As thousands of African American migrants to cities competed with whites for scarce resources of jobs and housing, white mobs attacked African Americans, leading to full-blown race riots.
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The African American press proudly reported that African Americans exhibited the militancy of the New Negro in fighting back against these mob attacks. Black leaders spoke less of the crucial role of elites as agents of racial uplift and increasingly embraced a politics of mass protest, labor organization, and economic analyses of the plight of African Americans. In the realm of culture, new urban musical forms as the blues , gospel and jazz voiced the social outlook and aspirations of working class blacks, and increasingly came to define African American popular culture, even as some educated blacks considered these musical styles controversial and not refined enough to represent the race in a respectable manner.
The persistent importance of image Racial uplift ideology, the belief that educated, elite blacks have a duty and responsibility for the welfare of the majority of African Americans, remains an influential framework among African Americans for understanding the challenges they continue to face.
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The persistence of racial stereotypes and prejudice fuels the perception among many blacks that racist attitudes must be countered by positive images and exemplary behavior by blacks. Moreover, the fragility of African American social progress and conservative attacks on civil rights reforms since the s have contributed to a renewed popularity of self-help ideology and efforts, as seen in the Million Man March of Despite the significant changes produced by the civil rights movement, U.
Among African Americans the divide in income, social class, and cultural values is arguably increasing. These conditions seem to assure the continued salience of racial uplift ideology, though whether it assumes a liberal or conservative form depends on its larger sociopolitical context. The challenges of presenting the idea of racial uplift to students as a historically contingent, nuanced and internally contested field of discourse may seem formidable at first glance.
How did it feel to be considered a problem? Many African American leaders were witnessing the fading away of a dominant U. The North, or the Union, had won the Civil War, but supporters of equal rights for blacks were losing the peace, as manifested by the reconciliation of northern and southern sectional factions throughout the late nineteenth century that culminated in Plessy.
Understanding the relationship of racial uplift ideology, indeed, African American intellectual and social thought, to dominant U. There are several assumptions that students will need to question to understand how compelling racial uplift ideology was for educated blacks. First, they would do well to Students will have to understand the nature of the black middle class in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Not only did the black middle-class fall considerably short of the income and range of occupational and professional opportunities available to their white counterpart, blacks also faced unequal access to institutions of higher learning. Black men and women were banned from attending many southern and northern elite private and public universities and professional schools. Moreover, discrimination made many educated black men and women unable to find employment commensurate with their training.
Many settled for menial employment. In addition to discrimination that prevented members of black middle-class to achieve income parity with middle-class whites, the very notion of middle-class status was viewed by many whites in racial terms. To be middle-class was equated with the status of the white patriarchal family by many whites, for whom the moral credentials of middle-class black men and women were always suspect.
Secondly, it is useful to remind students that ostensibly progressive social movements can exhibit contradictory political tendencies. In other words, it is unrealistic to expect Reform movements can be contradictory. African Americans at the turn of the century struggled against racism, but some, in doing so, expressed anti-labor sentiments and gender hierarchies that reflected the dominant labor and gender politics of that era.
Students often express surprise and disappointment upon learning of the contradictory politics of s social movements, such as the retrograde sexist and homophobic tendencies of activists in the civil rights movement and the New Left student movement.
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A corollary point for understanding the sometimes contradictory nature of racial uplift ideology is that it is not particularly helpful to view black elites, like white middle-class women reformers, in stark and simplistic terms of either accommodation or resistance, or as either radical or conservative.
It will be crucial for students to understand the changing, historical nature of racism, past and present. Race, and the notion of different racial groups, is a modern idea, and according to current scientific consensus, an illusory one, at that. But it is a fiction that has nevertheless held major consequences in defining political, social, economic and cultural relationships of power. Because many in our society are uncomfortable with discussing race publicly, there is a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the concept. The U.
It is part and parcel of social and political power relations, and embedded in social formations of politics, the law, public policy, and systems of labor and production. Historically in the U. For example, lynching became a tool of white dominance and racial terror during the s and s, as the overwhelming majority of victims were African American. White supremacy was both the objective and justification for the system of Jim Crow segregation in the South.
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Ideas about racial difference were so dominant, that racial thinking was employed by blacks as well as whites, but to different intents and meanings for blacks and whites. For example, on the deeply controversial issue of racial intermarriage, racist whites generally opposed racial intermarriage on grounds of white racial purity, fearing intermarriage would destroy an entire way of life defined by white power and privilege.
When African Americans opposed racial intermarriage, they had a different purpose altogether. Finally, in teaching the potentially sensitive and charged history of race and racism, the ability of students to engage with these difficult issues might benefit from viewing the turn of the century U. History provides an account and interpretation of change over time, and students might reflect on how laws and customs governing race relations, and interactions between members of different racialized groups have changed since the advent of Jim Crow segregation.
Change is the operative word and perspective on these sensitive issues. It is therefore extremely useful for students to grasp that just as unjust social and political systems can be reformed through human agency, so it is also that social identities are not fixed, or predetermined, but mutable.
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How have social identities changed over time? How, and in what contexts, do people construct their identities, and how much choice do they have in doing so? Adams, vol. Bourne and D. Beck, vol. J, vol. C, vol. MSS ; Add. III, ed. Medlicott, D. III: —, eds. I, Washington Parliamentary Debates. House of Commons. Official Report, 4th Series, vol.
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The Gilded Age
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