Du Bois’ Journey From Racist to Anti-Racist
Befriending people different than ourselves can transform us
Born in 1868, W.E. B. Du Bois was one of the most prominent post-slavery civil rights activists in the history of America.
Among his many achievements was his cofounding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which led countless efforts to combat racism in virtually all aspects of life, from antilynching advocacy to desegregating schools.
But what most people don’t know is that earlier in his life, Du Bois suffered from the same disease of xenophobia he claimed to be fighting.
Du Bois was a bigot.
In the late 1800s, Du Bois wrote that he knew of the horrific pogroms against Jews in Russia, but really had no sympathy for them. In case you don’t know what pogroms are, that’s when Russians on many occasions organized massacres of Jews.
In 1903, Du Bois claimed that Russian Jewish immigrants in the American South were to blame for “squeezing blood from debt-cursed [Black] tenants.”
Forget that Du Bois was factually wrong about who was primarily responsible in the South for harming Black renters. It’s classic bigotry to call out someone’s ethnicity or race in connection with harm certain individuals may have done.
In the same vein, it’s racist to even insinuate that Black people are to blame for what some Black individuals may have done. It’s Islamophobic to blame all Muslims for the acts of extremists. And it’s anti-Semitic to bring someone’s Jewish identity into the mix just because you don’t like what individual people have done.
Being Black doesn’t cause someone to do bad things. Being Muslim doesn’t cause someone to be violent. And being Jewish doesn’t cause someone to harm others. If anything, these unique experiences and identities of each group have the capacity to teach more good than harm.
Then something dramatic happened to Du Bois.
He began working alongside Rabbi Stephen Wise, Lillian Wald, Joel Springarn and Henry Moskowtiz in forming the NAACP.
These Jews, along with exceptional Black men and women like Du Bois, were…