This last round of reading softened me up on W.E.B. DuBois a bit.
One thing I have found is that though I am getting over it, I was once very easily swayed by the opinions that I read if they at least sounded logical. So if other writers were frustrated with DuBois, I picked that up, and so when I was reading more recently about his efforts against Marcus Garvey, my response was more like "It figures" than to reflect more on that.
Reading about Ida B Wells, it was clear that this sort of thing went on all the time. This should not have been a surprise. I have seen the same thing happen with dog rescue groups. It doesn't matter that everyone cares about the dogs; this person disagrees on how to do it, or whom to work with, and bitter feuds develop, turning people with at least some common goals into bitter enemies who sabotage each other.
I could be mad at DuBois some more for the sake of Wells, and if it comes to a fight, I will always choose her. One thing that helped though was there was more to be mad at with Booker T. Washington.
It may not be fair to vilify Washington either, but the part that I keep getting stuck on is that he thought that respectability would be the was to stop lynching. He knew that most lynchings weren't really about the black men raping white women - he admitted that. He should also have been able to see that the industrial-based education he focused on would not bring that much respect if Southern white leaders were so willing to see it happen. He still promoted the idea that acting nice would solve the problems. Achieve respectability.
Respectability was what drew the lynching! Financial success was attacked. The Memphis Lynching that politicized Wells so much had nothing to do with rape; it was an effort to remove financial competition. Yes, when the arguments would come up, people would talk about protecting women, but that's not why they did it.
I am more aware of this because of seeing similar calls for respectability on the internet. Respectability is not a solution. Clothing or language use may be cited as a reason to dismiss what someone says, but they would find another reason, because the real problem is the ideas.
I'm not saying that presentation never matters. In the 60s marchers dressed well and were polite and non-violent because they were fighting a stereotype, and those images were carried by television and they affected people. You may also have noticed that they didn't end racism or oppression.
I guess there are two points I want to make here. One is to not believe that if you just ask nicely enough and are patient enough, it will all work out. There is no precedent of that being true. The marches were important for image, but they were done in conjunction with economic pressure like boycotts, and court cases, and nothing came easily despite everyone being very clean and polite.
The related point, and this is convenient since asking nicely does not work, is that niceness is not owed. There is no obligation to make sure that the person who is profiting from your oppression does not have to feel uncomfortable about it.
This is something John Howard Griffin wrote about his experiences with Black Like Me:
“Our townspeople wanted to ‘keep things peaceful’ at all costs. They said I had ‘stirred things up’. This is laudable and tragic. I, too, say let us be peaceful; but the only way to do this is first to assure justice. By keeping ‘peaceful’ in this instance, we end up consenting to the destruction of all peace—for so long as we condone injustice by a small but powerful group, we condone the destruction of all social stability, all real peace, all trust in man’s good intentions toward his fellow man."
You can't keep the peace if you don't have it in the first place. When people are telling you how to act, it's important to understand what goals are really being served.