“Roll, Jordan, Roll”: A Critique of Slavery and a Story of Hope

The spiritual “Roll, Jordan, Roll” is one of the most well-known of the “sorrow songs”. W.E.B. Du Bois coined the term “sorrow songs” in his 1903 publication, The Souls of Black Folk, as a name for the songs sung by the African-American slaves in the Southern states. Throughout the book, each chapter begins with an excerpt from a work of Western literature and then two bars from an untitled slave song. In the final chapter, aptly titled “The Sorrow Songs”, Du Bois explains why he included the songs: Continue reading ““Roll, Jordan, Roll”: A Critique of Slavery and a Story of Hope”

The “Dream”: A Critical Concept in Between the World and Me

This was originally a formal paper but has been modified into a blog post.

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Everyone dreams, but one individual’s dream may be another’s nightmare. Ta-Nehisi Coates references a “Dream” with this duality in his 2015 memoir Between the World and Me. The memoir is an extended letter to his adolescent son Samori about growing up black in America today. Coates’s Dream is essentially his notion of race relations in America, but it is not a static idea because it evolves as Coates grows up in the ghetto of Baltimore. The Dream is imperative for Samori to understand because it is the reason for his inherent struggle as a black boy in America. Coates does not protect him from this struggle though, because he believes it will bring him closer to the “meaning of life.” Coates’s Dream is elucidated by the conventional American Dream because the early notion of the Dream was a mirror image of it, but soon became a façade of the racial dynamic in America just as the American Dream was realized to be founded in white privilege. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’ “I Have a Dream” speech complicates Coates’s Dream because King’s dream is optimistic while Coates’s is pessimistic. Although the Dream in Between the World and Me proved to be a dynamic notion of race in contemporary American society that evolves as Coates grows up, he came to realize the racial divisions are not likely to change and that his son must be aware of the inherent struggle he will face, as a black man, if he hopes to live a meaningful life.

Continue reading “The “Dream”: A Critical Concept in Between the World and Me”

The Fight for Equality: Du Bois and Woolf

 

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W.E.B. Du Bois and Virginia Woolf each wrote as proponents for equality of their respective groups, black men and women. Despite this similarity, their approaches differed immensely. W.E.B. Du Bois’ literary works were written in a manner meant to appeal to the entirety of his audience, which included both intellectuals (mostly white) and common people (mostly black). As a graduate of Fisk University, as well as Harvard University, Du Bois was versed in Western literature and was thus able to effectively appeal to intellectuals. However, in one of his most influential works The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois combines his traditional Western prose with stanzas from traditional black spirituals. This convergence of the intellectual white with the oppressed black echoed Du Bois’ political goals of educating the recently freed black men, evident in the following passage.

“The foundation of knowledge in this race, as in others, must be sunk deep in the college and university is we would build a solid, permanent structure…We shall hardly induce black men to believe that if their stomachs be full, it matters little about their brains” (Du Bois 89).

Du Bois fought for the equality of black men and white men in this manner because black men were thought of as intellectually-inferior to white men in early 20th century and the centuries prior to then. Therefore, by writing well as a black man in a traditional Western style, Du Bois was combating the assumption that black men were incapable of being intellectuals to advocate for their equality. Virginia Woolf used a very different approach because her cause warranted it; Women and black men were seen very differently at the dawn of the 20th century. Continue reading “The Fight for Equality: Du Bois and Woolf”

Black Parenting: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Maya Angelou

Ta-Nehisi Coates emphasizes the love a black parent has for his/her child in his National Book Award winner, Between the World and Me.

“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made” (Coates 82).

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Why does Coates make a distinction between the love of a white parent and of a black parent? Coates and other black parents understand that their children are helpless against the systemic racism engrained in American society and there is little they can do to protect them. This is inarguable considering the recurring news stories featuring police brutality against young black men. While this does not discount the love of a white parent for his/her child by any means, white parents don’t have to to deal with this fear, an emotion stressed throughout Between the World and Me. Continue reading “Black Parenting: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Maya Angelou”

A Musical Protest Movement

Protest movements do not have a definite formula. From the labor workers’ rights strikes beginning in the early 19th century to the nonviolent protests utilized by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., people have protested against injustice using a variety of techniques. However, one of the most dynamic and effective methods of social protest, especially for African Americans, is music. Continue reading “A Musical Protest Movement”