Has the Veil Been Lifted?
DuBois' Influence on Contemporary America
Trying to trace every modern-day influence that W.E.B. DuBois had on African-Americans would be an exercise in futility because of its sheer impossibility. Every major contemporary Black scholar, sociologist, and “race man”, including Cornel West, bell hooks, Claude Anderson, and Micheal Eric Dyson, to name a few have traces of W.E.B. DuBois’ works and conceptual ideas. And, while the rhetoric varies, the problem of the color-line, which was coined and outlined by DuBois following the Civil War has been changed to reflect contemporary discourse on an idea seemingly as old as America. So, to show that the ideas, sentiments, and “problem” that DuBois introduced did not live and die during his era, this web site will attempt to show a correlation between DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk and contemporary lyrics of the late rap lyricist Tupac Shakur.
There are three primary reasons why the lyrics of TuPac Shakur were selected for essentially a close reading and comparison with that of DuBois’ work. First, TuPac has a very keen, intellectual perception of American society; a broad sphere of influence on both white and black youth, and most importantly, because his lyrics are representative of what it is to be young, Black and American.
In “Of Our Spiritual Striving”, (the first essay in The Souls of Black Folk), after realizing that being Black in America had it’s limitations, DuBois writes the following:
“Alas, with the years all this fine contempt [of white people] began to fade; for the world I longed
for and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine.”
In comparison, in a song called “Panther Power”, TuPac Shakur vocalizes the following:
As real as it seems the American Dream
Ain’t nothing but another calculated scheme…
Kept my history a mystery but now I see
The American Dream wasn’t meant for me…
Although the rhetoric is different, DuBois and TuPac are expressing the same sentiment, a century apart. First, DuBois’ conclusion that “the worlds [he] longed for and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine” is exactly what TuPac simply describes as the “American Dream.” Further, both DuBois and TuPac imply a reference to the “veil” that separates Blacks from whites by speaking in terms of “them v. us.” For example, DuBois says that these opportunities were “theirs”, meaning white people, “not mine”, which refers not only to DuBois individually, but to the Black community as a whole. Similarly, in the third line of TuPac's lyric, although he never directly points the finger at white people, there is an implied "you" to whom the word "Kept" in this line is directed and one can logically deduce that this "you" is reference to white people. This deduction is made more clear in the succeeding line when TuPac writes that "the American Dream wasn't meant for me...", which further alludes to the fact that it was made for someone else; the most logical assumption of who that "other" is, are white people.
Even more interesting, TuPac’s word choice in the third line of the passage is extremely engaging because of his use of the terms “mystery” and especially the word “see”, which are reminiscent of DuBois’ veil concept. In that third line, TuPac is basically saying that white America has “veiled” or hidden the truth of himself and thereby his culture, but now he can "see" through and beyond that. This is almost identitical tp what DuBois discusses with respect to double consciousness in that, TuPac’s mentioning of “history” was what DuBois earlier defined as the “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.”
It is truly amazing to see two Black men from different "Americas", who are essentially singing the same tune of racial inequality and injustice in Amerian society; seemingly, the only thing that has changed are the words to this song because in essence DuBois and TuPac are saying the same thing, although TuPac is using a more contemporary type of discourse. The fact that DuBois was able to name that intangible, yet not-so-invisible "thing" that Blacks at that time felt is DuBois' greatest influence and legacy to the African-American community. In essence, by naming “that thing” that affected African-Americans so deeply that they previously had no words to describe set the stage for dialouge, healing, and most importantly the dismantling of the veil that was drawn so long ago. With at least two Black men singing the same song, there is only one question that remains--has the veil been lifted?
For the full text of TuPac’s song,