite a bit different from the current model.

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