The Negro by W.E.B. Du Bois


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Page 2

The general physical contour of Africa has been likened to an inverted
plate with one or more rows of mountains at the edge and a low coastal
belt. In the south the central plateau is three thousand or more feet
above the sea, while in the north it is a little over one thousand feet.
Thus two main divisions of the continent are easily distinguished: the
broad northern rectangle, reaching down as far as the Gulf of Guinea and
Cape Guardafui, with seven million square miles; and the peninsula which
tapers toward the south, with five million square miles.

Four great rivers and many lesser streams water the continent. The
greatest is the Congo in the center, with its vast curving and endless
estuaries; then the Nile, draining the cluster of the Great Lakes and
flowing northward "like some grave, mighty thought, threading a dream";
the Niger in the northwest, watering the Sudan below the Sahara; and,
finally, the Zambesi, with its greater Niagara in the southeast. Even
these waters leave room for deserts both south and north, but the greater
ones are the three million square miles of sand wastes in the north.

More than any other land, Africa lies in the tropics, with a warm, dry
climate, save in the central Congo region, where rain at all seasons
brings tropical luxuriance. The flora is rich but not wide in variety,
including the gum acacia, ebony, several dye woods, the kola nut, and
probably tobacco and millet. To these many plants have been added in
historic times. The fauna is rich in mammals, and here, too, many from
other continents have been widely introduced and used.

Primarily Africa is the Land of the Blacks. The world has always been
familiar with black men, who represent one of the most ancient of human
stocks. Of the ancient world gathered about the Mediterranean, they formed
a part and were viewed with no surprise or dislike, because this world saw
them come and go and play their part with other men. Was Clitus the
brother-in-law of Alexander the Great less to be honored because he
happened to be black? Was Terence less famous? The medieval European
world, developing under the favorable physical conditions of the north
temperate zone, knew the black man chiefly as a legend or occasional
curiosity, but still as a fellow man--an Othello or a Prester John or an

The modern world, in contrast, knows the Negro chiefly as a bond slave in
the West Indies and America. Add to this the fact that the darker races in
other parts of the world have, in the last four centuries, lagged behind
the flying and even feverish footsteps of Europe, and we face to-day a
widespread assumption throughout the dominant world that color is a mark
of inferiority.

The result is that in writing of this, one of the most ancient,
persistent, and widespread stocks of mankind, one faces astounding
prejudice. That which may be assumed as true of white men must be proven
beyond peradventure if it relates to Negroes. One who writes of the
development of the Negro race must continually insist that he is writing
of a normal human stock, and that whatever it is fair to predicate of the
mass of human beings may be predicated of the Negro. It is the silent
refusal to do this which has led to so much false writing on Africa and
of its inhabitants. Take, for instance, the answer to the apparently
simple question "What is a Negro?" We find the most extraordinary
confusion of thought and difference of opinion. There is a certain type in
the minds of most people which, as David Livingstone said, can be found
only in caricature and not in real life. When scientists have tried to
find an extreme type of black, ugly, and woolly-haired Negro, they have
been compelled more and more to limit his home even in Africa. At least
nine-tenths of the African people do not at all conform to this type, and
the typical Negro, after being denied a dwelling place in the Sudan, along
the Nile, in East Central Africa, and in South Africa, was finally given a
very small country between the Senegal and the Niger, and even there was
found to give trace of many stocks. As Winwood Reade says, "The typical
Negro is a rare variety even among Negroes."

As a matter of fact we cannot take such extreme and largely fanciful stock
as typifying that which we may fairly call the Negro race. In the case of
no other race is so narrow a definition attempted. A "white" man may be of
any color, size, or facial conformation and have endless variety of
cranial measurement and physical characteristics. A "yellow" man is
perhaps an even vaguer conception.

In fact it is generally recognized to-day that no scientific definition of
race is possible. Differences, and striking differences, there are between
men and groups of men, but they fade into each other so insensibly that we
can only indicate the main divisions of men in broad outlines. As Von
Luschan says, "The question of the number of human races has quite lost

speculation than of scientific research. It is of no more importance now
to know how many human races there are than to know how many angels can
dance on the point of a needle. Our aim now is to find out how ancient and
primitive races developed from others and how races changed or evolved
through migration and inter-breeding."[1]

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Thu 21st Feb 2019, 2:03