One of the most influential thinkers, economists, and historians of American history is Dr. W.E.B. Dubois. The first Black American to graduate with a doctorate from Harvard. In his influential text, The Souls of Black Folks, he offers a provoking critique and prophetic vision for Black life in America considering the direction of not only American Blacks but the whole race of persons in the twentieth century. “It is, then, the strife of all honorable men of the twentieth century to see that in the future competition of races the survival of the fittest shall mean the triumph of the good, the beautiful, and the true; that we may be a able to preserve for future civilization all that is really fine and noble and strong, and not continue to put a premium on greed and imprudence and cruelty” (Dubois, 1903; p.118).
America has always been a curious place to me. I have wondered about my place in this country as I read back over the founding of this nation, the ideals upon which it was founded, and I’ll admit with much curiosity, “What would the founders think about America today?” What would they have thought about the Civil War, women voting, public education, career politicians, and the numerous wars? What would they have thought about a Black man serving as the President for two terms?
Our American household has periodically demonstrated a schizophrenic mentality concerning human dignity socially and politically. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal….” Then I hear Public Enemy shout, “Picture us coolin’ out on the fourth of July, and if you heard we were celebrating that’s a world-wide lie” (Louder than a Bomb; 1988). A document written and stated the national independence of men by virtue of being ontologically equal simultaneously supported a social culture which practiced enslavement, disenfranchisement, and the legalization of dehumanization. America has always been a curious place to me as one part of the nation asserted liberty to own people while another part of the nation asserted liberty to free people but offered little to no assistance to those freedmen and women.
What is this American place to me? It is a place of powerful movements in our short history. Movements which seized upon those epic words about the equality of men and women to secure the vote, expand educational opportunities, increase access to better housing, and produce some great technological feats in recent memory. What is the American place to me? It is a house with a schizophrenic mind which has the address of 1776 Freedom Place but has so many locked away. It is a house which has children playing in the yard and learning to pursue life as so many Black babies are disproportionately aborted. It is a home which has prosperous dinners and the best furniture so one can pursue happiness and yet so many languish in poverty.
We are a diversity of people in this American place. Mr. Langston Hughes identified in this place called America the existence of a population of diverse and scarred people who were united by suffering. Yes different groups have tasted different degrees of suffering, many times at the hands of their own government, yet nonetheless, America is made up of people. People bound together by language, customs, and above all, the dream of opportunity.
Our American people have made great strides over the generations. We should celebrate those Whites, Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others who have seized opportunities to shape this place in a variety of ways. Yet there are still among us those persons Langston Hughes describes as fooled, scarred, disconnected from a home, and holding onto a thread of hope. What about the 13% of Americans in poverty and the 18.8% of Arkansans in poverty? So Dubois stands with Hughes. They both stand looking at this place called America and seek to provoke its people to practices which are good, beautiful, and true. Practices which will move people socially and politically towards activities which embrace what is noble and reject what is undignified.
We must practice living as a healthy family in one house. We are a family. We are a family of human beings with dignity, purpose, creativity, and the innate desire to be known as a human being. As human beings, we are a variety of ethnicities, religious faiths, political ideologies, and other social distinctions. We must practice living as a healthy family in one house. We are a family. We are a family of human beings with dignity, purpose, creativity, and the innate desire to be known as a human being. As human beings, we are a variety of ethnicities, religious faiths, political ideologies, and other social distinctions.
Secondly, we must practice good actions which are for the uplift of the individual and the greater society. In the 21st Century we must ask ourselves, “What are the good actions which will serve others?” The economic situation of many in America reveals their impotency to make meaningful choices to impact their lives. Dr. King stated, “if democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity.” It is time we stand in the warmth of our new morning and create new opportunities to improve the economic situation of the disadvantaged. Therefore, shine like the sun in the lives of others.
Finally, in the 21st Century we can practice compassion by engaging socially with others. Our state has some relational tensions to address as it relates to race. While I cannot control how one is born ethnically, I can control how I perceive the other person. We are tied together by the same infinitely valuable character which offers us all dignity and worth. I have my faults as you have your own. Dr. King stated, “there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Therefore, let us practice compassion and serve our “enemies”because we are members of the same household. We are a family in need of one another. We are in need of good acts. We must practice beautiful compassion towards the other.