From DuBois to The Prep School Negro

On the website Documenting the American South, The Souls of Black Folk is described thus:

W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903) is a seminal work in African American literature and an American classic. In this work Du Bois proposes that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” His concepts of life behind the veil of race and the resulting “double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” have become touchstones for thinking about race in America. In addition to these enduring concepts, Souls offers an assessment of the progress of the race, the obstacles to that progress, and the possibilities for future progress as the nation entered the twentieth century.

See the full summary here.

Given that the publication of DuBois’ seminal work on the American questions of race and self-identity occurred in 1903, it must be surprising to some that a documentary entitled The Prep School Negro could resonate so resoundingly on the same themes over a century later.  This documentary film, produced and directed by André Robert Lee, a 1980’s graduate of the prestigious Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, continues the theme of the inherent tension within (Negroes/Afro-Americans/African-Americans/Blacks – the apropos term has changed much since DuBois) concerning their dual identities of being both Black and American.

See trailer here for a powerful example of this inherent tension.

As a native of the South Bronx, and as a 1980’s graduate of Phillips Academy (Andover), I have felt that tension, as have countless others across old, blue-blood campuses who hail from inner-city streets.  I therefore applaud Mr. Lee for continuing the discussion of a topic that has not seen nearly enough light.  The topic: Who am I as an American?  Where do I fit in in an America bold enough to elect its first Black President, yet scared enough to provide media accounts of prominent politicians who insist on seeing his birth certificate so that he may PROVE his American roots?  What does it mean to go to a prestigious school that sees you as Black, then return home to “friends” who now claim you’re no longer “Black enough?”

Being a teenager is hard enough on one’s sense of self.  Being a Prep School Negro in the shadow of DuBois, now that’s something else….

Who are you?  And where do you fit in?

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