Wow, it's been a while since I posted. Things have been a bit crazy around here, of course, what with the holidays. In fact, it's been a while since I listened to W.E.B DuBois' "On the Souls of Black Folk" as well, but I thought it was worth mentioning some thoughts I had on his writings since I still remember them.
One issue he discussed concerned how black farmers were persecuted long after slavery ended. White landowners would discriminate in their hiring practices, or they would channel new black workers into jobs they had been doing as slaves anyway. There were few black professors and lots of black shoeshiners and farmers, doing the same work as they had in pre-slavery days, but doing it for a little bit more money and a lot less job security (massive sarcasm quotes for those two words).
He railed against the practice of charging as much as 25% of a black mans' salary for rent. That kind of surprised me, because I have been trying to move out of my parent's house for a long time, and 25% of my monthly earnings going to rent seemed like a steal. Not so much now, I guess.
This goes to the fact that blacks didn't even own the land they cultivated, mostly. They rented from white landowners. As long as blacks had no form of equity, they had limited upward mobility.
This is a thing we don't really talk a whole lot about- economic persecution. History classes typically simplify events to get basic information to people, but they also encourage certain cultural narratives; one that I lived with for years was the idea that once the Civil War ended, the whole issue of slavery was put to rest. Once I read about the Reconstruction period, though, it became clear that this wasn't the case. History doesn't simply end. Watershed moments do not carry instantaneous change with them. It took a war to end slavery, but wage slavery took decades longer to extinguish, and in many places both wage slavery and actual slavery are alive today all over the world.
Another narrative I grew up with was that oppression stopped existing in the US after 1865. But then, economic exploitation- the kind that happened in the Gilded Age- just doesn't sound sexy. There need to be beatings and torture and death camps for us to take oppression seriously. The softer kinds of persecution, like charging exorbitant fees or barring certain types of people from having a certain type of job, just seem like jerk behavior, but they can result in real problems for entire political classes. Applied across a demographic, they become more easily recognized as systems of oppression. However, when unfair economic treatment ignores race lines, it becomes a class issue- something we Americans have been reluctant to talk about for at least the past few decades.
Economic methods of oppression is a subject I am heavily interested in for these reasons, and so it's great to see what DuBois has to say on the matter. I wonder what he might have to say about the company towns that sprung up in the 1890s? I'm on the last chapter though, so I don't know if I'll ever hear about that in this book.