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Du Bois is the real pioneer of the counter discourse of the White Myth Superiority in Black American Literature

Updated on July 21, 2012

Black American Literature is a literary movement engaged in combating the spirit of persecution and prejudice which confronts the colored people of America and also,to insure them every right,privilige and opportunity to which every citizen of United States is entitled .In fact,this engagement is not strewn with flowers as we will see.By contrast,it is strewn with scowls,scorns,prejudice,caste of feelings.In dealing with these barriers,Black American writers creates an adaptive and defensive mechanism which could completely distrupt the myth of super whitemen and effectively to cease a vain effort of a Black man to be white.

Interestingly,this mechanism is the counter white superiority discourse.It is elaborated and expressed in the early twentieth century in" The souls of Black folk " by Z.E.B Du Bois,especially in his famous poem"Smoke King":

I am the Smoke King!
I am Black!
I am swinging in the sky,
I am wringing worlds awry:
I am the thought of the throbbing mills,
I am the soul of the soul-toil kills,
Wraith of the ripple of the trading rills;
Up I'm curling from the sod,
I am whirling home to God;
I am the Smoke King
I am Black.

I am the Smoke King,
I am Black!
I am wreathing broken hearts
I am sheathing love's light darts
Insipration of iron times
Wedding the toil of toiling climes,
Shedding the blood of bloodless crimes—
Lurid lowering 'mid the blue,
Torrid towering toward the true,
I am the Smoke King,
I am Black.

I am the Smoke King,
I am Black!
I am darkening with song,
I am hearkening to wrong!
I will be Black as Blackness can—
The blacker the mantle, the mightier the man!
For Blackness was ancient ere whiteness began.
I am daubing God in night,
I am swabbing Hell in white;
I am the Smoke King,
I am Black!

W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Song of the Smoke” from Creative Writings by W. E. B Du Bois (KrausThomson Organization Limited, 1985). Reprinted with the permission of the Estate of W. E. B. Du Bois.

In connection with these lines,it would be observed that Du Bois is not only mainly interested in showing his sense of pride and dignity but also his blackness as a better and super color;that is to say,He penetrates forcely the dominant White discourse,disrupts the excercise of power,and forces the white folk to reeaxamine the values,the principles that are dominant in society:

"It is this reexamination that is forcing us toward an appreciation of the multi-racial,multiethnic nature of our country,toward the appreciation rather than fear of difference,towards a community of different people"

W. E. Du Bois,Three Negro Classics"The Souls of Black Folk"(New York:Avon,1965) p:214-15.

However,before being able to express strongly his sense of pride and his feeling of superiority,or,in other words,before being able to penetrate the dominant discourse,Black man as Du Bois thinks, has to face, in that early time, the very psychological dilemma as the first stage of "his elevation":

“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."

( )

In the light of this passage,the main cause of psychological dilemma of Blacks is the "veil","Schizophrenia"which divides the Black American in two parts ,two souls and two senses of allegiance :America vs Africa,resistance vs silence...So,in order to drift out of its harmful impact,the Black man firstly has to accept and adopt his Two-ness so as to "emerge his double self into a better and truer self" (James P.Comer,Beyond Black and White,New York:quadrangle,1972,p:140).

In other words,the Black man's awareness of the soul division is the first start of psychological movement of black folk mind towards the Black Power , the autonomy ,new virtues and values.In essence,during its way upwards from the state of Schizophrenia,the psychological movement instills a strong spiritual make-up,fuels an invicible culture and political resistance and keeps the torch of anti-White superiority burning.Understanding this basic idea would explain why the Black man protests and resists against being in a state of silence and powerlessness,against being available to White man's scrutiny and amanable to dominance and control.It is a resistance of Black Folks and of the need to go beyond a mere denunciation of the White so as to set up a counter hegemonic knowledge:

"The black man has been taught to believe that White is good,that Black is bad,that White is strong,that Black is weak,that White is moral,that Black is immoral...before we can do anything,we've got to get ourselves together and undo all of this brain-washing" (Comer:193)

As we read the extract above,we are struck by the stunning strategy of black to gain strenght and power.They turn their gaze inward as a preliminary stage to power,to self-consciousness with no intention to resign from American life.James P.Comer puts in this way:

"before black man can make effective use of their cultural heritage and establish a positive racial identity as a basis for group pride power,the black experience will have to be glorified,institutionalized and transmitted in books,songart,rhetoric,costume and so on" (Borkdale,Richard et al.Ed Black writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology. New York:Mcmillan:171)

No doubt,the" inward gaze" strategy not only helps to raise Black man but also to problematize White man discourse on difference by re-redefining and overcoming the polarity of Servant and Master,self and other,black and white.this strategy successfully deconstruct Western knowledge and position.It succeeds constituting what Bhabha calls"empty third space" of the marginal voice within the white man text,Black splits oppressor authority and opening up a space for Black opposition?.In "the coming of John" which forms chapter thirteen of his Souls of Black Soul,Du Bois cites a story of two Johns,one is White and the other Black,no reader can for a moment recognize which one is eithically inferior and which superior.By this story,Du Bois marks a significant break-through in the White myth superiority,because he offers an exciting and fascinating possibility of the emergence for discourse of resistance from within the gaps of discourse of White superiority.

Summarily,with Du bois, the Black presence in American society becomes more prominent and a real menace to the racial Laws and the discourse of white superiority"the Black presence ruin the representative narrative of Western persenhood"Homi Bhabha :Forward Remembering: Self,Psche,Colonial Condition from book 'Black skin,white mask by Frants Fanon)Thus,It estranges the familiar and destabilizes the position of White folk.


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    • James-wolve profile imageAUTHOR

      Tijani Achamlal 

      6 years ago from Morocco

      Thanks so much for your comment.I'm still facinated by Black Literature.There are some critics like Rob.W.Hortson and Herbert .W.Edward who regard black American Literature not as literature mainly concerned with woes of a Black man trying to overcome his hardships or to tell his story,a story of a man who is furthest down,with the aim of educating and help him to regain his dignity,his sense of pride he has lost during the period of bondage,but as a sorce of prejudice for white men.That s not true the poem of langston Hughs is a good example":I,Too,Sing America"

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 

      6 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      I am glad that we now have four generations of black men and women writing from their own experience and helping create a healthy cultural identify for a people who were taken away from their home and history. All of us - black and white, men and women - do well to read W. E. B. DuBois, Zora Neal Hurston, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and so many more. Voted up and interesting.


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